7 Quick Takes Friday: 7 Role Models for Catholic Alcoholics

matt talbot

Here we go again with our 7 Quick Takes Friday hosted by Jennifer Fulwiler over at Conversion Diary. We reciprocate links to her blog and then post 7 “quick-takes” on our blogs.

7 Role Models for Catholic Alcoholics

1. Venerable Matt Talbott

Matt Talbott was born in the poverty of Dublin’s inner city. He began drinking at twelve years of age and became a chronic alcoholic. It was the drug culture of the 19th century. Matt was an addict.

After a horrendous sixteen year struggle, he found sobriety.  He decided to ‘kick the habit’. A priest helped him, giving him a rehabilitation program, which providentially incorporated aspects and principles of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. With the help of this Priest friend Matt modeled his life on that of the monks, who lived in Ireland in the 6th and 7th centuries.7quicktakes

He remained sober for forty years until his death. His life story has been an inspiration for alcoholics and addicts throughout the world. He is a candidate for canonization in the Church and has achieved the title of “venerable.”

Matt’s program of recovery was built around devotion to the Eucharist, love of Mary, Mother of God, spiritual reading, self-discipline and manual work. But he never forgot his struggle with his addiction.

“Never look down on a man, who cannot give up the drink”, he told his sister, “it is easier to get out of hell!” (Matt Talbott)

Here is an 8 minute YouTube video telling the story of Matt Talbott.

seeds of grace book2. “Sister Molly Monahan” (not her real name), author of Seeds of Grace

Sister Molly Monahan” wrote a wonderful book a decade or so ago about her experiences with alcoholism and recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous. She had been drinking, quietly and compulsively, for years when she finally decided to attend her first AA meeting. There she found the emotional support that AA is famous for-but she also found a surprising source of spiritual strength. In this unique book, she reflects on how a nonreligious group brought about such a powerful reawakening of faith-and explores gratitude, community, forgiveness, prayer, and many more subjects of interest not only to alcoholics but to anyone on a spiritual quest.

“Monahan’s unique understanding of both the human and spiritual side of alcoholism forms an important, personal understanding of theology in action.” (Library Journal)

Sister “Molly” was trained in the methods of Ignatian Spirituality, had made week-long retreats annually, had studied spirituality and obtained a graduate degree in theology, yet as she writes, “None of this prevented me from becoming an alcoholic.” And she claims that without Alcoholics Anonymous’ spiritual program of recovery she would be “spiritually bereft.” That is a big statement!  She had all the spirituality and knowledge of Catholic sacramental life yet still couldn’t break the alcoholism cycle until she made it into AA.

I wrote a review of her book here.

Vogt3. Father Emmerich Vogt, “12-Step Review”

Fr. Emmerich Vogt, O.P. is a Dominican priest of the Western Dominican Province. Educated by the Dominican Order at its seminary in California, Fr. Emmerich went on to receive a MA degree in Theology from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and a graduate degree in Near Eastern Religions from University of California.

THE 12 STEP REVIEW is a publication of the Western Dominican Province, a nonprofit organization of the Dominican Fathers and Brothers, and is founded and edited by Fr. Emmerich Vogt, O.P. It is published four times a year through donations. Father Vogt travels around the country giving retreat talks on Christian principles within 12 Step spirituality. Sober for 30 years, Vogt wrote a book published last year The Freedom to Love and continues to make his talks and retreats available on CD and DVD.

The site 12 Step Review is maintained by volunteers and offers a wonderful resource for today’s recovering Catholic alcoholic. My mother attended sessions of his retreat in Johns Creek, Georgia a couple of weeks ago and said they were wonderful and appealing to all types of relationship dilemmas, with the focus on 12 Step process of recovery.

father jim4. Father Jim McKenna (1953 – 2006)

Fr. Jim’s lifelong dream to become a Catholic priest came true in 1960. At that time he took a pledge to refrain from alcohol for five years. In 1965, while he was fulfilling his priestly duties he started enjoying occasional cocktails.

He later went for an evaluation and it was decided that while he was a good priest, he was also an alcoholic. After three months in Guest House in Minnesota, an addiction treatment rehab for Catholic clergy and religious, he returned to Bergen County and attended AA meetings.

Fr. Jim was assigned to Oradell’s St. Joseph’s R.C. Church where he started the recovery mass for anyone affected by the disease of alcoholism, with the hope of giving more people an opportunity to leave the “Hell” of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction and perhaps find the “Heaven of Sobriety.” The Third Saturday mass began with 18 people and quickly spread to over 500. Fr. Jim began each mass with, “Hello, my name is Jim and I am an alcoholic”; and all felt welcome.

This is a special Mass for all who are affected by the disease of Alcoholism. The Recovery Mass continues on even after Father Jim’s death and is held on the third Saturday of every month.

“Alcoholism is a disease, not a bad habit.” (Father Jim)

FatherCanavan5. Father Francis Canavan (1917 – 2009)

An author of more than 10 books and a political philosopher who inspired and encouraged many students at Fordham, Father Canavan taught for 22 years in the Department of Political Science. He wrote prolifically about liberalism and Catholic social teaching, and, during the 1960s, served as associate editor of America magazine. He was also a member of the advisory board of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists.

During the 1980s, Father Francis Canavan had given inspirational talks to members of the Calix Society, which were compiled into a pair of books, The Light of Faith and By the Grace of God. I haven’t read them but intend to. They are both available via the Calix Society website.  He was the spiritual director for the Calix Society for many years.

Here is part of the talk he gave on the topic of the 2nd Step “Coming to Believe:”

“[Coming] to believe is a process that goes on all our lives and is never completely finished. No matter how deeply we believe, we can always believe more deeply, and God will lead us to a steadily more profound faith through the experiences of our lives, if we will let Him. But what is of immediate interest to us here is the coming to believe of the person who has little or no faith in God. “Acting as if” is the way in which he begins the process of coming to believe.” (Father Canavan)

fathermartinpicture6. Father Joseph Martin (1924 – 2009)

Father Joseph Martin, after ten years of priesthood, was encouraged to get help for his alcoholism. He was treated at the Guest House in Orion, Michigan. After getting sober he presented the “Chalk Talk”- a blackboard presentation that helped earn Father Martin national recognition as an authority on addiction.

“Chalk Talk” was filmed by the U.S. Navy for use in drug and alcohol education around the world. Father Martin later received multiple awards for his work with addiction in various branches of the military.

Father Martin and Mae Abraham (an alcoholic who was helped by the “Chalk Talk.”) sought resources to open a chemical addiction treatment center based on Father Martin’s philosophies of treatment, including his heartfelt belief that every addict is worth saving. A 20-acre property, the Oakington estate in Havre de Grace, Maryland was the perfect location for a treatment center.

Finally, Father Martin’s Ashley opened its doors to the first group of patients. The center was named for co-founder Father Martin, as it was his treatment philosophy that would be the basis of patient care. Soon he helped establish the Ashley Relapse Treatment program, which incorporates the Gorski Relapse Prevention Model, 12 Step approaches and Father Martin’s treatment philosophy.

Father Martin’s published a book No Laughing Matter, compiling three of his talks—”The Chalk Talk”, “Guidelines” and “Alcoholism and the Family.” The Rainbow of Hope Children’s Program was started at FMA. Held one Saturday each month, the program is open to all children who live in homes with addiction.

“He (Father Martin) is the master mentor who teaches and touches at the same time.” Robert Ackerman, Ph.D.

pfau7. Father Ralph Pfau (1904 – 1967)

He is believed to have been the first Roman Catholic priest to enter Alcoholics Anonymous and is affectionately known also as “Father John Doe.”

He was a priest in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, ordained at St. Meinrad Seminary, and received an MA in Education at Fordham University.

In the opening paragraph of his autobiography, “Prodigal Shepherd,” Father Pfau wrote:

“All my life, I will carry three indelible marks. I am a Roman Catholic priest. I am an alcoholic. And I am a neurotic.”

He had never a drink until about a year after his ordination. But by 1943 he was sufficiently worried about his drinking to investigate A.A. While responding to a call from a woman who said her husband was dying, he learned from the doctor that the man was not dying, but merely passed out from a combination of alcohol and barbital. As Fr. Pfau was leaving the house he noticed a book on a shelf and asked if he could borrow it. It was “Alcoholics Anonymous.”

AA history recalled by a member who attended the first International A.A. Convention in Cleveland in 1950, speaks of how Father Pfau helped insist that AA remain non-religious.

In this first Convention in 1950, at the ‘Spiritual Meeting’ the main speaker’s topic, “dealt with the idea that the alcoholic was to be the instrument that God would use to regenerate and save the world. He expounded the idea that alcoholics were God’s Chosen People and he was starting to talk about AA being ‘The Third Covenant,’ when he was interrupted by shouted objections from the back of the room. The objector, who turned out to be a small Catholic priest (Father Pfau), would not be hushed up. There was chaos and embarrassment as the meeting was quickly adjourned.” As the member recalls Father Pfau’s objections:

” How well we shall always remember that A.A. is never to be thought of as a religion. How firmly we shall insist that A.A. membership cannot depend upon any particular belief whatever; that our twelve steps contain no article of religious faith except faith in God — as each of us understands Him. How carefully we shall henceforth avoid any situation which could possibly lead us to debate matters of personal religious belief.”

***

So there you go! This is a great list but where are all the Catholic alcoholic women?  “Sister Molly Monahan” on this list but she remains anonymous.  hmmmm..  I am going to have to scout out Google (or Bing, if I’m feeling counter-cultural) for women Catholic alcoholics.  Where are we?

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12 thoughts on “7 Quick Takes Friday: 7 Role Models for Catholic Alcoholics

  1. This. Is. Awesome. I have some homework now in checking these all out.

    And for those of us who have ever been in treatment…oh Father Martin! His chalk talks were the only bright spots in some otherwise dreary and dated 12-step Audio Visual material. I have downloaded and listened to all his stuff since. I didn’t know he had a book. Hello amazon.ca.

    Thanks again – I loved this.

    Love and Light,
    Paul

    • I have never heard the Chalk Talks! How cool they showed them in treatment. I bet they need some updating in delivery but I’m sure the message of recovery is still relevant—this message is timeless. Thank you Paul for reading my stuff!

  2. This is such a treasure of information, history, resources and most importantly inspiration. Thank you for this labor of love.

    • Thank you so much Nancy! I have compiled this information over the months but it is nice even for me to see it all wrapped up in one post here—important to me to get out the message of hope.

  3. This blog is an inspiration. Thank you for sharing. I grew up with a functioning alcoholic in my house, and so while I have never carried the cross of that addiction, I have witnessed its pain.

    • Thank you so much, Sarah. Alcoholism is a family disease, unfortunately. Unlike diabetes or cancer, alcoholism affects all who love the alcoholic, not just the alcoholic herself. Your comment makes me think of my sweet innocent boys… God bless you!

  4. Pingback: 7 Quick Takes Friday: Seven 7-Quick-Takes | Catholic Alcoholic

  5. This is so great! Another role model priest I’ve found is Fr. John Ford S.J. who got sober with the help of AA and was friends with Bill Wilson and helped to edit AA’s 12 Steps and 12 Traditions book. He was a solid Catholic and he even helped contribute to the theological information Pope Paul VI used to produce his great encyclical HUMANAE VITAE http://www.twotlj.org/Ford.html

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