Al Matt: He Fought the Good Fight
Al Matt, editor emeritus of The Wanderer newspaper, passed to eternity in the early morning hours of December 8, 2019. In addition to managing the newspaper which was founded in 1867 by Joseph Matt, Al Matt was intricately involved with the Wanderer Forum Foundation from its inception in 1965 by Laurene and Stillwell J. Conner, and Alphonse Matt Sr. In 1973, Mr. Matt took his deceased father’s place on the board of the Wanderer Forum Foundation and helped in its management until 2012. He attended several National Wanderer Forums throughout the years, in St. Paul, Minnesota, Washington, D.C., and Herndon, Virginia.
Alphonse J. Matt, Jr. R.I.P.
August 15, 1931 – December 8, 2019
Al Matt’s Two Words: Truth and the Church
Truth and the Church. Those are the two words I would use to describe Al Matt, owner/editor of The Wanderer newspaper, who passed to eternity on December 8. Gruff, imposing in stature, not willing to give an inch – Al was no saint, none of us are, but he was certainly driven by his commitment to seeing the truth presented and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church preserved.
The first story I turned in as a newly hired editorial assistant at The Wanderer back in 1971 was about a local Catholic Charities conference I’d been assigned to cover. By the book, reporting what was said and by whom. It was returned. “This isn’t a promo piece for Catholic Charities,” I was told, with instructions to write it with a more critical viewpoint.
I did, noting the veiled acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle and no clear connection to the teachings of the Catholic Church, thus making Catholic Charities just another humdrum social services agency.
Tell the Rest of the Story, especially When They Try to Silence it
That is when I began to understand the difference between all the toned-down, drab news service stories in the diocesan papers and The Wanderer’s “the rest of the story” approach to the news. While diocesan papers and columnists accepted the Catholic Bishops’ party line viewpoint, The Wanderer’s cadre of writers would bring in the parts that – sad to say – were omitted, ignored, skewed in favor of the American interpretation of the Catholic Church of the ’70s and beyond.
Case in point: The Vatican decreed in 1973 that First Confession must precede First Communion. One year was given to end all experiments to the contrary (requested by “enlightened” educators who had no use for Confession for themselves, I think). Wanderer readers knew this, embraced this; diocesan education bureaucracy workers probably did as well but ignored the decree, thus setting up 30 years of conflict across the country between parents and coordinators on this issue. How do I know? Parents would write to the paper asking for documentation of the Vatican decree and the editorial staff would send it out. When one of my kids was making First Confession, the parish coordinator mentioned others parishes did First Communion first. When asked, she said pointblank: “We do what the American Bishops say, not the Vatican.”
Al Was a Pro-Life Force
That is just a tiny example of the Church teaching that Al Matt gave to Wanderer readers. When the abortion decision was made in 1973, a Wanderer reporter was in DC, dictating the ruling and its interpretation back to the office on press day so Wanderer readers would quickly understand the true scope of the evil unleashed by the decision. While other news services, Catholic included, merely recited the words of the ruling, The Wanderer made note of the ramifications of the decision, including the part about how states could prohibit abortion in the third trimester, but were not required to do so. Recent discussion about this should have been no surprise, it was there all along. The Bishops testify on human life before congressional committees, The Wanderer reported it. Joe Scheidler arrested, The Wanderer reported it. Babies in a dumpster, and so on.
Al Matt saw to it The Wanderer was a consistent defender of life, week after week, year after year. There isn’t a pro-life group to dispute this.
When Fr. Raymond Brown, SS, a theologian given to questioning the historical accuracy of the Virgin Birth and Resurrection of Jesus was set to address a conference of Catholic educators, Al spearheaded the production of a flier and arranged for several Wanderer writers, himself included, to attend the conference and pass out fliers and pamphlets. He could not stand the thought of Catholic educators in charge of forming the minds of young children in the Faith being exposed to teachings questioning the basic items of that Faith itself.
When the Synod of Bishops met in Rome in 1974 to discuss Evangelization in the Modern World, Al was there, calling in news stories on the discussions to the office so Wanderer readers would know what the Church was really saying, not what the watered down diocesan press was reporting.
Way before sex abuse scandals blew up in Boston, there were rumblings in certain dioceses of these unspeakable crimes. The Wanderer began warning about this clear and present danger. For its efforts reporting on a Canadian case, The Wanderer was sued, though years later the scope of evil in that diocese was publicly revealed. The lawsuit did not stop The Wanderer in the quest for truth.
Al’s Connection to the Bellarmine (f.k.a. Wanderer Forum) Foundation
In 1973, Alphonse J. Matt Sr. passed away and Al Jr. became the head of the newspaper and assumed his father’s membership on the board of the Wanderer Forum Foundation (a.k.a. Bellarmine Forum), a post he held until 2012. The Wanderer Forum Foundation, in its annual conferences in St. Paul, Minnesota, had already established itself as an island of orthodoxy in the crazy times after Vatican II. It was a place where a chapel veil wouldn’t be made fun of, the Rosary prayed, and Mass offered reverently sans guitars and clapping hands. Over 500 people would gather yearly to hear speakers explain Catholic truths, social teachings, Humanae vitae, marriage, priesthood. Many speakers were Wanderer writers, including a law professor from Notre Dame named Charles E. Rice. Al moderated sessions, invited speakers, gave talks, wrote introductions in the Forum books that were published after the conferences.
Even after the National and Regional Forums ceased in 2004, Al Matt was still a guiding presence on the Forum board.
“Saddle Up” to tell the Truth for the Church
Working at The Wanderer office, one never knew what to expect. Thursday was paper day, everything needing proofing before being sent for publication. Why was “Saddle up, we’re going to interview a presidential candidate at the airport” even a surprise? It was a quest for truth as always, a Catholic third party candidate’s views needed to be publicized in contrast to the same old things from the Democrats and Republicans. “Press conference at the Chancery, let’s go!” And Al would be off, ready to ask hardnosed questions off the top of his head. And back at the office, he was there, editing, proofreading, helping with layout. That’s just the way it was.
Even while on maternity leave (20 years!) there were projects dropping on my desk, over and above what the regular staff was doing. Transcriptions of interviews, such as one with James Hitchcock, or mail to be answered. I often wondered what would possess a person to write to a newspaper editor about the troubles in a parish, except the troubles concerned desecration and misdirection and the editor was Alphonse Matt of The Wanderer, the leading and really, the only defender of the Magisterium of the Church willing to stick his neck out week after week, writing and publishing in defense of truth and the Roman Catholic Church.
Al Matt’s Mass of Christian Burial will be on Monday, December 16. Holy Mass will be offered at 10:30am at the Church of St. Agnes in St. Paul, where Al attended and lectored and the site of many Wanderer Forum Masses.
May he rest in peace.
This article, Al Matt: He Fought the Good Fight is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.