Sunday 22 January 2023

The Making of Matt Talbot - Mary Purcell

The Making of Matt Talbot
Mary Purcell

This is the fourth book or booklet I have read on Venerable Matt Talbot in as many weeks. I have become fascinated by the man and his life. This is the shorter of two works on the man written by Mary Purcell, this one was published in 1972, and a much longer work, Matt Talbot and His Times, was published in 1976. Both works by Mary have the Nihil Obstat and Imprimi Potest. I have tracked down 3 other volumes about him I plan to read. And have 2 or 3 others I am trying to lay my hands on. The first volume I read just about Matt was The Holy Man of Dublin: or the Silence of Matt Talbot by Alice Curtayne, and I have been hooked since. I have picked up several books about Matt and Saint David of Wales and have been alternating them as my non-fiction reads. I have been talking to friends about Matt and his life for a few weeks now. And the more I read the more inspired I become. 

The chapters in this volume are:
Prayer for the Canonization of Matt Talbot
Matt Talbot, Dubliner
First Job
The New Matt
Matt on Strike
Trinity Sunday 1925

There were a few stories and facts in this short volume that I had not encountered previously. It was another excellent read bout this man. I highlighted numerous passages while reading this booklet. Some of them are:

“Into that Ireland, to all appearances subjugated, Matt Talbot was born. The second of twelve children, nine of whom survived childhood and adolescence, he knew little security or stability in his early years. His family shuttled over and back between St Agatha's (North William Street) and the Pro-Cathedral parishes, moving every other year from one tenement home to another.”

“He ceased going to the sacraments in 1882, but continued to attend Mass. On the few occasions in later life when he referred to his youth he admitted that from his early teens until his late twenties his only aim in life was heavy drinking.”

“Holy Cross College was on the outer rim of the Dublin of 1884 and not far from Newcomen Avenue, where the Talbots then lived. Matt met a priest, took the pledge and went to confession. Next morning, Sunday, he went to Holy Communion and on the Monday Mrs Talbot must have asked herself was she dreaming when Matt got up before 5 a.m. to go to Mass in the Jesuit church in Gardiner Street before going on to work.”

“He was still a builder's labourer, a casual worker fetching and carrying for the skilled tradesman. But in one sense he had found permanent employment. He had been taken on by the Master-Builder to clear the site of his own soul for a dwelling not made with hands, a temple for the Triune God. He brought to his new occupation the same verve, the same doggedness and energy that had marked him out as a hodman.”

“For the seven years after his 'conversion', the portrait of Matt Talbot that emerges is one of a man intent on humbling and hiding himself, a man mindful of his soul and its progress, a worker diligent and faithful in both his spiritual and temporal employments.”

“When he met a passage he could not read or understand, he copied it out and after his next confession passed the piece of paper to the priest and asked for help. Father Walsh was sometimes absent and other Jesuits, since dead, recalled having been asked by a penitent to read or explain a text of scripture· or a quotation from some spiritual classic written on a scrap of paper – obviously by someone not used to writing.”

“He read the Lives of the Saints and called St Catherine of Siena and St Teresa of Avila, ' grand girls.' He read and re-read Teresa's instructions on how to pray, for he felt irresistibly drawn to prayer. Prayer and spiritual reading took the place of his former drinking companions.”

“Whatever' remained of his wages after paying his rent and buying the little food he allowed himself went to the Foreign Missions, to orphanages and other charities. He helped his sisters and their families; he saw when neighbours were in need and came to their aid.”

“Dr Moore later gave his impressions of his patient; he. spoke under oath as a witness appearing before the tribunal judging Matt's Cause : ‘He behaved wonderfully as a patient. He was an extraordinarily religious, a saintly man. At first I thought that he might be some kind of religious crank, but I soon changed my opinion of him. I was very much impressed by him; he was one of the gentlest men I have ever met . . . . I would like to have had him as a friend. . . . Of all the persons I have ever met, Matt Talbot seemed to me to be an outstandingly holy man.’ The nuns in the Mater called him 'poor old Tach,' from his ailment, tachycardia.”

“After his death Matt Talbot's reputation for holiness became widespread. In 1931 the first enquiry into his life began and six years later a Papal Decree, introducing his Cause was signed. The second enquiry, part of the normal procedure towards beatification, began later and in 1949 forty witnesses were examined by the Tribunal set up to conduct investigations.”

“There, in the heart of his native city, Matt Talbot's remains await the final resurrection. There people come to pray. They pray to him, remembering how his friend Dr Hickey said that he had never known Matt to ask God for a favour but it was granted. ·They pray for him, that he may yet be raised to the altars of the Church and honoured with the title of Saint.”

I would have liked to known Matt. And I can aspire to some small part of his mortifications and devotions. In the book we are informed:

“Saints are saints, however, not because they are proclaimed saints, but because they are holy. God, not the proclamation, makes the saint. Human goodness is met with often enough, in unlikely as in likely persons; but sanctity is rare, so rare that few have the privilege of encountering it.”

And so I consider Matt a friend in heaven. In a couple of years we will be celebration the centenary of the death of Matt Talbot. I am not sure if there will be movement on his cause or not. But I am certain there will be a renewed interest the man, his life, and his devotion. I can only hope some of the volumes about him that are long out of print will make a reappearance. 

Again I can easily state, this is a book any Catholic could benefit from read. It will inspire and challenge readers of all ages. I can easily recommend this volume. And I have a few other books about Matt I still plan on reading. This is an excellent little biography.   

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan

Books about Matt Talbot:
Matt Talbot and His Times - Mary Purcell
Matt Talbot: His Struggle, His Victory over Alcoholism - Susan Helen Wallace 
Matt Talbot - Xavier Carty 
Spotlight on Matt Talbot  - Edward O'Connor, S.J.
Matt Talbot - Simon O'Brynne 
The quest for Matt Talbot - Philip Rooney 
We knew Matt Talbot - Albert H Dolan
Matt Talbot - James F. Cassidy. 
An address to Pope John Paul II from the Parish of Matt Talbot, The Worker. 
Matt Talbot : the Irish worker's glory - James Francis Cassidy 
Matt Talbot - Albon White 
The Story of Matt Talbot - Malachy Gerard Carroll

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