Mattie J. T. Stepanek: American Poet and Peacemaker

Mattie Stepanek, an American poet and peace activist, was born near Rockville, MD in July 1990. During his life he wrote seven best-selling books of poetry and peace essays. And he did it all before he turned fourteen. In June 2004, Mattie died of a rare form of muscular dystrophy. This illness also took the lives of his three older siblings.


Mattie’s hero was former president Jimmy Carter who said of him, “he was the most extraordinary person whom I have ever known.” After Mattie’s death, Carter edited his final book entitled Just Peace: A Message of Hope. Carter wasn’t Mattie’s only admirer. Mattie first appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show when he was eleven and the two became good friends. (see video below) Oprah named Mattie one of her all-time most memorable guests. Both she and Jimmy Carter spoke at Mattie’s funeral Mass. Carter called Mattie “a messenger from God.” And what was Mattie’s message? Said Carter, he called everyone to be “a peace seeker, a peace maker, a peace bringer.”

Mattie’s parents divorced after he was born. He lived with his mother who suffered from muscular dystrophy too. She was not diagnosed until she unknowingly passed the illness on to her four children. From an early age, Mattie was active in his parish. After making his First Communion, he served both as a lector and a catechist. One of his personal maxims in life was this: Life brings storms, but “remember to play after every storm.”

Mattie’s poems were eventually set to music. Billy Gilman, a young country music artist, was chosen to sing some of those poems. Gilman was 2 years older than Mattie and was himself a “young phenom.” His single hit “One Voice” was released when he was only twelve! Both Mattie and Billy became good friends. Billy even sang some of Mattie’s songs at his funeral Mass.

This week, we in the U.S. celebrate the Fourth of July, our Independence Day. It seems fitting that we also celebrate the life of this remarkable young American who worked tirelessly for peace throughout his short life. His poetry, essays, talks, and the example of his personal life have inspired millions of people all over the world. I hope Mattie might encourage and inspire all of us too.

For reflection: Let us look for little opportunities this week to be a bringer of peace for others… by our attention to others’ needs… by our words… by our tone of voice… by our smile… by our gentleness… by our patience… by our calm… by our prayer…

Happy Fourth of July to all of you!

I am offering two videos for your inspiration and enjoyment today. The first is a 5 min. video by Oprah Winfrey. The second is one of Mattie’s poems sung by Billy Gilman. (I’m sorry but I could not find videos with captions.)

#1: In this video you will actually meet Mattie… hear excerpts from his interview with Oprah… meet his amazing mother… and catch glimpses of Mattie’s funeral.

#2: This video is Billy Gilman singing Mattie’s poem “I Am.” The song begins with: “I am black, I am white, and all colors in between… I am scrawny, I am well-fed… I am smart, I am challenged… It continues: “I am scrawny, I am well-fed… I am able, I am weak… I am shadow, I am glory… I am hero, I am loser…” The chorus is: “The color of sky is blues and grays… the color of earth is greens and browns… the color of hope is rainbows and purples… the color of peace is people together.”

I welcome your comments below to this reflection on Mattie Stepanek.

PS: I am posting this blog on Sunday July 3, hoping it will reach all my subscribers by Monday or Tuesday. We’re still having difficulties with my blog. Thank you!


  1. Nancy Stephenson Jumper on July 4, 2022 at 1:15 am

    Such a gift he was to us.

  2. Bonnie on July 4, 2022 at 4:44 am

    Such a moving tribute to a special soul! I had never heard of Mattie. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Renee Stockberger on July 4, 2022 at 6:40 am

    O my, Sr Melannie!
    You have done it, once again. Thank you for this moving tribute. It is especially perfect on Independence Day. Makes one think….

  4. Susan Slaninka on July 4, 2022 at 7:01 am

    What an incredible gift this guy was to the world. He was clear on his mission and lived it to the max. Thank you for choosing to honor Mattie on this day.

  5. Shirley on July 4, 2022 at 8:07 am

    Wow! Sister Melannie, that was amazing, thank you for sharing.. I have never heard about Mattie but what an inspiration to us all, an amazing young man! Was the perfect blog on this beautiful Independence Day!

    • Marie Manning, SND on July 4, 2022 at 9:28 am

      Thanks, Sr Melannie, for this inspirational reflection on a day when I pray that our country may live up to its ideals. Mattie shines as an example of how all of us can, and must, do our part.

  6. Carol Ann Petersen OSB on July 4, 2022 at 8:37 am

    He embodies the prayer, “May his memory be a blessing.”

  7. Amy king on July 4, 2022 at 8:54 am

    Thank you Sister. That was right on for all of us on this day. May God bless us all with peace.

  8. Dolores Leffler on July 4, 2022 at 9:03 am

    Wow! Thank you for the reminder “Peace is people together”!!

    • Rosemary LeVoyer on July 4, 2022 at 2:14 pm

      Hey Dolores ♥️
      Think of you and your family often, and hope you’re all doing well!
      Much Love,
      Rosemary LeVoyer

  9. Dee Bartelme on July 4, 2022 at 9:38 am

    Thank you sister for bring us Mattie Stepanek what a blessing he is for the world seeking peace.❤️

  10. Ruth Gilbert on July 4, 2022 at 9:42 am

    This was awe inspiring. The song brought tears to my eyes. Just goes to show what one person can do. Thank you for sharing this, especially on July 4th.

  11. Mary James on July 4, 2022 at 9:47 am

    Thank you! What a perfect Independence Day reflection
    What an inspiring young man. This is what we need to
    hear more about

    PS. Got the email this AM

  12. Rosemary LeVoyer on July 4, 2022 at 11:25 am

    Happy Fourth of July 🇺🇸 Sister and Friends ♥️
    I remember Mattie and his Sweet Heart. He was such a Gift! May we learn from his life the Joy of being Peaceful, Kind and filled with God’s Love to share with others! A smile is a simple gesture that conveys much Love!
    Rosemary LeVoyer

  13. Mary Nausadis on July 4, 2022 at 11:32 am

    I don’t have words, only tears….his mother….what a life she has had….losing all 4 of her children and a husband who could not endure the pain.

    Thank you for Mattie and his mum!

  14. Judy M Lee on July 4, 2022 at 12:02 pm

    Thank you, Sr. Melannie,
    I have Mattie’s Heart Song many years ago. Even then I knew what a gift he was and the gift he gave, I never knew his full story. What a mom and what a son!

  15. Beverly Redmond on July 4, 2022 at 1:12 pm

    Thank you. When I first saw Mattie on Oprah, I “fell in love” with him, his spirit, his joy, his gifts. Passed on his poetry to friends whom I thought needed them. I looked forward to every appearance on Oprah. Thank you for the reminder of this prophet for our times.
    Happy Independence Day to all fellow humans south of the Cdn border!! Mattie is for all of us today and tomorrow….

  16. Betty Patton on July 4, 2022 at 2:05 pm

    How awesome! Thank you God for the gift of these two young men.

  17. Sr. Maria Battaglia,ASCJ on July 4, 2022 at 3:46 pm

    Such an inspiring boy and life! I am so impressed. He makes such an impact on my life.
    Where can I order his book: Hearts Songs? Thank you for sharing.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 4, 2022 at 5:40 pm

      Sr. Maria, You can order his book online at If you google Heartsongs you might find some other places to get the book too. Thank you for your comment! Melannie

  18. Carol Larsen on July 4, 2022 at 3:58 pm

    Profound! Gut-wrenching! Perfect for celebrating the almost last Independence Day of our troubled Country! Thank you, Sister Melanie, for being a fantastic spiritual conduit for conveying ever-new inspiration and soul searching. This young man was truly sent from God for our troubled times. He and Carlo Acutis must be having some awesome conversations in Heaven!

  19. Sr. Regina Alfonso, SND on July 4, 2022 at 4:12 pm

    Sr. Melannie, of all your WOW blogs this one is the WOWEST!
    …”a little child shall lead them…” comes to mind.
    Thank you for such an inspiration.

  20. Donnamarie Risse on July 4, 2022 at 5:45 pm

    Tears of joy. Thank you for this wonderful sharing.

  21. Kay Woolfolk on July 4, 2022 at 7:29 pm

    I am moved to tears , but tears of hope and joy that this precious Mattie has shared with the world by his extraordinary life.

  22. Annie on July 4, 2022 at 10:02 pm

    What a beautiful inspiration Mattie is! He showed us that a full life can be possible in a few short years. His mom must be a beautiful, faith-filled person to have passed on his sense of purpose in life.

  23. John Hopkins on July 5, 2022 at 6:11 am

    Oh Sr. Melannie…

    I wept through the whole Oprah segment! So, so beautiful! Thank you!

    “The color of peace is people together.”

  24. Linda Torer on July 5, 2022 at 11:52 am

    I used to ‘tape’ Oprah every day. I fell in love with Mattie and followed his journey. What a special soul. Who didn’t fall in love with him. Can picture Jesus welcoming him into his kingdom… What s gift to the world. God Bless his mother…💗

  25. Mary Ann Donna on July 5, 2022 at 1:00 pm

    This story transports the spirit to a higher dimension. Thank you for sharing the inspiration given through his life.

  26. Virginia on July 5, 2022 at 5:45 pm

    Says my email is already yet I do not receive anything?

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on July 5, 2022 at 9:42 pm

      I’m so sorry about this, Virginia. Our IT people know we’re having this problem with a number of subscribers. They assure me they’re looking into it. Thank you. Sr. Melannie

  27. Jane McCarthy on July 5, 2022 at 11:29 pm

    I loved the story of Mattie!! I even went on to watch an interview with Steven King and Mattie. Tomorrow, Women in Ministry meet at Chautauqua Institution. We meet every Wednesday. There is no agenda. We gather to share our stories and offer support and fellowship. We are ministers. spouses of ministers, (non-denominational) teachers, musicians. clergy and laity. Anyone with an interest in women’s ministries. You know, every women has a ministry!!!!
    I plan to take the video. It is so touching. I just want to share Mattie’s ministry!!
    Thanks so much.

  28. Maureen Spillane, SND on July 7, 2022 at 12:28 pm

    Thank you Melannie Absolutely loved this story of Mattie.

  29. Karen Endlich on July 8, 2022 at 8:09 am

    Sr. Melannie, I thank you for your blog, once again. Somehow I had never heard of Mattie until I recently heard his Mom being interviewed on the radio. You manage to bring messages of beauty, peace, wit, new information and calm to my crazy daily life. I plan on finding his books and introducing my boys to Mattie. thank you!

  30. Cheryl Kerwin on July 10, 2022 at 2:57 pm

    Sr Melannie, and they say God works in mysterious ways! Wow! It is July 10th and I was revisiting your 4th of July reflection in my monthly Give Us This Day publication, to shore up an idea for a talk I’m giving tomorrow night within the Catholic Cursillo Movement. I’ve always loved your reflection and promised myselfI would “some day” go to your blog. Well, today was that day, but I know it was the Holy Spirit who said, “yes, take the time, type in the address!”.
    So imagine my surprise when I saw your July 3rd blog about my beloved Mattie! I knew Mattie from womb to tomb and his mother Jeni is a close friend of mine! I am a member of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Guild investigating the possibility of sainthood for this young, holy boy. I am overwhelmed by the beautiful responses I saw here today. Yes, please spread the word about him, and yes, order his books to display and give to others who could use the encouragement (and courage!) that Mattie offers. I will tell you, it’s getting more difficult to find his books, as I’ve been trying to purchase more copies for the guild and myself, copies to give to young children, teens, and young adults I know suffering from cancer, leukemia, depression, or broken homes. I believe Mattie’s poetry can help heal many wounds and inspire hope where some feel there is none.
    Thank you so much Sr Melannie for having the insight to bring Mattie’s life forward once again.

  31. Jeni Stepanek, PhD on July 10, 2022 at 3:07 pm

    Wow! Thank you for sharing Mattie’s essence and mission of “peace, purpose, and play” with your readers.
    Jeni Stepanek (“Mattie’s mom”).

  32. Susan T, Brothermnan on October 15, 2022 at 3:55 pm

    WOW. I am finally taking time….to read all the comments. I cannot think of any more adequate words to describe Mattie, his family and his productions. I do have several of his books and honor him as a little saint. God certainly did bless us all with Matties.
    What I did not know about was the effort of the Mattie Stepanek Guild investigating the possibility of sainthood for this young, holy boy. Please post any updates with Sister Melanie or to me directly. I’ve worked with the Children’s Hospital here for years and know we can revisit there with blessings of Saint Mattie!

    Blessings to all of you.
    Susan Brotherman

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