From Alcoholic to future Canonized Saint

The shrine of Ven. Matt Talbot

Dublin’s Sean McDermott Street is where one finds the Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes. It is not a popular district for tourists, so here there are no guidebook-recommended bars where one goes to drink a Guinness, or a precious local whiskey. Even the Venerable Matt Talbot, buried here, was an alcoholic. Now there is a process of beatification going on for him, and soon he may be proclaimed “saint.”

Talbot, born in 1856, the second of 12 siblings, is already considered a patron of those struggling with alcoholism. Alcoholism then was a scourge in Ireland among poor families like the Talbots. And working as early as 12 years old, bottling beer, then unloading whiskey in the port, certainly did not help him. At 27, impoverished and ruined by vice, he vowed not to drink for three months. From that point forward, he didn’t touch alcohol for the rest of his life, dedicating himself entirely to prayer, to charity, in the Third Franciscan Order, and to social commitment, as the founder of the Christian Workers’ Movement.

In 1972, his remains were removed from a tomb in Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Sean McDermott Street, Dublin, in the area where Matt spent his life. On Oct. 3, 1975, Pope Paul VI declared him “venerable”, with the decree recognizing his “heroic virtues.” Now Pope Francis, arriving in Dublin, stopped to venerate the chain found under the clothes of Talbot when he suddenly died of a heart attack, at 69, on his way to Mass on Trinity Sunday, June 7, 1925. The chain was a sign of devotion and penance.

While the Pope’s pause was to be brief and only outside the Church, he decided to quickly enter and pray before the relics. Pope John Paul II was scheduled to stop over during his 1979 visit, but he ran out of time.

The Salesian Parish Priest, Father Michael Casey said that Saint John Paul II had great devotion to the venerable Matt Talbot, and he wrote a little booklet on the life of Matt Talbot and had great hopes that he would be able to canonize him.

Also Pope Paul VI, when still a cardinal, he came to Dublin and visited the grave of Matt Talbot. He would be the Pope who made him venerable.

At that time of Matt Talbot alcohol was the drug of “choice” for him. And that has been part of our history. Some have taken to alcohol to deal with life’s challenges and deal with life’s pain. It still is a challenge for us, our Irish society, but unfortunately there is not only alcohol, there are many other drugs on the market, at the choice of many people.

So addiction is certainly a symptom of a deeper yearning and hunger, not only for spirits. And that is why the life of Matt Talbot gives us a lot of encouragement and hope for people. His life teaches us that when we have a hunger and a thirst, and his thirst, was for the Living God.

To promote the knowledge and the devotion to the Venerable Matt Talbot we are the custodian of this church where his relics are. We are here mainly to welcome people, pilgrimages, give talks, promote through the website, and so on. One of the priests, Father Brian Lawless, is the vice-postulator. He, at a national level and the international level, is trying to promote the cause in different ways.

The Pope’s visit here wasn’t part of the original plan, but I think the Archbishop of Dublin [Diarmuid] Martin, and Pope Francis himself, feel very much at home in this community, for it is one that has had its struggles, its own challenges, and has people of great faith. So I think they feel very much at home here. I think it has been a very symbolic gesture of him putting his feet on this sacred soil that is our home. It is something very special for us. We feel blessed by his presence and encouraged.