Healing haven in Havre de Grace

July 27, 1993

"The therapy is love," explains the Rev. Joseph Martin, whose internationally known alcohol-drug addiction treatment center in Havre de Grace observes its 10th anniversary this month.

Over the past decade, nearly 6,000 addicts have quietly found healing and self-respect in month-long sessions at Father Martin's Ashley, an attractive estate along Chesapeake Bay. Its supporters include the rich and famous, but the main beneficiaries remain anonymous and deeply grateful for the understanding treatment of their spiritual disease by an exceptional human being.

A reformed alcoholic from Hampden, Father Martin drew strength and insight from his own treatment at a Michigan center 35 years ago. Since then, he has successfully shunned drink and reached out to thousands of chemical-dependents through compassionate counseling talks, an immensely popular film on alcoholism, a book of lectures, and, finally, the creation of Ashley, named for the parents of his former patient and co-founder, Lora Mae Abraham.

Understanding that alcoholism is a disease, an illness of the soul, is the heart of the Ashley treatment program that has been adopted by other recovery centers. It is admired especially for treating persons who have relapsed into addictions.

The four-week program immerses the patient in the beauty of Ashley's spacious grounds, luxurious furnishings and gourmet cuisine: the objective is to restore the dignity of the individual. The price is commensurate -- about $13,000 for the stay. Insurance policies and the center's aid grants help to meet that bill. As with other treatments, insurers are forcing shorter stays at Ashley to cut costs, which raises worries about compromised therapy.

Father Martin's Ashley is probably better known elsewhere than in Harford County. The anniversary celebration, with a country music concert to raise funds for patient aid, has focused local attention on this respected institution.

The Sulpician priest's straight-talking 90-minute counseling lecture, filmed as "Chalk Talk on Alcohol," is widely used by the Armed Forces, government agencies, private business and other rehabilitation programs. Father Martin received the Norman Vincent Peale Award last year for his contributions.

While helping others, Father Martin has succeeded in overcoming his personal disease of alcoholism. "You don't need brains to get sober," he says. "You need desire. It's an illness."

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