Mattie died on June 22, 2004 at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC due to complications of his neuromuscular disease. He asked to be recalled as “almost 14” since it was just three weeks before his birthday. His final word in the moments before his passing was “Yes!” His wake and funeral Mass — both held at St. Catherine Labouré, the largest Catholic Church in Montgomery County, Maryland where Mattie lived at the time of his death — were attended by thousands of people — diverse in age and ability and race and religion. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter delivered the eulogy, saying: “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.” Oprah Winfrey, one of several people who offered pre-Mass reflections, called him “a modern-day prophet in little boy’s clothes” and said he had a deep and positive influence on her life and decision-making. Later in 2011, she named him one of her top three most memorable guests across the 25-year run of her tv talk show. Mattie is buried alongside his siblings at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Wheaton, Maryland.
Mattie wanted to be remembered as “a poet, a peacemaker, and a philosopher who played.” In 2005, the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation was created as a non-profit with the mission of making the messages of hope and peace Mattie shared available to global neighbors through activities and programs. In the years 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 addition to numerous posthumous honors and awards recognizing his humanitarian efforts and peacemaking mission, in 2007, USA Today listed Mattie one of the Top 25 Lives of Indelible Impact, and in 2007, his final book, “Just Peace: A Message of Hope” was awarded the IPPY Gold Medal for the Peacemaker Category. In 2008, the 26+ acre Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park was dedicated in Rockville, Maryland — a space that includes areas for recreation and relaxation, and also a Peace Garden with an information and sound-post and a life-size bronze of Mattie and his service dog, Micah. In 2009, another Peace Park with a bronze bust of Mattie was dedicated in his honor in Carlstadt, New Jersey. Also in 2008, the “Three Dot Dash” youth mentorship program was initiated by the We Are Family Foundation with an annual “Just Peace Summit;” by 2018, more than 300 global teen leaders in more than 50 countries on six continents had learned about Mattie’s peace message and amplified their projects that tend to basic human needs. In 2014, a Congressional Resolution was issued in support of the “Peace Day Campaign” — an endeavor of Mattie’s Foundation to have his July 17th birthday proclaimed “Peace Day” in the United States — expanding the “Mattie’s Peace Day” proclamations and celebrations that have already been declared by the City of Rockville, by Montgomery County, and by the State of Maryland. In 2019, Mattie was named one of CNN’s “Champions for Change.”