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Walking the Old Path:
A Tribute to Walter L. Matt

Michael Davies

The news of the death of Walter Matt was given to me on 22nd April as I was preparing to leave for JFK Airport after a weekend in New York for the 10th Anniversary of the Dietrich von Hildebrand Institute. The long flight home gave me ample time to reflect on this event, which is one of significance for all those who possess what Dietrich von Hildebrand described as a sensus catholicus, which I would translate freely as “being imbued with a Catholic instinct.”

No one possessed this instinct more fully than Walter Matt, and I count it as one of the great privileges of my life to have known him and to have been able to call him my friend. I had the honour of sharing the platform with him in every Remnant Forum in which he participated and of staying as a guest in his home. I remember him best relaxing in the evening with his pipe, his family, and his friends, always good-humoured, always ready with a smile and a joke.

I know that his declining health in recent years, particularly the past year, had been a severe trial both to him and to his wife Marilyn, who cared for him until the very end, and to whom the words “for better or for worse” meant precisely that. I learned from several members of his family of the beautiful and truly Catholic way in which he passed from this valley of tears to “a place of solace, of peaceful rest and of glorious light.” His granddaughter Melanie remarked in a letter to me: “What a man, a man I am privileged to call my grandfather. And on Monday night at Grandma's house, as we put together posters and pictures of Grandpa and thought of all the things he had done, I was becoming a little sad, but when I looked into the next room, the room that had been his, and I saw the wheelchair and the lift and all those painful parts of his life, I realized how happy I should be for him.”

Melanie certainly possesses the sensus catholicus. Our initial reaction to the loss of anyone we love must be sadness, but this must turn to joy if we truly accept that death is not the end, but the beginning, the beginning of the eternal life for which our transitory years on earth have been no more than a preparation, and I can think of no one who had prepared for eternal life in a more Catholic way than Walter Matt, and I can think of no one with more right to utter those inspiring words from the Second Epistle to Timothy: “I have fought a good fight: I have finished my course: I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day, and not only to me but to them also that love His coming.”

We should indeed, as Melanie tells us, be happy for him, and as for those that mourn him: “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more.”

Every traditional Catholic owes a debt of gratitude to Walter Matt, not least for the fact that it is due to him more than any other individual, with the possible exception of Hamish Fraser, that we have a traditionalist movement in the English-speaking world. Walter was, to all intents and purposes, editor of The Wanderer for thirty years, and just as his father had done before him, used it to propagate the traditional doctrine which was accepted totally and joyfully by almost every member of the thriving and expanding Church in the United States. Then came Vatican II... MORE>>>

In the Shadows of An Old Church

Michael J. Matt
The Remnant

The founder of this newspaper, Walter L. Matt, has passed away. He died at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul on April 21, 2002, at the age of 87. I had actually anticipated that I would know precisely how to write this brief tribute to him by now, several weeks after his passing; but, alas, I scarcely know where to begin. Ever since his passing, there’s been a certain sense that we’re all going through the motions of being in mourning, but that the great man is not really gone at all. Certainly death comes to us all, but the passing of some men becomes so unthinkable after awhile that one almost comes to regard the prospect of it as an absurdity.

This is how it was for me with respect to my father. Larger than life in so many ways, he was the ever-present institution upon which many of us leaned heavily, even up until the very end. In fact, this will be the first editorial I’ve ever written that will not have received his approval before going to press. Even in advanced years, he oversaw his little Remnant and his growing family as best he could, as the constraints of old age and declining health did their best to sidetrack him. Even from his wheelchair in his housebound condition, I don’t think it ever crossed his mind to give up the fight.

And now he’s gone, and now there’s that odd absence in our lives where once a great presence had been. Will I miss my father? “Miss” is not a big enough word. I fear going on without him. I don’t deceive myself—I could never adequately fill his shoes as a Catholic journalist and defender of the holy Faith. As I see it, I’ll go on chasing after him as best I can, but I’ll never truly replace him. Such a great man could never be eclipsed by such an ordinary one. And so the memory of his wisdom, his faith, his courage, his devotion, his humility, his Catholic sense will for a time have to light the path for the rest of us, even if he himself is no longer here to walk beside us and show us the way. Yes, I’ll miss him. For the rest of my life, I’ll miss my father.

His Life

The notable milestones along the road of my father’s life may not reveal greatness as the world defines the word, but this does not mean that Walter Matt wasn’t a great man. His greatness was derived not so much out of his inventiveness or even creativity, but rather out of the singular constant of his life—his profound sense of duty. When his country called in 1942, he went to war for her. When his father and mother were in need in their later years, he cared for them well beyond the call of an ordinary dutiful son. When his Church came under attack, he went up against the whole world to defend her. When God called him to marriage late in life (he was 38), my father didn’t flinch. He was so generous and open to life that soon he was surrounded by nine children. MORE>>>




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