Archdiocese a leader in addiction recovery services
In response to the addiction epidemic, which affects one in three households nationwide, the Archdiocese of Boston, under the direction of Cardinal Sean O'Malley, created a Task Force to tackle this devastating problem. The Task Force has implemented two programs -- the Archdiocesan Addiction Recovery Pastoral Support Services (AARPSS) and the iTHIRST initiative -- to help serve those who struggle with addiction as well as their loved ones.
Father Joe White, a leader in addiction recovery programs and leader of AARPSS, shares that, "very few families, very few communities go unscathed by the illness and disease of addiction." And the need for programs like these has increased dramatically over the past two years.
The iTHIRST program, a mission of the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, is the first of its kind in the nation which trains spiritual companions to accompany individuals in addiction recovery and offer support to their families. Working closely with its founder Keaton Douglas, the Archdiocese of Boston was the first to implement the program, which has now expanded worldwide. Currently, there are 34 parishes and organizations here in the archdiocese that have trained iTHIRST Spiritual Companions. Programs such as iTHIRST are made possible through the support of the annual Catholic Appeal.
Keaton recently shared with us the story of James and Melinda whose lives have been changed through their connection to iTHIRST. Their stories are ones that are echoed through the lives of so many others who deal with the disease of addiction.
Forty-three-year-old James walked through the doors of an iTHIRST retreat house with doubtful apprehension. A stint in prison landed him in a court-ordered treatment facility, which had brought him to this particular retreat, where he would share that he had spent the last 15 years homeless and addicted to heroin, living in bus and train terminals, all as a result of a Vicodin prescription given for a pulled tooth.
He admitted that the Vicodin made him forget the pain of being the only kid at school with a father in prison, a kid who struggled with his own identity, a kid who was the constant focus of bullies throughout his life.
James' doubtful apprehension morphed into intrigue and curiosity as he was greeted by iTHIRST volunteers who welcomed him with warm hugs and kind words. He had not had any connection with God up until that moment but wondered about the volunteers who were ministering to him out of love. Who was this God that motivated them with such passion?
Something clicked for James over the course of that retreat, and he fully committed himself to his recovery. Now six years later, he is a well-respected member of the iTHIRST Team, sharing his story with college students, confirmation candidates, and others. He also works full-time as a peer recovery specialist in a hospital, where he gets a chance to extend God's love and compassion to others, just as it was extended to him. James' story is not only about the perils of addiction, but how the development of a relationship with Christ can help us through all our trials and give our lives meaning and purpose.
Melinda lost her beloved firstborn son, Nunzio, to a fentanyl overdose in 2018 after a 15-year struggle with addiction. It all began with an Oxycontin prescription he received after a minor surgery. Because of the shame and stigma associated with the disease, Nunzio hid his addiction from his family for years. By the time Melinda and her husband realized what was really going on, it was too late.
Melinda realized that her son longed for spiritual healing, but no one in her church understood or was equipped to address the nature of addiction as a spiritual disease with devastating physiological and psychological effects. For this reason, Melinda committed to helping empower the Church to be a resource for those suffering from addictions and their families. She joined the very first iTHIRST cohort and completed her training in the fall of 2020. She credits that training with saving her from the grief she felt after losing Nunzio.
Today, Melinda is a true warrior in the fight to end the stigma of addiction, carrying with her Nunzio's legacy, as she works as a Spiritual Companion in a multifaceted recovery ministry that she created at her parish. As a professor at a Catholic university, she has developed programs which allow students to understand the concept of addiction through the interface of their Catholic faith and their coursework. As a bereaved mom, Melinda uses her personal experience and her iTHIRST formation to help her work one-on-one with other parents who are struggling with their children's addictions.