The New Matt
Matt never married, though he once received a proposal. He had been working on a building job away from home where several maids and a cook were employed. He caught the eye of the cook because he didn't flirt with the maids or curse and swear like the other men. She introduced herself and got to know him. Finally she suggested marriage, mentioning that she had saved a tidy sum of money they could use to furnish a home. Matt said he would let her know in a week or so, but first he wanted to pray for guidance. When he got back to her, he told her the answer was that he should remain single.
Eventually he moved back to live with his parents; when his father died in 1889 they were living in Middle Gardiner St. Matt and his mother after a number of moves finally settled in 18, Upper Rutland Street where Elizabeth Talbot spent the last twelve years of her hard life, looked after by Matt who more than made up to her for the thoughtlessness of his youth.
Though Matt was not familiar with the idea of a confessor or spiritual director he innately knew that he needed guidance. For several years after 1884 he went to confession to a Jesuit priest, Fr. James Walsh, who was in charge of the Men's Sodality in Gardiner Street church from 1884 to 1913.
Later he found other directors and soul friends, one in particular Mons. Michael Hickey. But at this time he seems to have found in Fr. Walsh S.J. a most discerning and sympatric director as can be seen from the books he collected between 1884 and 1900.
Matt was almost illiterate and to master reading must have taken a huge effort on his part, but because he read at a snail's pace it meant that what he read had time to sink
in and to sink deep. When he met a passage he could not understand he copied it out and passed to the priest after his next confession and asked for help.
The Psalms and the Book of Wisdom were his favourite Old Testament books. He seemed to have a preference for St. Matthew's Gospel, but he read each Gospel account of the Passion frequently; these pages are worn almost to sheds. In the letters of St. Paul he marked several passages including all 1Cor. 13, St. Paul's beautiful exposition on love.
For Matt the late 1880's saw great victories over old temptations and habits, the conquest of discouragement and the laboriously acquired ability to read. His delight was to spell through a text of scripture or to pore over a paragraph of that great convert, St Augustine, to learn – through the good offices of some bright schoolboy or some workmate better educated than him – the meaning of an unfamiliar word or phrase and as often happens with friendship the friends of Jesus became Matt's friends. He loved to read the lives of the saints and called St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Avila, 'grand girls'. Prayer and spiritual reading had taken the place of his former drinking companions.
A former President of Ireland, Sean T. O'Kelly, was an altar boy in St. Joseph's church, Berkley Road and recalls that occasionally he would open the church for 7.00 am Mass and Matt would be praying kneeling on the steps waiting for the doors to be opened. When Matt went into the church he went straight to Our Lady's Altar he had great devotion to Our Lady and would pray with great reverence there before Mass. Once Mass began he seemed to be oblivious of everyone. He never sat down during Mass he either knelt or stood.
At other times he would be seen praying before the Crucifix. At such times there was a look of ecstasy on his face. I would say that he was the nearest I could imagine to one in ecstasy.
After Mass he would talk to the altar boys about Our Lady or the saint of the day. He always gave us sound advice. I would say that he was an outstandingly holy man.
Matt's spiritual life continued to deepen. One wonders what his mother thought when she woke at night and saw Matt kneeling motionless in prayer she made no comment on his nightly vigils to neighbours, but told her daughters how she had heard Matt talking with Our Lady. Her daughters, by then married and in homes of their own took their cue from her. Long after their brother's death they testified, 'We never spoke much about Matt outside our own family, though we knew he was a holy man.'
Matt's life had become one of prayer, penance, fasting and daily acts of charity. He 'had a thing about honesty'. For years after 1884 he when back to pubs where he use to drink, paying back arrears he owed for drink. He would go in hand over the amount he owed in an envelope and hurry away. He did this until he had repaid every last penny.
A seven year search for the fiddler whose fiddle the Talbot boys had stolen proved fruitless. Matt was very upset by this and tramped the city enquiring after the man's whereabouts but to no avail. Finally he gave the money he was holding to compensate the fiddler to have Masses offered for his soul. Larry McLoughlin a fellow workmate of Matt's well remembers the day that Matt pawned the fiddle for drink. "Matt's turning away from drink was a most extraordinary miracle and his conversion and following our Lord was an example to countless workers like myself."