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Sister Ignatia: The Catholic nun behind Alcoholics Anonymous

One commentator said: “If the Catholic Church doesn’t canonize her, the Protestants will make her a saint.”

In a 1951 article titled “A Catholic Looks at Alcoholics Anonymous,” author Katherine Neuhaus Haffner wrote:

What is Alcoholics Anonymous? AA is not, as is sometimes supposed, just another temperance movement, a new, fanatical reform crusade. It is a society, operating in groups, that is founded upon spiritual principles, and these principles closely parallel Catholic teaching.

In its reliance on grace, moral inventory taking, its confessional aspect and its emphasis on outreach, Haffner argued, “A Catholic member of AA should be a better Catholic as the result of his affiliation with this society and vice versa.”

Still, many are unaware of the role Catholics played in AA’s early years, or that one of the key figures was a nun from Ohio named Sister Ignatia Gavin, S.C. (1889-1966). At St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, she helped Dr. Robert H. Smith, AA’s co-founder, to dispel the notion that alcoholism was a moral defect, rather than a spiritual, mental and physical disease.

Bridget Della Mary Gavin was one of three children born to a farmer in County Mayo, Ireland. Even as a child, she had what her biographer calls a “raw compassion” for alcoholism:

Whenever I would see anyone under the influence of alcoholism, it actually made my heart sick. I would try to offer everlasting reparation to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord to make up for the offense against His Divine Majesty.

In 1896, the Gavins emigrated to Cleveland, Ohio. In an industrial city with a large working-class population, alcoholism was a big problem Parish priests started abstinence societies and young men took a “pledge” not to drink. Bridget graduated from Catholic schools, studied music, and taught music. Although she considered becoming a nun, her mother was opposed to it.

She dated and was even briefly engaged, but the call to religious life prevailed. In 1914, she joined the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, a community that ran schools and hospitals statewide. At 25, she was considered a “late vocation,” and given the name Ignatia. (Taking a new name signifies that a deep change has occurred in the person entering religious life.)

Read more at Aleteia – https://aleteia.org/2017/09/22/sister-ignatia-the-catholic-nun-behind-alcoholics-anonymous/

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