Honoring our priests
Father Tighe: an instrument of hope and healing
By HATTIE STEIN
Special to the Register
Many years ago when I was attending St. Mary of the Plains High School I met a young priest fresh from Ireland who would prove to be a life-saving priest in the many years to come.
Father Dermot Tighe was chaplain at St. Anthony Hospital. We boarder girls at SMOP would walk to town (most of the time) and stop in to see Father Tighe. He was young, filled with laughter and jokes, and always made us feel so important and special.
Through the years we reconnected at diocesan events, which would be catching-up time with the latest events. Again, laughter, jokes, and wisdom he always shared.
In the 70s, Father Tighe became our pastor at St. Andrew in Wright. Needless to say, he was loved by most and it was such a delight to again reconnect with him and share my family and faith with a long time friend. By this time I had married my high school sweetheart from Wright and we had three young children in a young viable church community. My husband, Ken, was active in the Knights of Columbus and our world centered on church, family, and the farming community.
At this time, who would have thought that anything negative could happen?
It was life on the plains in a safe community; What more could one ask for?
In October of 1979, Father Tighe was away from the parish and no one seemed to know the extent of his absence. I didn’t question his absence, but just went on with life as it was, hopeful that he would return soon. October turned into November, and finally in December of 1979, Father Tighe returned for the Christmas holiday. The Sunday of his return was a sermon that I will never forget and one that was the beginning of a lifesaving journey to come.
He began the sermon with telling us he had been to “the Guest House,” which was a treatment center for priests to treat his alcoholism. As I sat in the pew hearing these words, I was thinking, “No way is he an alcoholic; he didn’t drink that much,” and “If he is an alcoholic, what about my drinking?” I was stunned and shocked, but on the other side of the coin, my respect for his courage and honestly was augmented to a new level. It didn’t take long for me to “forget” about my own drinking and I went on as before with my life as it was.
Father Tighe went back to “the guest house” and finished his treatment after Christmas and returned to our parish -- I believe in January of 1980.
Within the month the next significant “light turning on” day happened. I was in our parish center where I was helping to prepare a dinner for an event with the Knights of Columbus. By this time I rarely did anything or went anywhere without bringing my favorite beverage, Miller Lite beer. My thoughts were that if you just drank beer, you couldn’t be an alcoholic, so I drank only beer.
As I was cleaning carrots and celery for the relish plate, Father Tighe came in and hopped upon the counter top to sit and watch us prepare the dinner. He saw that I was drinking beer and asked me, “Hattie, how much beer do you drink?” I answered, “I don’t know how much I drink but I do know that I drink most every day.” My theory was if you count your drinks or beer then you must be an alcoholic, so I didn’t count. Father Tighe responded, “If you ever want to talk about your drinking, give me a call.” That stuck in my head and again I thought, “I may drink most every day but I am NOT an alcoholic.”
Never did he judge me, criticize me, nor belittle me in anyway. He did not preach to me about my drinking. Instead he would drop subtle hints, encouragement, and wisdom that I couldn’t get out of my head. As my drinking increased, Father Tighe’s wisdom haunted me. As I tried to prove him wrong, things got worse. My anger at God, self, and the world increased significantly.
On June 9, 1980 my day started out good with many good intentions and plans. I was off from work at the Fort Dodge Soldiers Home and I was going to get the laundry done, clean house, run errands to get ready for harvest, and enjoy the kids. I put the first load of laundry in and thought, “I will enjoy one beer while the clothes wash and then will do all the other tasks.” This was my intent and my goal, but that was not what happened.
Each event to follow was a turning point in my life. The ONE beer that I was going to drink turned into a case of beer. The next thing I recall is that a dear friend and fellow parishioner that had been in Alanon for a while stopped by to share a bowl of fresh strawberries that she had grown in her garden. I remember being embarrassed of all the beer cans on my kitchen table, and although she didn’t stay long those were the most powerful strawberries I have ever received.
Later she told me that as she left that day, she prayed for my family and me, for she also knew what it was like living with the disease of alcoholism. The following two hours were hours of “hell”. During that “hell,” the words of Father Tighe spoke in my head: “If you ever want to talk about your drinking, call me.” I went to the phone and made the most difficult call of my life. Father Tighe was receptive and set a time. Ken took me up to Father’s when he came home from work. I remember Father talking about alcoholism and I wanted to cover my ears, but I did listen and agreed to go with him to the next Alcoholics Anonymous meeting “to see” if I was alcoholic.
I went home and fixed a “Big Orange,” what we called a mixed drink (bourbon and water) and declared that to be my last drink.
That decision I made with the encouragement of Father Tighe and the undying love and support of my husband and family not only saved my life, my family, and my faith, but also has allowed me to nurture and guide others through the recovery process. By the grace of God and support of my family and friends, on June 10, 2010 I celebrated my 30th year of sobriety. I am a grateful recovering alcoholic.
Thank you, Father Tighe, for carrying the message of recovery to my family and me. I will be eternally grateful to you for allowing God to use you as an instrument of His peace, which gave me hope instead of despair, to relearn to love and be loved, where there was darkness He gave light, and through your direction I relearned to forgive and accept forgiveness.
Hattie Stein, who works out of an office at Catholic Social Service in Dodge City, is a National Certified Alcohol Counselor, Certified Alcohol/Drug Counselor, and a National Advanced Certified Relapse Prevention Specialist. She has worked for the diocese for five years, and in addiction counseling for about 24.