Dublin’s Sean McDermott Street is the address where one finds the Parish of our Lady of Lourdes. It is not a popular district for tourists, so here there are no bars recommended by guidebooks where one goes to drink a Guinness, or a precious local whiskey. But for those who have the habit of raising their elbow a little too much, perhaps it would be a good idea to come here.
Even the Venerable Matt Talbot, buried here, was an alcoholic. Now there is a process of beatification going on for him, and soon, who knows? He very well may be proclaimed “saint.”
Nevertheless, he may already be considered a patron of men and women struggling with alcoholism He was born in Dublin in 1856, second of twelve brothers. Alcoholism then was a scourge in Ireland among poor families like the Talbots. And working as early as 12 years before bottling beer, then downloading whiskhey in the port, certainly did not help him. At 27, impoverished and brutalized by vice, he vowed not to drink for three months. Since then he no longer touched on alcohol for the rest of his life, dedicated to prayer, to charity, in the third Franciscan order, and to social commitment as the founder of the Christian Workers’ Movement.
n 1972 his remains were removed from a tomb in Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Sean McDermott Street, Dublin, in the area where Matt spent his life. In 3 October 1975 Pope Paul VI declared him “venerable”, whit the decret on his “heroic virtues”. Now the news is that Pope Francis, arriving in Dublin on Saturday 25 august, will stop here to venerate at least the chain found under the clothes of Talbot when he suddenly died of a heart attack, at 69, on his way to Mass on Trinity Sunday, 7 June 1925. The chain was a sign of devotion and penance.
While the Pope’s pause was to be brief and only outside the Church, organizers warned, the Pope decided to quickly enter and pray before the relics anyway. Pope John Paul II was supposed to stop over during his 1979 visit, but he ran out of time. Here is our conversation with Salesian Parish Priest, Father Michael Casey:
How well known is the place where we find ourselves now, the Shrine of Matt Talbot?
It is really well-known in the [United] States, England, and in some parts of Australia. Saint John Paul II had great devotion to the venerable Matt Talbot, and he wrote a little booklet on the life of Matt Talbot and he had great hopes that he would be able to canonize him.
Also Pope Paul VI, when he was a cardinal, he came to Dublin and he visited the grave of Matt Talbot. He was actually the Pope who made him venerable.
At that time, alcohol was the drug of “choice” of Matt. And that has been part of our history. Some have taken to alcohol to deal with life’s challenges and deal with life’s pain. It still is a challenge for us, our Irish society, but unfortunately there is not only alcohol, there are many other drugs on the market, at the choice of many people.
So addiction is certainly a symptom of a deeper yearning and hunger, not only for spirits. And that is why the life of Matt Talbot gives us a lot of encouragement and hope tor people. His life teaches us that when we have a hunger and a thirst, we need to understand what we are really searching for, what can satisfy it. And that is not alcohol or drugs. And Matt’s thirst, was for the Living God.
Is faith enough to overcome addictions like alcoholism?
I think in fairness to Irish society and the government, I think they are trying to implement different laws to curb excesses of alcohol and help to have a different attitude towards it. We often say that we don’t see people drunk or overly intoxicated in other European countries, whereas here in Ireland we tend to binge drink, that has destructive effects on families and relationships.
So it is a problem, an issue that we are very aware that in Irish society. But it is a challenge, an open battle, an education, targeting young people, to help them to make more positive choices.
What do you do to promote the knowledge and the devotion to the Venerable Matt Talbot? Are there any special activities?
Our team here, we are the custodian of this church where his relics are. We are here mainly here mainly to welcome people, pilgrimages, give talks, promote through the web site, and so on.
One of the priest, father Brian Lawless, is the vice-postulator. He, at a national level and the international level is trying to promote the cause in different ways.
What is the significance of Pope Francis’ visiting here?
A visit here wasn’t part of the original plan, but I think the Archbishop of Dublin Mons. Martin, and Pope Francis himself feel very much at home in this community, for it is one that has had its struggles, its own challenges, and has people of great faith. So I think they feel very much at home here. I think it has been a very symbolic gesture of him putting his feet on this sacred soil that is our home. It is something very special for us. We feel blessed by his presence and encouraged.
According to the program, the Pope was supposed to remain outside the Church, but given that Francis usually does not follow programs, were you happy that he came in to pray before the relics?
We know, Pope Francis often surprises people… It was wonderful he decided to enter! Aware his time was very very tight, we were planning to bring the relics of Matt Talbot to him, to show him. They are very special relics: one is the chain that Matt Talbot used as part of a devotion to Mary. It became important because when he died and when he went to the hospital, the nurses saw the chain and they wondered to this man was. The other was the lovely cross which Matt used in his room. His room for him was a kind of monastic cell. Therefore, we were glad Pope Francis saw these, and that he found the wings to come and pray here!