By Jessica Easthope
Joseph Calise is a Catholic priest. He’s also a recovering alcoholic.
“There were some really wonderful, rich experiences,” Msgr. Calise said as he looked at pictures from his younger days, “but they could have been so much richer and I could have brought so much more to them.”
The monsignor hasn’t had a drink in 30 years but he still remembers the pain, the wasted days and the broken promises.
“I set certain standards,” he said. “I will never drink before a certain time of the day and when I did, I would just change the time of the day. I’ll never drive if I’m under the influence and thank God I never hurt anyone but I did drive under the influence.”
He’s not the only one. According to the St. John Vianney Center, 10 percent of all clergy suffer from addiction. A statistic Msgr. Calise has now devoted his life to changing.
“There was a lot of shame, a lot of guilt,” he said. “I really needed to get into an atmosphere where I could overcome that and begin to live some of my own self-respect as a priest and a priest of this specific diocese. That’s what this house is about.”
He’s now helping coordinate Transition House, a unique model designed for something rarely talked about.
“This house provides a warm and welcoming atmosphere for any priest in need for time for healing and time for getting ready for whatever God is leading them to,” said diocesan Vicar for Clergy, Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Chappetto.
Transition House is run out of St. Stanislaus Kostka’s rectory and serves as a built-in halfway house for clergy in the Brooklyn Diocese who have completed inpatient treatment. But it’s not just for priests who suffer with addiction.
“It really is a house of transition from one period of their life to another period of their life,” Bishop Chappetto said. “Priests can come here for other reasons as well, not only after being released from treatment but for a time of respite, a time of reflection and to prepare for a new assignment.”
Since the program began three years ago, 14 priests have come through Transition House and half of them have been treated for some type of addiction. Msgr. Calise and Bishop Chappetto are not alone in this undertaking. They partner with Msgr. Edward Doran, who is a clinical psychologist and licensed counselor.
“My responsibility in the Transition House is to be available to facilitate a climate of healing and building and a sense of community,” said Msgr. Doran.
A full rectory can prove to be a very supportive community. Yet, with the number of locations slowing down, more and more priests returning from treatment are alone, which makes it harder to conquer sobriety. Msgr. Doran says part of the irony of being a priest is that the busier you are, the easier it is to be swallowed into a life of loneliness.
“The busy-ness that’s part of priesthood is both a blessing and a curse,” he said. “The busy-ness of priesthood is something that will always be there but the challenge is to go up the mountain and spend some time with the Lord and explore what’s going on in our lives.”
The hope is the community Transition House offers will replace addiction in their lives, just like it did for Msgr. Calise.
“They need that chance to find that time and place to feel compassion,” he said, “but to establish the self-respect that says I deserve the compassion I received.”
The goal of the program is simple: to let priests suffering in the shadows know that there is help and more importantly there is a future.
If any priest in the Brooklyn Diocese is interested in receiving treatment or struggling in anyway, they can contact Transition House at 718-326-2185. All calls are confidential.