The Priesthood of Monsignor Ignatius
McDermott . . . Inspiring answers in Alcoholism and Addiction
Monsignor Ignatius McDermott, known to
his multitude of friends as Father Mac, grew up on Chicago's
South Side and was ordained in the priesthood in 1936.
Initially, he was assigned to the Maryville Academy, then
a home for dependent and neglected children. During his
five years there, he found that many of the children came
from broken homes where alcohol use was the problem.
His next assignment was as assistant
pastor of Our Lady of Peace Parish, in a thriving residential
area of the city. Here too he found homes that produced
neglected children through their parents' alcoholism.
Later, at Catholic Charities, he was
assigned to find homes for neglected and dependent children.
As director of Holy Cross Mission, his office overlooked
the old Chicago police jail and drunk tank in a building
next door at Randolph and Desplaines. Walking past its
windows, befriending the men inside, he wondered why no
better solution had been found to help them battle alcoholism
- and reunite their families.
As one approach to a solution, Father
Mac founded the Addiction Counseling Education Services
(ACES), which provided counseling to alcoholics and other
substance abusers whom had no other means to get help.
In the Chicago schools system, he developed
an alcohol education curriculum and fostered Alternatives
to Expulsion, a program of helping teachers to salvage
addicted teenagers who were willing to give up drinking
and drugs and resume their studies. This worked so well
that it was incorporated into State of Illinois educational
Monsignor McDermott founded the Central
States Institute of Addiction in 1963, as a not-for-profit
charitable organization, providing instruction to members
of the helping professions regarding addiction and dependency.
It is one of many programs begun through his inspiration
and dedication that continues to function to the benefit
Meanwhile, pursuing his duties as a priest
Ignatius sought to address the issue of so-called social
drinking. He wanted to focus attention on the risks of
such socializing combining social drinking at events
like weddings witht the drive home afterwards.
The Alcohol Safety Education Program
(ASEP) originated in 1971, when Monsignor McDermott developed
a series of lectures for driving-under-the-influence (DUI)
offenders. It emphasized the effects of alcohol use on
the body and brain and the safety issues involved in excessive
use before driving.
Funding this initiative himself, Father
won encouragement from jurists in the Cook County Circuit
Court and a 1974 grant from the Illinois Department of
Transportation's division of traffic safety enabled ASEP
to expand to include all six municipal districts of the
Cook County Circuit Court.
In a unique move at the time, the Circuit
Court in 1976 authorized a charge (of $100) to be paid
by the DUI offender, resulting in the ASEP program becoming
self-supported by user fees. The program's process of
assessing levels of impairment of DUI offenders helped
to form the standards for DUI programs established statewide
By this time, too, Monsignor McDermott
had co-founded Intervention Instruction, Inc., with Sister
Patricia Kilbane, establishing a training program for
the DUI risk reduction education. Thanks to I.I.I.s
education and counseling methods, first offenders demonstrated
a recidivism rate of less than five percent.
This organization is now creating a format
for prevention of DUI on the World Wide Web at www.whatsdrivingyou.org.
Father Mac's lifelong concern for the
homeless inebriate and for families split by alcoholism
has met with matching public attitudes. For Example, in
1975, the Illinois General Assembly agreed to decriminalize
public inebriation. That breakthrough led to his creating
the Chicago Clergy Association for the Homeless Person,
and the founding of Haymarket House (now Haymarket Center)
and Cee's Manor. Initially a detox center for male alcoholics,
Haymarket soon added facilities for women, especially
drug using women, many of whom were found to be pregnant.
With legislation pending to take the
expected cocaine babies into State custody, Father Mac
turned the situation into a triple play: First, Haymarket
won State funding for the Maternal Addiction Center, which
treated women through the birth of their babies. Second,
a post-partum program was added with Haymarket/Maryville.
Third, the Sangamon House and Athey Hall recovery homes
were opened to provide shelter and more time for recovering
moms. This also offered moms the opportunity to improve
their parenting skills for both newborns and older children,
while helping them with supplementary education, job training
and apprentice-ships to prepare for a return to independent
The programs initiated by Monsignor McDermott
during his priesthood have been recognized as trail-blazing
solutions to many aspects of how alcohol and other drug
addictions damage lives.
Yet other men and women in other nations
have been struggling with the same problems and Father
Mac led U.S. Activists into the International Council
on Alcohol and Addictions (ICAA) early in the 1960s, when
that organization was already starting its second half-century.
This international forum has a worldwide membership seeking
"prevention and relief of harm resulting from the
use of alcohol and other drugs."
In 42 of its 90 years, ICAA has sponsored
institutes focussing on "the prevention and treatment
of dependencies." Many of the continuing programs
initiated through Father Mac's leadership have become
known world-side, thanks to the scholarly papers presented
to International Institute participants by representatives
of the Haymarket Center, Central States Institute of Addiction,
Intervention Instruction Inc. and the Circuit Court of
Cook County, all on par with participants like representatives
of the World Health Organization and the United Nations
General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem.
As his priesthood continues, let Father
Mac's philosophy inspire through the Internet: "When
you no longer burn with love, others will die of the cold."