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Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek (July 17, 1990 – June 22, 2004), known as Mattie J.T. Stepanek, was an American poet who published six The New York Times Best Seller list books of poetry. He became a peace advocate and motivational speaker.
Matthew Stepanek was born on July 17, 1990 to Greg Stepanek and Jeni Stepanek. Stepanek's parents divorced when he was a child. He was raised in Upper Marlboro, Maryland and later lived in Rockville, Maryland. His hero was American politician Jimmy Carter.
Stepanek suffered from a rare form of muscular dystrophy, dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy. His three older siblings died from dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy too. In 1992, his mother was reportedly diagnosed with mitochondrial disease.
Stepanek was a poet and the lyricist for Music Through Heartsongs, an album produced by Sony,[when?] performed by Billy Gilman, and which debuted at number 109 on the Billboard 200 and at number 15 on Hot Country Songs.
Shortly after Stepanek's death in 2004, his mother established the non-profit Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation.
On October 18, 2008, the 26-acre (110,000 m2) Mattie J.T Stepanek Park in Rockville, Maryland, was dedicated. Oprah Winfrey, Nile Rodgers, Billy Gilman, politicians, and others[who?] attended the event. Pepper Choplin set words from Stepanek's final peace speech to music, and a 100-voice choir performed the debut of "Look Up Way Down". Central to the park is the "Peace Garden", which was designed based on the peace imagery Stepanek used in his essay book, Just Peace: A Message of Hope. In the Peace Garden there is a life-size bronze statue of Stepanek and his service dog, Micah, surrounded by chess tables. Throughout the park are quotes and soundbites from Stepanek.
On June 6, 2010, the world premiere of "Heartsongs"[clarification needed] took place at Carnegie Hall, NY, featuring Stepanek's poetry set to music by composer Joseph Martin, and performed by a 200 voice combined Children's Choir and other members of the Distinguished Concerts Singers International under the direction of conductor Stephen Roddy.
In 2011, Oprah Winfrey named Stepanek as one of her all time most memorable guests in the 25 year history of her show. During the final studio audience taping, Stepanek's mother and Oprah shared memories of Stepanek, discussed his life story in the "Messenger" book, and Oprah called him "a messenger for our times."
On September 21, 2012, the Feast of St. Matthew the Apostle, the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Guild was officially initiated. The purpose of the Guild is to gather information and investigate Stepanek's life for the possible Cause of Canonization in the Catholic Church. In 2013, the National Catholic Partnership on Disability posthumously honored Stepanek with the Youth/Young Adult Leadership Award. On June 22, 2014, a Memorial Mass at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, DC commemorated Stepanek's ten year death anniversary. It was concelebrated by several priests from the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.
At the behest of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation, in 2013, Barbara Mikulski, a United States Senator from Maryland, sent a letter to US President Barack Obama, wanting to declare July 17 (Stepanek's birthday) a national peace day in Stepanek's honor. In July 2014, Ben Cardin, a junior United States Senator from Maryland, joined Mikulski in introducing a House Resolution (#509), which was approved by the Senate and honors Stepanek's life and peace legacy, and the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation's campaign for a National Peace Day.