“Enjoy life. Have fun. Be kind. Have worth. Have friends. Be honest. Laugh. Die with dignity. Make the most of it. It’s all we’ve got.” Ricky Gervais
The above quote by English writer, director and comedian, Ricky Gervais, speaks an elegant truth about a worthwhile life, and describes so well, the lives of Ron Reinhart and Dominick Fina, two of our Recovery Ministry/iTHIRST family members lost to us within weeks in August and September. Ron and Dom were foundational to the work that we do today, serving the needs of those with addictions and their families, and were there from the very beginning. Their stories bear repeating…
I met Ron and Dolly Reinhart at the 90th Anniversary celebration of the Shrine of St Joseph, one November evening in 2014. I had only recently been introduced to the Shrine because of my connection with then, “Brother” Aro through our mutual studies at Seton Hall. I was so impressed with the work of the Recovery Ministry at the Shrine and was delighted when I was invited to sit at the same table as Ron and Dolly, where I got to meet Ray and Rose Cody, Brother Joe Dudek and others involved with the ministry. The conversation flowed easily all evening, and soon Ron invited me to speak at one of the upcoming women’s retreats. I accepted readily, always willing to share my story of brokenness after an unexpected divorce, and how I had been healed by my faith. When Ron told me my audience would be 25 women from a treatment facility, most of them suffering from heroin addiction, I was taken aback. I remember telling him, “I have never smoked pot once in my life. Why would they want to hear from me?” Ron’s answer was quick and to the point. He asked me two questions:
“Do you think there is nothing they can learn from you?” I thought about it and said, “I guess they could learn something.” His second question was more pointed. “Do you think there is NOTHING you can learn from them?” I was mind blown, because, in truth, I hadn’t even considered that.
Several weeks later, I found myself speaking to these women. I was terrified. I told my story, and to my delight when I cried, so did they. When I laughed, they did too. It was so evident that we had so much more in common because of our mutual brokenness than we didn’t. I left that retreat feeling as though I had been ‘called’ to this work, and so I was delighted to accept Ron and Dolly’s invitation to become a regular part of the Recovery Ministry ‘Team.’
As the years passed, I became more and more of a fixture on our retreats, and also at the various treatment facilities where I had been asked to deliver non-denominational spirituality sessions to the men and women in residence. When Ron and Dolly retired to Cleveland, and Brother Joe to Pittsburgh to care for his dad, I was asked to step up to the role of Program Coordinator of the Recovery Ministry. I was humbled, and it was from this position that the seeds of iTHIRST, a comprehensive, multi-faceted, program of addiction/recovery, now a Mission of the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, were sown.
To this day, Ron Reinhart is on record for having paid me the greatest compliment I’ve ever known. He told me that he had never met anyone who wasn’t ‘one of them’ (i.e., a person in recovery) who understood addiction as much as I. He said, “You are our modern-day Sr. Ignatia,” a reference to the nun who was instrumental to the plight of the alcoholic, working closely with Dr. Bob Smith, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Ron, you were an inspiration who led me to my true vocation in life. You taught me and so many others what it meant to see the suffering Christ in the face of those with addictions. I, and so many others, are now charged with picking up the gauntlet, and continuing the work you helped begin – we will work to empower the Church to become a resource for those who are suffering from addictions and their families.
I met Dom early in my tenure with the Recovery Ministry. He was a familiar face from Straight and Narrow, who always seemed to join us on retreat along with his buddies, Michael Barry and Joe Adams. It was obvious that these three had an affinity for the work of recovery, and of our Recovery Ministry in particular. It would be these three who would take up residence in our first sober living community in Paterson, and who would later offer administrative support to Brother Joe with the residents of our second sober living house. As Joe moved on to take on the responsibilities at the Shrine, Michael and Dom moved into the apartment vacated by Ron and Dolly across from Trinity House. From their respective perches, these three provided amazing support to the Recovery Ministry. Whether it was participating as ‘Alumni Ambassadors’ for our Friends and Family Support Group, setting up chairs for our various events, purchasing items for ‘goodie bags’ for all those men who came to the Shrine from various treatment facilities, Joe, Mike, and Dom were committed to sharing their experience, their strength, and their hope with all in their paths.
Some of my best memories of Dominick were spent in the kitchen at Trinity House. He and I sometimes found ourselves on ‘breakfast slider duty’ and we would repeatedly laud the joy of the pre-cooked bacon from Sysco, or happily instruct a new volunteer how to fold the provolone just so. Dom was the first to don an apron and get to work. He was the great force behind the scenes, always ready to offer a word of support to any of the guys who needed it.
During the pandemic, Dom helped us organize several direct service projects, collecting all sorts of necessary items for men and women in various halfway houses throughout the state. We sorted through donations of socks, undergarments, hats, coats, you name it! He was so pleased to play such a large role in getting these goods to those in need. Likewise, after a major fire ruined the men’s halfway house at Straight and Narrow, Dom and Michael collected money, and that very same night, brought necessary items including clothing and toiletries, to the men whose residence had burned to the ground.
Dominick, you were always the unsung hero, never seeking attention nor the spotlight, yet ever present and self-giving. You never tired of working for others. In your final years, you had met the love of your life, Pam, and became a true father to the four little ones you raised together. Along with your own grown children, and loved ones, you left a true legacy of how a person can be transformed through their own suffering and battles. That, dear friend, is an example for us all. As I sit here reflecting on their lives, I can picture the scenario up in Heaven. Ron is already leading the Heavenly AA meeting, flanked on either side by Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson. Dominick is in the back leaning up against the wall, tentative, but listening. A hand goes up from a member in the ‘room’ and the question is asked, “Hey, Ron, how is everyone on earth going to manage without you and Dom?
How will they learn to live?” A smile broadens on Ron’s face, and there is that recognizable twinkle in his eye.
“How will they do it? The answer is simple, brother. One day at a time. They’ll be fine. One day at a time.”
As the United States struggles to get a handle on the illicit use of the synthetic opioid, Fentanyl, another new and even more dangerous type of illicit synthetic opioid looms ominously on the horizon. These drugs, known as nitazenes have emerged in recent years throughout the country, but most notably in areas of the South, Midwest and now prominently around our Nation’s capital.
According to Jamie K. Alan, an associate professor in the department of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University, “Nitazenes are a specific subclass of opioids that work on a particular opioid receptor.” (U.S.New & World Report, May 26th, 2022) What makes these particular synthetic opioids “illicit” themselves, is that unlike fentanyl, nitazenes were never approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and are therefore, not used for any legitimate medical reasons. Some of the forms of nitazenes are up to 800 more potent than morphine and about 40 times as lethal as fentanyl, making them absolutely lethal. In fact, the researchers who began developing nitazenes about 60 years ago from synthetic compounds, abandoned the idea that they could replace morphine, because of the incredibly high risk of overdose.
Today, most nitazenes are being sourced from China (DEA, June 01, 2022) and are being mixed in with heroin, and fentanyl to appear as street drugs, with deadly consequences. In some cases, nitazenes are being pressed into molds to look like pharmaceutical medications like oxycodone and Dilaudid.
Why is it important to keep informed about this new class of synthetic opioids? According to Jarod Forget, Special Agent in charge of the DEA ( Drug Enforcement Administration) Washington Division, “If we can educate and inform our communities about the dangers of taking counterfeit prescription pills or other drugs, we stem the proliferation of these deadly opioids, stop all of these senseless deaths, and help keep our neighbors and loved ones safe.” (DEA, June 01, 2022)
The presence of nitazenes, along with the proliferation of illegal fentanyl, are a reminder of the danger of taking drugs that have not been prescribed by your doctor. “People have to keep in mind, with all the synthetic drugs out there, and the way they’re being mixed together, you never know what you’re actually buying,” says DEA Intelligence Analyst Maura Gaffney. (DEA, June 01, 2022) A chilling reminder, indeed!
In an exciting new development, the iTHIRST Spiritual Companionship Training (Tengo Sed) is being piloted in its Spanish language version via an in-person class held at the Winter Wheat Cenacle in Stirling, NJ. This twice weekly class is being given by Fr. Luis De La Cuadra, the Senior Director of the Spanish Language Services of the iTHIRST Initiative.
For more than a year, Fr. Luis and his colleague, Josefa Lopez, painstakingly translated the English language version of the entire iTHIRST Spiritual Companionship Training into Spanish. This task, already difficult, was made more difficult because of the translation of the vernacular associated with the field of addiction and recovery. Now, this work is about to bear fruit!
Every Wednesday and Friday, Fr. Luis, and a group of eight participants, meet for three hours to discuss the interface of our Catholic spirituality and addiction, how chemical addictions affect the mind, body and spirit, and issues that affect the families of those suffering from addictions. The course is very interactive, with participants sharing their thoughts and ideas, and in some cases, their experiences.
The goal of this training is to perfect its delivery, so that it might be presented in either in -person or in virtual form to Spanish speaking groups, or as a counterpart to the English language version presented in dioceses with large native Spanish speaking populations.
“With the Spanish language curriculum, we will be able to reach many more of those who are suffering in our communities. It has been our goal to bring the healing of the iTHIRST Initiative to all our brothers and sisters. Thanks be to God for this opportunity, “said Fr. Luis.
Kudos to Fr. Luis, Josefa, and the entire team!
This marvelous workbook is a companion to Scott Weeman’s ever popular book, The Twelve Steps and the Sacraments – A Catholic Journey through Recovery, and is a wonderful resource for Catholics who are in recovery from any kind of unnatural attachment.
Weeman weaves a deep understanding of the Sacramental life of the Church together with a profound knowledge of the spirituality of addiction/recovery in what can only be described as a ‘true tapestry’ of love and healing. This workbook will be life changing for so many. It is a gift to the Church! Thank you, Scott!