Guest House recently organized a pilgrimage to Ireland retracing the footsteps of Venerable Matt Talbot, patron to alcoholics, sobriety and people with addictions.

A dozen pilgrims including Catholic priests, religious and Guest House leaders and patrons from across the United States made this first Talbot pilgrimage June 29 to July 5. Each day, the pilgrims celebrated Mass praying for Talbot’s canonization as well as the cause of Catholic clergy and religious struggling to overcome the crosses they bear. 

“It was a very spiritual and moving experience – we want to go back again,’’ said Guest House President and CEO Jeff Henrich. 

Venerable Matt Talbot, OFS, (1856-1925) was a Catholic layman and unskilled builder’s laborer and an active alcoholic for 15 years who transformed his entire life, becoming a lay member of the Secular Franciscan Order. Decades before the 12-step method, he pioneered many of its tenets including living an inspiring life of spirituality and service to others. 

Father Mark Stelzer, Guest House education director, and a leader of several of the popular Matt Talbot retreats, felt called to bring together a pilgrimage. 

“I have given several Matt Talbot Retreats in recent years to groups of lay people,’’ Stelzer said. “Seeing the great devotion so many lay people on those retreats have to Matt Talbot is inspirational.  Catholics and non-Catholics alike on those retreats fervently join in the prayer for his canonization… 

“On another level, I thought a trip in the footsteps of Talbot especially appropriate for the Guest House family given Matt’s great devotion to the Eucharist…Matt attended Mass daily and received Communion regularly.  Long before the founding of AA in 1935, Matt attributed his ability to remain sober to the grace of the Eucharist and to the hours he spent in private prayer/devotion each day.’’

Stelzer plans to further explore the connections between  recovery and the Eucharist during an August retreat in Vermont for Guest House alumni. 

Through a pilgrimage, participants journey to sacred places to encounter God. Pilgrims celebrated Mass each day in selected churches and sacred places. 

“How do you stand at the Cliffs of Moher and not know there’s a God?’’ asked  Deacon Chris Stark, Guest House director of outreach. “It was very humbling for people.’’

Some of the highlights of the eight-day pilgrimage included: 

  • Learning about “American wakes’’ where immigrants preparing to immigrate to America in the 19th century, would celebrate a wake with their friends and family knowing it was quite likely they would never see each other again. 
  • Clonmacnoise, a monastic settlement founded in the year 545 AD on the River Shannon in central Ireland.
  • Ballintubber Abbey, the “Abbey that refused to die,’’ because it has been in continuous use for 780 years, despite repeated efforts to persecute or kill Catholics.
  • Our Lady of Knock Shrine where the Virgin Mary appeared on August 21, 1879.
  • The Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland’s most beloved natural wonders, and the famous Ring of Kerry and Killarney National Park.
  • Blarney Castle and the Stone of Eloquence as well as County Tipperary and the Rock of Cashel.
  • Reviewing the Book of Kells,  an 8th century manuscript of the Gospel, at Trinity College.
  • The Shrine of Venerable Matt Talbot as well as key places he encountered in his life including the very lane where Talbot died on Trinity Sunday, June 7, 1925. 

“We did this for our alumni and for our friends and benefactors,’’ Stark said. “Many of them have felt drawn to Matt Talbot and retracing his life helps us learn his way.’’

Prayer for the Canonization of Matt Talbot

Lord, in your servant, Matt Talbot You have given us a wonderful example of triumph over addiction, of devotion to duty, and of lifelong reverence for the Eucharist. 

May his life of prayer and penance give us courage to take up our crosses and follow in the footsteps of Our Lord and Savior.

Father, if it be your will that your beloved servant should be glorified by your Church, make known by your heavenly power the graces he enjoys.

Give strength to those bound by the chains of addiction.

Enfold them in your love and strengthen them in the work of recovery.

To those who care for them, grant them patient understanding and a love that perseveres.

We ask this through the same Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.