Venerable Matt Talbot: Patron of People Struggling with Alcoholism

Venerable Matt Talbot: Patron of People Struggling with Alcoholism

On June 19 Franciscans recall the memory of Venerable Matt Talbot (1856-1925), an Irish Secular Franciscan considered a patron of men and women struggling with alcoholism and other forms of addiction.

Venerable Matt Talbott

Only known photo of Matt Talbot (man in front).

Born into poverty

Matthew Talbot was born in the North Strand neighborhood of Dublin, the second oldest of 12 children of Charles and Elizabeth Talbot. The family always remained poor due to Charlie’s heavy drinking, moving from one cramped tenement to another.

Venerable Matt Talbott Dublin street scene 1800s 700pxlsDublin street scene 1800s. The city had some of the worst slums in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Early alcoholism

Matt only went to school a short time; he joined the workforce at the age of twelve. Unfortunately, he worked in a beer and wine bottling company where he began to sample the wares. By the time he was thirteen, he was a confirmed alcoholic. Although he always had employment, he spent virtually all his earnings in pubs, running up debts.

Venerable Matt Talbott OConnell Schools 700pxls

O'Connelll Schools where Matt was a student for a year (1867-68). (Conrang, Wikipedia Commons)

“Taking the pledge”

One day in 1884, at the age of 28, Matt found himself outside a bar, penniless and without credit; disgusted, he decided to quit drinking and “take the pledge.” He did so first for three months, then for six, then for life. Without the help of a group like today's Alcoholics Anonymous, these first years of sobriety were difficult ones.

Finding strength in prayer, Mass

Matt found strength in prayer and began attending daily Mass. He found a sympathetic priest who became his spiritual director, and Matt began to spend much time in spiritual reading.

A simple life for the unskilled laborer

Matt’s life was a simple one. He was an unskilled laborer, working hard as a hod carrier and then at a lumberyard. He joined several fraternities for support: in 1890 he became a Secular Franciscan and also a founding member of the Total Abstinence League of the Sacred Heart (later called the Pioneer Association).

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Statue of Talbot near Matt Talbot Memorial Bridge in downtown Dublin.

Giving unstintingly to those in need

Matt never married but cared for his widowed mother until her death. In his free time, he was devoted to spiritual reading, works of penance (patterning himself on early Irish monks), and acts of daily charity. Although poor himself, he gave unstintingly to needy friends and neighbors and to charitable institutions and the missions. On Sundays, he would attend several Masses.

Penitential chains led to life of holiness

After 1923, Matt’s health began to fail; on Trinity Sunday, 1925, in the midst of a heat wave, he collapsed on his way to the 10:30 am Mass at the Dominican church in Dublin. It was only after his death, when penitential chains were discovered on his body, that attention was drawn to his life journey. The archdiocese opened an inquiry into Matt's holiness in 1931, and he was declared Venerable in 1975.

Venerable Matt Talbott Granby Lane Dublin 700pxls

Granby Lane, Dublin, where Matt died in 1925.

Insight into Matt Talbott's conversion from drink

The following video gives some insight into the early years of his conversion from drink in 1884:


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Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Sean McDermott Street, Dublin, where Matt Talbot's remains rest today.