Pub-crawler to Penitent: Ven. Matthew Talbot Is an Inspiration to Alcoholics

Matthew Talbot was not wealthy. He was not educated. He was not well-known. In fact, he was a drunk. But he's on his way to becoming a saint.

Statue of Ven. Matt Talbot in Dublin near Matt Talbot Bridge, with a photo of Talbot (inset) in the early 1920s
Statue of Ven. Matt Talbot in Dublin near Matt Talbot Bridge, with a photo of Talbot (inset) in the early 1920s (photo: Main photo: Keresaspa, CC BY 3.0, from Wikimedia Commons)

Matthew Talbot was born in 1856 to a poor family in the North Strand area of Dublin, Ireland—the second of 12 children.  His father was a heavy drinker, as were most of his brothers.

Matthew left school at the age of 12 to work in a wine merchant’s shop. It was there he began drinking, and he continued to drink after he found work in the whiskey shops near the docks.  Like many young Irish lads, Matthew Talbot frequented pubs in the city with his brothers and friends, spending all his wages and running up debts.

One night in 1884, out of money and out of credit, Talbot was unable to buy a drink in the local pub.  He returned home and told his mother that he was prepared to “take the pledge” (stop drinking). After 16 years of heavy drinking, Talbot did stop that day—and he maintained his sobriety for the remaining 40 years of his life.  From that time, he worked earnestly to repay all of his debts.

It is now known that the rehabilitation program he implemented incorporated a version of the “Twelve Steps” of Alcoholics Anonymous—although these steps would not be formulated for another 50 years.

Talbot had been an indifferent Catholic during his drinking days; but in sobriety, he grew in holiness.  He became a Third Order Franciscan, and he gave of what little he had to help the poor and the Church. He lived an austere life, sleeping on a plank bed with a piece of timber for a pillow. He relied on the grace which came from daily attendance at Mass, and from constant prayer.

Matthew Talbot died on his way to Mass on June 7, 1925.  The medical examiner was surprised to find that Talbot had wrapped heavy penitential chains and cords around his waist, arm and legs.  Word of his holiness spread quickly throughout Ireland, and the cause for his canonization was begun almost immediately.

On Oct. 3, 1975, Pope Paul VI declared him to be Venerable (worthy of honor)—the first step along the way toward canonization.  Sometimes referred to as the “Saint in Overalls,” he is the patron of alcoholics. His feast day is June 19.


Matt Talbot Included in a Station of the Cross

In St. Mary Magdalen Church in Media, Pennsylvania, the Stations of the Cross have been recreated by artist Robert McGovern.  Each painted Station includes an image of a saint or a holy person, inspiring the faithful to greater holiness.  Matthew Talbot is pictured in the Third Station (Jesus Falls the First Time).


Official Prayer for the Canonization of Venerable Matt Talbot, OFS

“Lord, in your servant Matt Talbot you have given us a wonderful example of triumph over addiction, of devotion to duty, and of lifelong reverence of the Holy Sacrament.

May his life of prayer and penance give us courage to take up our crosses and follow in the footsteps of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Father, if it be your will that your beloved servant should be glorified by your Church, make known by your heavenly favors the power he enjoys in your sight.

We ask this through the same Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.”