| print this
SIGN, Vol. 35: 9-11, May, 1956
IGNATIA AND THE A.A.
Gerard E. Sherry
telephone rang and Sister Ignatia answered it.
is Bill, Sister. I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to send
you back the Sacred Heart Badge. I've had a rough morning
and I'm going out to get a drink.
Ignatia sighed, but said quickly: "Don't do it, Bill.
Wait until you finish work at five. Then call me again.
In the meantime, I'll pray for you. Whatever you do, don't
send me back that badge. Keep it with you for strength and
Ignatia prayed hard all afternoon and, finally the call
came from Bill.
O.K., Sister, I never took the drink. I think I'm going
to be all right now, thanks to the Sacred Heart and you."
telephone calls and the information conveyed were nothing
new -- it happens quite often. For Sister Ignatia is founder
and director of Rosary Hall Solarium, an alcoholic ward
at St. Vincent Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. Since December
1952, she has ministered to the needs of some 3,000 men
and women who have succumbed to alcoholism. Of that total,
some 60 per cent are claimed as completely cured; another
20 percent stumble for a while and then go off drink completely;
and only 20 percent are considered failures after the spiritual
and therapeutic treatment.
when they leave Rosary Hall, Sister Ignatia gives them a
Sacred Heart Badge. It is meant as a constant source of
inspiration not to take another drink. And she tells them
all that the badge is given only on the understanding that
it must be returned before the first drink is taken.
among alcoholics has been a life's labor of love for Sister
Ignatia. She has been credited in large measure with pushing
the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous. Certainly, she was
in at the beginning when the late Dr. Robert H. Smith of
Akron and Bill W., New York stockbroker, founded the A.A.
that time, Sister Ignatia was stationed in St. Thomas Hospital,
which also is operated by her order, the Sisters of Charity
of St. Augustine. Dr. Smith, although not a Catholic, was
on the courtesy staff of the hospital. He had, himself,
just conquered the drink habit and felt the need to help
others in a similar plight. He enlisted the aid of Sister
Smith and Sister Ignatia agreed on one thing -- alcoholism
could be controlled by medical attention coupled with spiritual
attention. It was on this principle that they eventually
established at St. Thomas, Akron, a ward which dealt exclusively
with persons suffering from alcoholism. It was the first
such effort in the country.
Smith died in 1950 and Sister Ignatia later went to Cleveland
Charity Hospital. The name Rosary Hall Solarium came about
because permission to erect the Cleveland ward came on the
feast of the Holy Rosary and because the initials of the
A.A. co-founder were RHS.
goes on at Rosary Hall?
of the program is the famous "Twelve Steps" of
the A.A. Basically, this involves an admission by the victim
that he is powerless to help himself, followed by a decision
to turn his will and life over to the care of God.
Hall has its own chapel where patients pray the Rosary every
day at 3 P.M., invoking God's help and that of Our Lady
of Perpetual help, patroness of alcoholics.
gain access to Rosary Hall, a person must be sponsored by
a member of Alcoholics Anonymous in good standing. He must
have the desire not only to get sober but also to remain
sober. The patient's five-day stay is a retreat from the
outside world and the habits which caused his collapse.
There are no radios, TV sets, newspapers, or magazines --
nothing but A.A. literature and other reading in keeping
with the program.
physical therapy used is the most modern known to medical
science. Doctors as well as priests are essential on the
road to recovery.
may have no visitors except members of A.A. who are welcome
from 9 A.M. till 9 P.M. The conversation is turned to alcoholism
and its problems. Every evening a member of A.A. comes to
conduct a brief meeting for patients.
essential element of Rosary Hall is its coffee bar, open
all the time. There is also a kitchen and an icebox well
stocked with food. Main items are milk and citrus juice,
for the alcoholic is frequently an undernourished person.
The patients are encouraged to eat at will.
Hall's program has restored many alcoholics to useful and
happy lives. It is essentially a spiritual program, demanding
humility and constant prayer for God's help. Charity is
involved, too, because A.A.'s, once they stop drinking,
devote much of their time to helping others who are in the
plight from which they were rescued.
Rosary Hall, all the rooms but one are for more than one
patient, because it is not good for an A.A., usually, to
be alone. There is one private room for difficult cases
in the worst stages. Sister Ignatia calls it the "defrosting
all was fitted out by A.A.'s. As soon as the project was
initiated they swarmed in and took the details out of Sister
Ignatia's hands. "Just let us worry about that,"
became the repeated injunction to her.
with all kinds of occupations volunteered their services.
Catholics, Protestants, and Jews -- they all sent money
or contributed labor. Sometimes they broke down s they recalled
their own decline and how Sister Ignatia and others had
helped them out.
businessman who dropped in conferred with other A.A.'s and
then departed to arrange for some furnishings. Sister Ignatia
inquired anxiously whether he had quoted a price. She lifted
her hands helplessly when told: "There is no price.
He's donating everything."
that, all sister cold say was: "Well that's the A.A.
for you. They're all like that. And their relatives and
friends are like that. Really, I haven't anything to do
with all t his. It's Our Lady and the A.A.'s who are doing
Ignatia is a very shy woman, frail, almost transparent.
Yet she is firm and resolute, and energetic to the point
where twenty-four hours is a short day. Her much sought
after anonymity was shattered early in 1954, when she was
awarded the Catherine of Siena Medal by the theta Pi Alpha
Sorority of National Catholic Women's Colleges. She was
honored for "outstanding achievement in one of our
major problems affecting our country today -- alcoholism."
The medal is given annually to a Catholic woman who has
made a distinctive contribution to Catholic life in the
Ignatia has certainly done that -- and for years. She won't
talk much about it, but her Rosary Hall project is a means
of conversions for the many non-Catholic who enter its portals.
It also resulted in many lapsed Catholics returning to the
Sacraments after years of negligence. Many invalid marriages
have been righted and, as a result, entire families have
entered the Church.
Hall also offers its services for the many harmed by alcoholics.
A very alert and thriving group of women composed of wives
and relatives of members of Alcoholics Anonymous meet each
week to discuss their problems. The objective is the rebuilding
of their marriages and the re-christianizing of their homes
and families. It has resulted in an unusually intelligent
approach to the solution of the problems. The women pool
their experiences and encourage one another to have faith
in their spouses and to aid them on the road to spiritual
and material contentment.
has been mentioned that not all the patients are men. The
women who stay at Rosary Hall are hospitalized in a special
room, two are admitted at a time. The problems are the same
for these patients and the road to recovery just as strenuous.
However, like their male counterparts, they mostly make
thing though -- there are no second chances at Rosary Hall.
Patients are admitted once. If they fail then, some other
method has to be devised to try and straighten them out.
But there is no talk of failure on the part of Sister Ignatia.
These men and women come to her at their lowest ebb. In
most cases it is her consolation that they rise above their
degradation and assume their true dignity as sons and daughters
is the way she expressed it all: "I am just one of
those many women of the Catholic nursing community of America
who are striving to rescue men and women from the bottomless
pit of alcoholism.
and welfare groups have expended millions of dollars in
an attempt to find the causes of alcoholism. Yet, no one
has been able to place his or her finger upon the exact
cause. However, it is the concusses of opinion among great
minds who have attacked the problem that a lack of proper
spiritual application on the part of the victim is at least
a primary cause.
co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous believed that the solution
of the problem for many was to be found in the merger of
forces of medicine and religion. With this union, what could
be more conducive to the regeneration of the whole person
than the atmosphere of a Catholic hospital? The professional,
medical case administered within its precincts affords spiritual,
physical, mental, and moral therapy.
strikes at men and women in all walks of life. Surveys show
that 25 percent of the "Skid Row" population in
any large city possess university degrees. The fruit of
the vine -- a harmless stimulant for many -- in the hands
of the alcoholic turns to poison.
alcoholic is deserving of sympathy. Christ like charity
and intelligent care are needed so that with God's grace
he or she may be given the opportunity to accept a new philosophy
Ignatia has special names for each of the five days a patient
spends at Rosary Hall. They are: Day of Reception; Day of
Realization; Day of Moral Inventory; Day of Resolution;
and Day of Plans for the Future.
he leaves Rosary Hall, the recovering patient must then
face his own problem. The way has bee paved by the A.A.
sponsor. The future is in God's hands. He has learned to
say, "O. God, grant me the serenity to accept things
I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and
wisdom to know the difference."
patient is urged to guard against pride, self-pity, resentment,
intolerance, and criticism; to attend meetings, spread the
principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, and to return to the
hospital to help others.
there is the Sacred Heart Badge. Not many are returned to
Sister Ignatia. But when they are, she pleads for the patient
not to take the first step on the return to ruin. Very often
it means a long distance phone call, a fervent prayer, and
the help of a local A.A. group to keep the tempted on the
alcoholics all over America, Sister Ignatia is called "Little
Angel." She is indeed small and frail, but her strength
is that of a Michael and her message that of Gabriel. Both
the humble and the great who died" in drink and became
"new" again will attest to that.