MASPETH — Msgr. Joseph Calise, pastor at the Parish of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka, is a recovering alcoholic who has remained sober for the last 30 years.
In 1990, a priest stepped in and told him to seek help for his drinking problem that began in the 1970s. Msgr. Calise spent 90 days at Guest House, a residential treatment facility in Michigan that specializes in addiction treatment for Catholic clergy members.
According to a 2018 report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 14.4 million adults had alcohol use disorder (AUD) — including 9.2 million men and 5.3 million women — and nearly 80 percent of whom received treatment.
On the first anniversary of his sobriety, Msgr. Calise approached the priest who had made the call, telling him, “Thank you for saving my life.” He also began Serenity Sundays — a special Mass offered at St. Stanislaus Kostka for those at different stages of recovery for various addictions.
Helping Others Lead a Healthy Life
Msgr. Calise has been helping priests in the Diocese of Brooklyn by operating the Transition House — a place for local priests to find support after completing inpatient treatment.
“I thought it would be good to have, given my experiences that I’m frankly open about,” Msgr. Calise said, noting that it received Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio’s seal of approval three years ago. “The Transition House helps me keep in touch with my own recovery journey as I’m offering and receiving help at the same time.”
According to the St. John Vianney Center, 10 percent of all clergy suffer from some form of addiction. Msgr. Calise noted that priests sometimes turn to alcohol due to isolation, loneliness, and dwindling numbers of fully housed rectories. Researchers at Georgetown University determined that the number of diocesan priests dropped from 37,272 to 24,857, between 1970 and 2019 across the country.
“The support system isn’t as built-in as it was during my time,” Msgr. Calise added. “It’s important to check in on each other because no one’s there to say, ‘You’ve had too much to drink’ or ‘Do you really need that drink?’”
However, the program also helps priests who are in between assignments, as well as priests who need somewhere to stay while recuperating from injuries. With that said, they can stay as long as needed, depending on the situation.
Finding Help Within
Since opening three years ago in St. Stanislaus Kostka’s rectory, 15 priests have been helped. More than half had been treated for some type of addiction; the others had lived there while awaiting diocese assignments. Msgr. Calise said some priests have returned, whether to have another stay or to take some personal time off and visit for the day.
“The priests can mingle with those who are already living at St. Stan’s,” he continued, saying how they often share meals and go to Mass together. “This provides an opportunity to show how recovery life and ministry life work together, how addiction doesn’t prohibit their ministry life.”
Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Chappetto, the vicar for clergy in the Diocese, helps determine who can stay at the Transition House, which can accommodate four men at a time.
“It’s a wonderful resource for priests in the diocese to find warm, gracious hospitality,” Bishop Chappetto said. “I don’t know of any other diocese that has such a program, and I thank Bishop DiMarzio for initiating and sustaining this.”
Msgr. Calise also reached out to Msgr. Edward Doran, whom he briefly worked with at St. Leo Church in the 1980s, given his backgrounds in psychology and counseling. Msgr. Doran, who is retired, is living in residence at Transfiguration and has been a member of the Diocesan Addictions Committee for more than a decade.
Msgr. Doran noted he had never dealt with addiction before but said he was glad to gain a deeper understanding of it.
“It’s an unfortunate stigma that many — even outside the clergy — don’t seek help,” he said. “But priests are human beings, too. If you need help, it’s out there.”
Along the same lines, Msgr. Calise wants to make sure that priests know the program is here to provide a sense of community.
“Getting involved and doing something that’s unpopular might have to be done,” he continued, “because when life is at stake, you need to do what’s genuinely best and to get the help they need.”
If any priest in the Brooklyn Diocese is interested in receiving treatment or is struggling in any way, they can confidentially contact Transition House at 718-326-2185.