Mattie J. T. Stepanek

Poet and Peacemaker (1990–2004)
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Photo courtesy of Jennifer Smith Stepanek, Ph.D. Used with permission.

If he had lived past his fourteenth birthday, if science had discovered a cure for the rare mitochondrial disorder that had previously claimed his three older siblings, Mattie Stepanek would have liked to be an ambassador for peace, sharing a message of love and hope with all humanity. But he died on June 22, 2004. 

Mattie was raised by his mother, who discovered only after her children’s births that they all shared the same disorder. Mattie expected his life would be short, and with that knowledge he embraced each day as a gift, with a purpose. He published several volumes of his poems, the first of which made The New York Times bestseller list. He called them “Heartsongs”—a call to each person to remember “their unique reason for being.” 

By that time Mattie had already left a wide mark on the world. After his First Communion he became a lector in his parish, and by age nine he was teaching catechism classes. He spoke widely about his experience and what it felt like to be “living while also dying.” After appearing on Oprah Winfrey’s show, she named him one of her all-time most memorable guests. His hero Jimmy Carter, who gave the eulogy at his funeral and edited his posthumous book, Just Peace, said that Mattie was the most extraordinary person he had ever known. There was no doubt, President Carter said, that Mattie was “an angel of God, a messenger of God.” His message was simple. He called everyone to be “a peace seeker, a peace maker, a peace bringer.” Life brings storms, he said, but “[r]emember to play after every storm.” 

“Think gently, speak gently, live gently.” —Mattie J. T. Stepanek 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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