By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff
TAUNTON, Mass. — When Deacon Robert Craig first became involved with a 12-step program to support his daughter’s recovery effort, he noticed some interesting parallels to his own faith journey, even though the program remained decidedly non-denominational.
“Most of the recovery programs certainly recognize a ‘higher power’ but they don’t want to say this is a religious program because then there’s a potential for exclusion,” Craig told The Anchor. “Someone could say: ‘Well, I’m an atheist, so I can’t attend.’ So they tend not to have that be something that is part of their principles. They recognize Spirituality but they don’t credit it to any particular denomination, faith or religion.”
Soon Craig began wondering if there was a program out there that helped people explore a faith component as part of their recovery.
That’s what eventually led and drew him to the Calix Society, an organization founded in the 1940s that initially attempted to address the Spiritual needs of Catholics recovering from alcohol addiction. In subsequent years, it has expanded its outreach to include addictions of all kinds.
“It was kind of an unexpected journey for me,” Craig said. “Clearly, (faith) was part of our life, and my family’s and my daughter’s. Not that we wanted her to leave her involvement with the (recovery program), but we wanted to know what else was out there. I stumbled upon the Calix Society and realized this is exactly what we were looking for.”
Although affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous in that it believes in the effectiveness of the 12-step program, the Calix Society is meant to be a supplementary group that helps Catholics who may have abandoned or neglected their faith while under the influence to find fellowship and support among other Catholics in recovery.
“The Calix Society does not present itself as an alternative to those fellowships,” Craig stressed. “They are a supplement to recovery groups.”
Sensing there was an interest in and need for just such a group in the area, Craig contacted the Calix Society administrators in Minnesota to inquire about starting a local chapter. With the blessing and approval of Bishop George W. Coleman just before his retirement last year, Craig formed a chapter of the Calix Society at Holy Family Parish in East Taunton.
“We’ve been meeting since last June and — despite a few weather interruptions — we’ve had a good core group of people who have been showing up regularly,” he said. “We meet the first Wednesday of every month.”
Craig said the response has been immediate and overwhelmingly positive.
“Right away, you could see the appreciation in these people,” he said. “Now they could freely talk about their faith and the impact it had on them and their recovery, and how the 12-step program really goes hand-in-hand with their faith. It’s been an interesting evolution.”
Even more interesting is the fact that this isn’t the first time a Calix Society chapter has been formed in the Fall River Diocese. It was only after he had initiated the formation of the new group that Craig learned about its predecessor some two decades earlier.
“Msgr. Thomas J. Harrington had started a Calix Society chapter more than 20 years ago,” Craig said. “After I started putting some groundwork together, I mentioned to a friend of mine and he told me he was in the Calix Society with Father Harrington. He said they had meetings in Taunton and when he was transferred they had meetings in New Bedford and Fall River, but it just kind of petered out after that.”
For Craig, this was a sign that he was on the right track and he seized upon the opportunity to “pick Msgr. Harrington’s brain” about the society.
“He was very helpful and very supportive of us getting started again and moving forward,” he said. “In fact, Msgr. Harrington published a series of meditations on the Stations of the Cross years ago that are still used as a resource for Calix Society chapters throughout the world. So, right here in our diocese, we have one of our priests who has been involved with the Calix Society. And we have some members from the original group who have started coming to our meetings, so it’s a nice connection between what they had 20 years ago and what we’re going forward with now.”
Craig noted that the people involved in the current version of the Calix Society are “a little bit different” and more diverse than the ones from 20 years ago.
“Now we have a cross-section of people who are in recovery from a lot of different addictions, because the mechanics of recovery and the 12 steps are almost identical, no matter what your recovery group is,” he said. “We have people from A.A., N.A., Overeaters’ Anonymous — and they are still going to these other group meetings. Calix goes to great measures to try and reinforce that because they don’t expect it to supplant the effectiveness and/or the need for those groups in people’s lives.”
Monthly meetings begin with something Liturgical — typically a Mass celebration, Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, or some other form of prayer. The second half of the meeting is devoted to discussion of the 12 steps and fellowship.
“That’s when some of the great sharing takes place that helps everyone in the recovery process,” Craig said.
And like the secular recovery programs, the Calix Society welcomes not only those struggling with addictions, but their family members and friends as well.
“We’ve had several different family members of people whose loved ones are still out there with an active addiction and they’ve come to our meetings just to help them in responding to their loved one’s addiction,” Craig said. “I have not had an experience yet in the almost 10 months that I’ve been doing this where anyone has told me this has been a waste of their time.
“We just had a young guy attend last month’s meeting for the first time and he just didn’t want to leave! He just wanted to pick everyone’s brain and you could see the excitement in his finding something that was helpful in his recovery. I would never get caught up in whether we fill big auditoriums with this group — as long as it’s one addict helping another, that’s why we’re here; and it’s really important for us to keep that as our focus.”
Like A.A., the Calix Society promotes total abstinence for those in recovery and takes inspiration from Venerable Matt Talbot, the unofficial patron of those struggling with addictions.
Talbot, a native of Dublin, was an active alcoholic for 15 years when he decided to take “the pledge” for three months, made a general Confession and started attending daily Mass. He joined the Secular Franciscan Order and began a life of strict penance. He prayed the Rosary conscientiously and though his job did not make him rich, he contributed generously to the missions.
Talbot died on Trinity Sunday in 1925 on his way to church. Fifty years later Pope Paul VI gave him the title venerable. His sainthood cause remains open and active.
“That’s a great story in itself,” Craig said of Talbot.
Among the items available for sale on the Calix Society website is a statue of Talbot depicting him chained to a large Celtic cross with the Blessed Mother hovering above him.
Craig noted the statue is a “very powerful image” for people struggling with addiction.
Another powerful mantra can be found in the Calix Society’s motto, to wit: “Substituting the cup that stupefies for the cup that sanctifies.”
Noting that the Taunton chapter draws up to 20 participants a month, Craig hopes others within the diocese will take advantage of this unique program.
“We’re having success here at Holy Family Parish in East Taunton, but it’s bigger than that and I’d like to see the fruits of this be available to other parts of the diocese,” he said. “I hope we could go out and help other groups get started at their parishes. There are a lot of people out there struggling.”
Calling his involvement with the Calix Society an “eye-opening experience,” Craig said it’s been fulfilling to not only help people on the road to recovery, but also to strengthen their faith.
“I couldn’t imagine it not being a part of what I do now because there’s such a great need,” he said. “I thought I was exempt from having those kinds of experiences. Then, when it happened, I realized it can happen to anyone, at any time in any place. And it’s been a great opportunity for me to grow in my faith as well.”
For more information about the Calix Society in Taunton, email Deacon Robert Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 508-824-5665. For more information about the Calix Society, visit www.calixsociety.org.