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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 practices.

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 of many.

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 in 1986.

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

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 living.

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."

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