Apr 17, 2014
The name of Matt Talbot is not well known outside of Ireland, but Talbot will likely be canonized in the not-too-distant future and become the patron saint of alcoholics. He was declared Venerable by Pope Paul VI in 1975.
Matt Talbot was born in humble circumstances in Dublin in May 1856. At that time, Ireland was recovering from the devastating famine of the mid-1840s. This was an era of grinding poverty and appalling living conditions, especially in the larger cities.
Heavy drinking and alcoholism were very severe problems in those years, and a deep-seated feature of Dublin life. Talbot’s father and older brothers were heavy drinkers. Alcohol provided one of the few means of escape from the harsh conditions of Dublin life, and it brought with it all the miseries of broken families and unfulfilled hopes.
From his early years up to the age of twenty-four, Matt Talbot was a very heavy drinker, and clearly an alcoholic. This was a source of great distress to his mother. His pay check each week went primarily for alcohol. He frequented pubs every night, and when he ran out of money, he borrowed and scrounged among his fellow drinkers. To sustain his habit, he pawned his clothes and boots to get money for alcohol. On one occasion, he stole a violin from a street musician and sold it to buy drink. Most of his jobs in that early period were deliberately with liquor merchants, where he had easy access to alcohol.
In 1884, however, Talbot stopped drinking and made a three-month pledge to refrain from alcohol. Having been successful in that attempt, he made a year-long and then a life-long pledge. Despite great temptations, he never took a drink again. For the rest of his life, however, abstinence was for him a fierce spiritual and psychological struggle.