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Talbot, Matt


Known as "the saint in overalls," and regarded as a special example for reformed alcoholics; b. Dublin, Ireland, May 22, 1856; d. Dublin, June 7, 1925. He was the second of 12 children of the needy family of Charles Talbot and Elizabeth Bagnall. When 11, Matt received his only formal education, attending the Christian Brothers school for one year. He became a messenger of wine merchants, and fell into a habit of excessive drinking that lasted for 15 years. He worked for the Port of Dublin, for a building firm, and later for a lumberyard. Despite his drinking and smallness of stature, he was an effective worker. At 28, a seemingly hopeless alcoholic, he underwent a conversion, the beginning of which was occasioned by the failure of friends to treat him when his own money was gone. That day he took the pledge. Prior to this Matt had attended mass regularly but for some time had not received the sacraments. Upon his conversion he went to confession, and the next day received communion at early mass. Distrusting his ability to keep the pledge, he took it first for three months, then for a year, and finally for life. He began a life of prayer and penance that continued until his death. His severe penance never interfered with his work or his graciousness to others, nor did his poverty interfere with his personal cleanliness. He was accustomed to taking only 3 1/2 hours of sleep on two rough planks and a wooden pillow. He arose at 2 a.m., prayed, and then attended mass at 6 a.m. After work he visited a church, attended confraternity meetings, and gave himself to prayer and spiritual reading. He ate no meat for nine months of the year. His midday meal was a slice of dry bread and a cup of cold tea. A follower of St. Grignion de Montfort's "True Devotion," he wore chains, which at death were found embedded in his flesh. Although Talbot lacked a formal education, he had singular gifts of prayer and understanding; the books he read were varied and scholarly. His kneeling figure on the church steps and in the church was a common sight, yet few really knew him. He died on Trinity Sunday, in the street, on his way to a second mass. He was buried as a Franciscan tertiary in Glasnevin Cemetery. The diocesan informative process for his beatification was opened in Dublin in 1931; the apostolic process began in 1947.

Bibliography: j. a. glynn, Life of Matt Talbot (2d ed. New York 1930), the basic work. j. beevers, Shining as Stars (Westminster, Md. 1956). e. j. doherty, Matt Talbot (Milwaukee 1953). m. purcell, Matt Talbot and His Times (Westminster, Md. 1955). f. sheed, "Matt Talbot," The Irish Way, ed. f. sheed (New York 1932).

[p. j. kelly]

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