Mattie’s Death & Legacy
Mattie Stepanek died on Tuesday, June 22, 2004 at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC, due to complications of Dysautonomic Mitochondrial Myopathy. He asked to be remembered as “almost 14” since it was just three weeks before his birthday.
More than 1,500 people attended his wake and funeral Mass at St. Catherine Laboure Catholic Church, including firefighters, Harley Davidson bikers, school children, celebrities, politicians, fans, friends, and many people of diverse nationalities, faiths, and abilities. Country singer Billy Gilman sang one of the songs he and Mattie collaborated on for their Music Through Heartsongs CD, and Oprah Winfrey spoke before the Mass saying:
“I loved his desire to be known for his work,
and not just to be famous….
With Mattie, the light of his life shined so brightly that
every one of who knew him, who were honored
and had the grace to meet him,
will feel the glow for the rest of our lives….”
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter delivered the eulogy, which included:
“We have known kings and queens,
and we’ve known presidents and prime ministers,
but the most extraordinary person
whom I have ever known in my life is Mattie Stepanek.”
Mattie is buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring, MD, with his sister (Katie) and his brothers (Stevie and Jamie) who also died young from complications of the same neuromuscular disease.
Since his death, numerous parks, libraries, peace programs, and awards have been named in his honor, and many schools are using Mattie’s writings and his message of hope and peace as an educational and motivational tool for teaching students.
In 2009, Mattie’s mom, Jeni, penned “Messenger: The Legacy of Mattie J.T. Stepanek and Heartsongs,” with a foreword by Mattie’s friend and fellow poet, Maya Angelou. This memoir offers the intimate details of this ordinary child who lived an extraordinary life, and who chose to celebrate life to its fullest even during the darkest challenges, and inspiring others to do the same.
Recently, a committee formed to explore initiating a “Cause of Canonization” for Mattie, so that his heroic virtues might be formally recognized by the Catholic Church.