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Father Martin's gentle manner holds lessons for carrying his legacy forward

March 10, 2009
by Gary A. Enos, Contributing Editor
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Tributes pour in after treatment leader’s death

To many of his admirers, Father Joseph Martin’s greatest gift was his ability to convey a serious message about recovery while not taking the messenger too seriously. With this week’s news of the death of a man termed “one of the spiritual forefathers of the profession” by one treatment executive, addiction field leaders urged treatment professionals to carry forward Father Martin’s message with conviction and humility at the same time.

“Our challenge will be to share the twinkle, repeat some of his corny stories and commit ourselves to the serious business of providing treatment to the disease of addiction without taking ourselves too seriously,” says Ronald J. Hunsicker, president and CEO of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP). “That would be a tribute to the Father Martin I knew!”

Father Martin, 84, co-founder of the Father Martin’s Ashley treatment center in Havre de Grace, Maryland and arguably the most recognized lecturer and ambassador worldwide for 12-Step recovery, died March 9 after battling illnesses for several years. Father Mark Hushen, Ashley’s CEO, says Father Martin had not made the short trip from his home to the center to talk to patients since late last year, but all of the patients know much about him thanks to the “Chalk Talk” DVDs and CDs that are used time and again in the program.

“His presence is always here,” Father Mark says. “Many of our patients were initially saddened to hear the news, but grateful that he devoted his life to recovery.” That sentiment was echoed this week by Frank Lisnow, who runs the Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation (CeDAR) in Colorado, who used the “spiritual forefather” reference to describe Father Martin. “A sad day but a better world for individuals with the disease of addiction because he graced us with his presence,” Lisnow says.

Father Martin was featured on the cover of Addiction Professional’s November 2008 issue, in an article in which he urged treatment professionals to focus on the basics despite hearing a great deal about why they need to redefine treatment.(Addiction Professional is Behavioral Healthcare's sister publication.) “An arm put around you, and saying you’re going to be all right, does a lot more for the person than any number of psychiatry libraries,” Father Martin said in the article.

Cynthia Moreno Tuohy, executive director of NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals, says so many of the alcohol and drug counselors she has known over the past 30 years tried to match Father Martin’s enthusiasm in working with the client. She describes his teaching style as a blend of “warm, honestly caring, passionate and informed.” She adds, “I feel blessed to have met him in person and to catch some of those sparks.”

Hunsicker adds that Father Martin “became a person who took a dream and turned it into a reality of creating an environment where he believed that recovery with dignity was more likely to happen—Father Martin’s Ashley.”

Father Mark says that at some point the center probably will schedule a memorial service or tribute that has a recovery focus. This week’s Mass of Celebration of the Resurrection in Baltimore (March 13) will celebrate the Catholic priest’s faith; Father Mark says he thinks a significant presence of clergy and friends from the treatment industry will attend.

Expressions of remembrance may be e-mailed to

ashley.marketing@fmashley.com and will be posted at

www.fathermartinsashley.org. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Father Martin’s Ashley, 800 Tydings Lane, Havre de Grace, MD 21078, or to The Associated Sulpicians of the U.S., 5408 Roland Ave., Baltimore, MD 21210.

Photo of Father Martin provided by Father Martin's Ashley.