In the 17th century the Mathew family came to Ireland from Wales. George Mathew settled in Thurles, Co. Tipperary, married Elizabeth Poyntz, widow of Thomas Butler, Viscount Thurles. Their son George built Thomastown Castle where Theobald Mathew was born on 10th October 1790. His parents were James Mathew and Anne White, whose family gave its name to the village of Cappawhite, Co. Tipperary.
Theobald was a cousin of Nano Nagle the foundress of the Presentation Sisters. He spent the first five years of his life at Thomastown Castle then moved, with the family, to Rathcloheen House, Golden. He was to return, frequently, to the Castle which had an importance influence on his future life.
His genuine concern for the poor and distressed manifested itself from an early age. He possessed a humane, charitable and pious disposition, caring for the sick the lame and the blind. This concern was to pervade his future life as a Capuchin.
He was educated at a private school in Thurles where he had as one of his companions, Charles Bianconi, the future stagecoach operator. He received further education from a local priest, Fr. Denis O’Donnell and was sent to St. Canice’s Academy, Kilkenny at the age of ten. He entered St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth in September 1807 but did not remain long. He requested to join the Capuchin Order and was received into the Order as a novice in 1810. He was ordained in Dublin on Holy Saturday, 17th April, 1813.
His first assignment as a Capuchin was to Kilkenny. Within a year he transferred to Cork where he remained for the rest of his life.
From a small friary at Blackamoor Lane he captured the affections of the poor and the confidence of the rich. His treatment of the penitents in the confessional drew attention to him as being remarkably sympathetic. Because of the crowds he adopted a practice of hearing confessions on a daily basis, often as early a 5.00 a.m. or a late as 8.00 p.m.
His reputation as a preacher drew many to hear him. His sincerity rather than his oratory having a profound effect of the congregation.
Care for the poor and underprivileged was always his chief concern and in 1819 he founded the Jesephian Society, the precursor of the present day Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
He was elected Provincial of the Irish Capuchins (1822 – 1852)