St. Paul of the Cross Monastery
148 Monastery Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15203
Phone (412) 381-1188 Fax (412) 481-5049
A collection of sermons presented at AA Retreat Conferences by Fr. Michael Salvagna.
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AA Retreat Conferences
Sermons by Fr. Michael Salvagna
Matt Talbot was born in 1856 in Dublin, Ireland, into a poor
Roman Catholic family that was plagued with alcoholism. At
the age of 12, Matt left school and went to work to help the
family. Unfortunately, he worked in a wine-bottling company,
then a local brewery, and later in a whiskey store. Matt had
ree access to alcohol and it did not take him long to become
a confirmed alcoholic.
As a young man Matt began drinking in pubs with the men of
his town. His mother described it as “going from Guinness to
Jamison in one easy step.” Matt was always a hard worker
but he used his money on booze. He ran up debts, sometimes
sold his clothing, and once stole a fiddle to buy alcohol. By
age 28 he was broke, disheartened, and unemployed. It
seemed like the end of the road for Matt.
One night Matt stopped off at a local Catholic church to pray.
It was his first visit in a very long time. Hitting his knees something
began to stir in him. He realized how totally dependent he had
become upon alcohol and was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” He wanted to change but understood how hard this would be. Remember, these were the days before Alcoholics Anonymous so there were no meetings or treatment centers.
However, a temperance movement began in Ireland called Pioneers that was recommended by both Catholics and Protestants. People took a pledge to abstain from all alcoholic beverages for a length of time, and then renewed their pledge. Matt sought out a priest, made a general confession, and took the pledge for 3 months. Many a day Matt felt he could not keep the pledge, but he turned to God for strength. He prayed daily and went to church regularly. After 3 months Matt renewed his pledge for life, and never took another drink of alcohol for the next 41 years.
Matt Talbot (1856-1925)
A Man Who Recovered From Alcoholism
A miracle had transformed the life of Matt Talbot and this gave him a new lease on life.
Not only was he free of the compulsion of alcohol, but the faith of early years returned
with fervor. Unknown to people at the time, Matt practiced various penances in
reparation for his sins and that of the community. He slept on a plank bed with a piece
of timber for his pillow. After his death penitential chains were found around his body.
Matt was guided in his spiritual growth by Dr. Michael Hickey, a professor of
philosophy at Holy Cross College in Clonliffe. Under his direction Matt studiously
began to read the Bible, the lives of saints like St. Francis de Sales, and the
autobiography of St. Augustine, Confessions. Matt became a Third Order
Franciscan and joined various religious societies. He was generous to a fault, living
poorly in a small flat with little furniture. He gave most of his money to charities
and to the poor.
Matt Talbot was on his way to Mass on June 7, 1925 when he collapsed in the street and died of heart failure. This humble man, who had given his life to Jesus and Mary, returned to his Maker a new creation. From being an indifferent Catholic, Matt became a model disciple of Jesus. Matt Talbot is an icon for Ireland’s temperance movement. Addiction clinics have been named after him along with the Matt Talbot Memorial Bridge in Dublin.
We honor Matt Talbot because of the deep faith transformation that occurred when he became sober and responded to the call of God. His devotional life was rooted in prayer, fasting and service to others. In some ways he was like a monk living in the world, rising at 5 AM each day to attend Mass before work. He was a man who walked by faith and we honor him with the title Venerable in our Church. Perhaps some day he will be called Blessed or even St. Matt Talbot.