Obituaries can be fascinating reading, not in a morbid way but in an inspiring, enlightening way. I remember, back when I was managing editor of Catholic New York newspaper, scanning the obits each day for famous Catholics and coming upon stories of intrigue and determination and humor. I often found much more than basic life stats in those brief but insightful stories of strangers' lives. Today's obit page in the New York Times provided one of those glimpses into a live well lived.
Sulpician Father Joseph C. Martin, a leading national figure in the fight against alcoholism, died March 9 at his home in Harve de Grace, Md. He was 84. As I read the story of his life, I wondered how it was possible, after 25 years in the Catholic press, that I had not come upon Father Martin and his ground-breaking work before this. Born in Baltimore, Father Martin was the son of an alcoholic father and went on to become an alcoholic himself. In 1958, ten years after his ordination to the priesthood, his superiors sent him to Guest House, a treatment center in Michigan, and that is where Father Martin's amazing story of recovery and blunt talk about the illness of alcoholism began.
He went on to write books and make videos and was famous for his "Chalk Talk," a video he taped for the U.S. Navy. He founded Father Martin's Ashley, a treatment center near Havre de Grace that has treated more than 40,000 people and is known, according to the New York Times, as "the Betty Ford Clinic of the east." The full obit is worth a read, and maybe even a movie of the week.
Updated 3/16 2:49 p.m.: Corrected Father Martin's first name in second paragraph.