The Matt Talbot Houses are named for the Venerable Matthew Talbot (1856-1925), an Irish labourer whose remarkable story tells of his recovery from alcoholism and who is recognized by the Catholic Church for his sanctity, generosity and inspiration to others in the despair of addiction. He is informally considered the “Patron Saint of alcoholics”.
Matt Talbot (1856 – 1925) was born May 2, 1856 in the poverty of Dublin’s inner city. He was born the second of twelve children to Charles and Elizabeth Talbot at 13 Aldorough Court. Matt left school at the age of twelve and went to work at wine merchant’s store. He began drinking at that time and quickly became a chronic alcoholic. Later, Matt worked as a labourer at T & C Martin’s timber yard and at Pemberton’s builders. Yet, even when his drinking was at its worst, Matt was a hard worker. He frequented pubs in the city with his brothers and friends, spending most or all of his wages and running up debts. It was a pattern for Matt that he would be broke the Monday after pay day, so that he was constantly struggling with paying for his rent and alcohol supply.
In nineteenth century Ireland, it was common for someone who wished to stop drinking to take a solemn pledge before a priest to abstain for a period of time. One evening when he was twenty-eight, and after many years of hard living, Matt he announced to his mother that he was going to “take the pledge”. He went to Holy Cross College, Cloniffe where he took the pledge for three months, then six months and within the year he renewed the pledge for life, never touching alcohol again. In his sobriety, he was guided for most of his life by Dr. Michael Hickey, Professor of Philosophy at Clonliffe College.
We understand today how to treat the withdrawal symptoms of addiction and support a person in recovery, but in Matt Talbot’s day there were very few alcohol treatment centres, life was hard, drink was cheap and there were not many home comforts or social outlets to support his efforts in sobriety.
After having drunk excessively for many years, Matt maintained sobriety for the following forty years of his life. He became an increasingly devout Catholic, found strength in prayer, began to attend daily Mass and read religious books and pamphlets. His Higher Power was the Christian God. In his quiet way he
continued to live an austere life in Dublin’s North city, in work, prayer and service to others. Matt was attracted to the strict ascetical life of the early Irish monks and their life of prayer, with the emphasis on penance and humility, and manual labour dedicated to God. He turned to a Jesuit priest, Father James Welshe, to help him in this. Matt was a generous man and, although poor himself, he gave unstintingly to neighbours and fellow workers, to charitable institutions and the Church.
According to his fellow workers, Matt often gave his lunch away to other workers if he thought they were in need or lent them money to buy clothes or shoes for their children or to pay overdue rent. He scrupulously repaid all his debts. Matt Talbot became sober in an age in which there was a significant stigma for individuals struggling in the throes of an addiction. He remained sober for forty years until his sudden death on June 7, 1925 when he collapsed on Granby Lane in Dublin while on the way to Mass and died of heart failure. His life story has been an inspiration for alcoholics and addicts throughout the world. He is a candidate for canonization in the Catholic Church. Today, the Venerable Matt Talbot is revered and turned to by millions of people world-wide who believe in his assistance in their fight against all kinds of addiction and despair.
We are honoured to carry the name of Matt Talbot and to have him as a patron for our Houses, for those among us who may find hope in his story and in his triumph over drink by his unswerving faith in his Higher Power, and perseverance in his sobriety and rehabilitation, no matter how many times he had fallen before.