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Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Traditional Catholic Pioneer Walter Matt, RIP (Died 22 Years Ago)

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Traditional Catholic Pioneer Walter Matt, RIP (Died 22 Years Ago)

“Walter Matt's courageous decision to found The Remnant in the 1967 could, to all intents and purposes, be said to have given birth to the Traditionalist movement in the United States. In fact, I'd go so far as to say, were it not for Walter Matt, there would be NO Traditionalist movement in the United States.” - Michael Davies


The founder of this newspaper, Walter L. Matt, went to his eternal reward twenty-two years ago this month. My father died at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul in April 2002, at the age of 87. What follows is a brief excerpt from “In the Shadows of an Old Church” – an article I wrote about his passing in the May 15, 2022, edition of The Remnant.

Walter L. Matt Remembered

A singular constant of my father’s life was his profound sense of duty. When his country called in 1942, he went to war for her, spending almost four years in the European theater of war during World War II. When his father and mother were in need in their later years, he cared for them well beyond the call of your typical, 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), he was so open to life that soon he was surrounded by nine children.

He was a decorated soldier and a veteran of World War II; he was chosen by his father (even over his older brothers) to continue the family apostolate as editor of The Wanderer. When principle went head-to-head with his birthright, principle won and without money or even a mailing list – and with seven little children in tow – his Remnant was born.

My father served with the U.S. Armed Forces (in the Middle East, Africa, Italy) from June 1942 until May 1945.

My father was born on February 8, 1915. He was born to German immigrant parents, Joseph and Marie Matt. Joseph Matt would become one of America’s premier Catholic editors. Heading up the German Der Wanderer from 1899 to 1954, he also found time to establish The Wanderer in 1931. An accomplished linguist, historian and philosopher, Joseph Matt was made a papal Knight of St. Gregory. During the war, he was a fierce opponent of Nazism and Communism, so much so, in fact, that The Wanderer brought down the wrath of both Hitler and Pravda at the same time. In the January 16, 1964, issue of The Wanderer, my grandfather explained how it had been during the war. He wrote:

Then, too, the rise of Hitlerism in Germany and the responsibility of keeping our readers in Germany and Austria as well as in America informed of the dangers inherent in this radical movement and its reckless "Fuehrer" was a further reason to keep our German publications intact for the time being. Hitler and his cohorts were only too well aware of the unyielding opposition of the Wanderer, and, in point of fact, ours was one of the first publications outside Germany to be forbidden in the Hitler Reich and in countries occupied later on. We had at that time about three thousand readers of our annual Wanderer-Kalender [almanac, which Joseph Matt had founded in 1902]. This loss was, of course, a severe blow to a small business. Nevertheless, even to this day the lie is occasionally circulated that the Wanderer is a "Nazi paper." Several years ago, a big radio advertiser [the actor, Orson Welles] had to pay damages for circulating the same lie when we took our case to court. Shortly afterwards, the official Communist Russian organ, Pravda, tried to prevail on our Government to suppress the Wanderer because of its intransigent anti-Communist position, and this, in fact, seems to indicate the chief source of the continuing propaganda against our paper.

In the same issue, Joseph Matt introduced the new editor of The Wanderer:

In June 1899, I became editor of The Wanderer.... After sixty-six years of uninterrupted service, I decided last summer that the state of my health warranted at least a partial retirement. The question of a successor offered no problem. My three sons have been my loyal co-workers for many years. Walter, my successor as editor, was a part-time worker even as a student at the College of St. Thomas and entered the Wanderer as an editorial assistant after his graduation from St. Thomas in 1938. In the Second World War, he spent almost three years in Palestine, Egypt, North Africa, and Italy, where he was awarded the Bronze Star for distinguished service. He is well-informed, has a good knowledge of the German language, and is a conscientious journalist. He is married and the father of six children.

My father served with the U.S. Armed Forces (in the Middle East, Africa, Italy) from June 1942 until May 1945. He worked as a German translator and was awarded the Army Bronze Star for his work with U.S. Intelligence and Army Public Relations during that war. He moonlighted as a foreign correspondent for The Wanderer throughout the war years.

mess hall Walter L MattWalter Matt (second from left) in the WWII mess hall

In 1964, he was appointed Editor of The Wanderer by his father. In 1965, the Second Vatican Council ended and, just as it began to spread division throughout the whole world, it successfully divided the Matt family very soon thereafter. Viewing the Council (and especially the collegiality that grew out of it) and the prospect of a New Mass as disastrous for the Church, my father left The Wanderer and founded The Remnant in 1967. At that time, he had seven children. His year-old baby at the time is now the present Editor of The Remnant.

WalterJ holding baby MichaelJ

Thus was founded what was to become the uncontested flagship of the traditional Catholic movement in the United States.

In 1972, my father’s good friend, Father Harry Marchosky, introduced him to a promising young Welsh writer from London by the name of Michael Davies. Those Americans who’ve benefited over the years from the excellent books and articles written by Mr. Davies have Mr. Matt to thank for it. He introduced Mr. Davies to American Catholic readers through his fledgling Remnant and maintained an alliance with him for the next thirty years.

“By the early 1970s,” writes Robert Moynihan in Inside the Vatican, “Michael had already established a reputation for being a formidable defender of the faith and was forming friendships with other wonderful defenders of Catholic tradition in the English-speaking world – men such as Father Paul Crane S.J. in London with Christian Order, Hamish Fraser in Scotland with Approaches, and Walter Matt in the USA with The Remnant. These three publishers formed a mighty triumvirate in defense of Catholic doctrine and tradition, and in Michael they immediately recognized a writer to cherish.”

My father used to refer to himself as a “pick and shovel” editor. He didn’t reinvent the wheel. He just chained himself to the traditional Catholic Faith and never let go. He was a journalist whose every line demonstrated that he was a Catholic who lived in the world but not of it. He didn’t care what the world thought of him; he only cared what God thought. He was a man who called a spade a spade no matter who was using it to bury God.

"The era of the Antichrist is upon us. The Devil, who is the ‘Prince of this world,’ has been let loose on the blind and stumbling masses, and he is telling them that there is no God and thus no Ten Commandments, no sin, no Judgment, no Heaven nor Hell." -Walter L. Matt

In 1947, Walter Matt wrote an editorial in The Wanderer which is in some ways quite prophetic, and which utterly dispels the myth that all traditional Catholics believe Utopia reigned before Vatican II:

"The era of the Antichrist is upon us. The Devil, who is the ‘Prince of this world,’ has been let loose on the blind and stumbling masses, and he is telling them that there is no God and thus no Ten Commandments, no sin, no Judgment, no Heaven nor Hell. He promises instead a paradise on earth, and his motto is: Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die! And the horror is that in many nations today the masses are being deceived by him. Naturally, you do not, therefore, fear for the Church, against which the gates of Hell shall ne’er prevail. Rather, as Bishop Sheen has put it, it is for the world and for immortal souls you fear. You tremble not that God may be dethroned, but that barbarism may reign…And it is with these anxieties that all right-minded men must be filled, rather than brood and despair."

Longtime readers of this paper will recall that one of my father’s favorite scriptural passages was one that came from the divine lips of Our Lord Himself: “I will be with you always, even unto the consummation of the world.”

In your charity, please remember the repose of the soul of Walter Matt in your prayers. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

"When darkness descended on the Church back in the middle Sixties, Walter Matt lit a candle for the remnant. With nothing in the way of resources to draw on, he began publishing anyway, a living demonstration of the three theological virtues and one of the cardinal virtues, fortitude. For over two decades now, Walter Matt and The Remnant have given us the best record in the English-speaking world of the fight to keep our Catholic traditions alive: indeed, the only complete record. Month after month he provided the principal forum for the ablest reporter and commentator on the traditional scene, Michael Davies. When historians of tomorrow seek to record the desperate rearguard struggle of Catholic traditionalists during these grey decades, they will need a complete file of The Remnant. And, remarkably, that is all they will need. What an achievement for one man and his family, operating on a prayer and a shoestring! We can never repay him. Fortunately, there is a world beyond this one where rewards are handled."

Neil McCaffrey, 1989
Conservative Book Club President

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Last modified on Tuesday, April 30, 2024
Michael J. Matt | Editor

Michael J. Matt has been an editor of The Remnant since 1990. Since 1994, he has been the newspaper's editor. A graduate of Christendom College, Michael Matt has written hundreds of articles on the state of the Church and the modern world. He is the host of The Remnant Underground and Remnant TV's The Remnant Forum. He's been U.S. Coordinator for Notre Dame de Chrétienté in Paris--the organization responsible for the Pentecost Pilgrimage to Chartres, France--since 2000.  Mr. Matt has led the U.S. contingent on the Pilgrimage to Chartres for the last 24 years. He is a lecturer for the Roman Forum's Summer Symposium in Gardone Riviera, Italy. He is the author of Christian Fables, Legends of Christmas and Gods of Wasteland (Fifty Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll) and regularly delivers addresses and conferences to Catholic groups about the Mass, home-schooling, and the culture question. Together with his wife, Carol Lynn and their seven children, Mr. Matt currently resides in St. Paul, Minnesota.