DUBLIN – In 1925, a man by the name of Matt Talbot died, his body discovered with chains around his waist, arms and legs that he wore as a sign of penance, after living part of his life “in sin:” From the young age of 12 until he turned 28, Talbot had a drinking problem.
Even though he hasn’t yet been recognized as a saint, he’s known as the patron of those with a drinking problem and he’s commemorated on June 19.
Today the Dubliner is on his path to official sainthood, and on Saturday Pope Francis will pay tribute to Talbot, who was declared venerable by Paul VI in 1975.
The homage is in many ways fulfilling a promise made by the last pope to set foot in the Emerald Island.
Pope John Paul II in 1979 was supposed to stop by Talbot’s old parish as he passed by with the pope-mobile, but he was running behind schedule and the stop never happened, to the great disappointment of the local parish community that had been waiting for him.
Today, hundreds are expected to turn out to see Pope Francis when he stops at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes on his way to the pro-cathedral of St, Mary in Dublin. The pontiff will change into the pope-mobile after spending some 10 minutes in the church, for a visit that has been labeled as strictly private.
The neighborhood where the parish is located is considered one of the roughest in Dublin, with two drug gangs at war with each other. In recent years, over a dozen people have been killed in drug-related violence.
Talbot was born to a poor family with 12 children, including a violent alcoholic father. Talbot himself began drinking at the age of 12 when he dropped out of school and began working at a wine merchant’s store. A year later, he was considered a “hopeless alcoholic.”
He spent all of his own money, and whatever he could scrounge, on alcohol, and local legend says he once stole a fiddle from a street entertainer and sold it to buy a drink.
One evening in 1884, at the age of 28, out of both money and credit, he waited outside a pub in the hope that somebody would invite him in for a drink. When no one did, he went home and announced to his mother that he was “taking a pledge” and renouncing drinking.
The original plan was for three months. When this time was up, he took a second one, for six months. Eventually, he gave up drinking all together.
After being a drunk for 16 years, he died at the age of 69.
After sobering up Talbot lived a life of prayer, fasting and service, trying to model himself on sixth-century Irish monks. In 1890 he became a Third Order Franciscan, and began wearing a light chain as a form of penance.
Talbot died on his way to Mass on June 7, 1925, collapsing in the street of heart failure. Many came to his funeral a few days later. In 1972, his remains were moved to the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Dublin, in the area where he spent his life.