Priest during a wedding ceremony/nuptial mass

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Honesty and humility.

Anyone familiar with the 12 steps established by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous – and adopted by numerous other recovery programs – will recognize the threads of honesty and humility woven throughout their guiding principles.

Even someone unfamiliar with the 12 steps would have found those two virtues present as personal introductions were made by people attending the mid-January meeting of the Spooner chapter of the Calix Society.

What defines the Calix Society, an international organization for alcoholics and other addicts and those affected by addictions, is best summarized in words of its founder, William Montroy: “AA restores your health and keeps you from an early grave. Calix saves your soul and puts on the road to heaven.”

Building on sobriety as obtained through a spiritual way of life, the Calix Society was founded in Minneapolis in 1947 by a small group of Catholic men with the assistance of their local priest. Their purpose was to work toward personal sanctification through the sacraments and resources of the Church, in addition to their association with AA as support for their sobriety.

The men, all recovering alcoholics, saw their Catholic faith as the surest path to serenity, accepting the idea that they were “substituting the cup that sanctifies for the cup that stupefies.” That phrase has long been a motto for the society, although in recent years membership and resources have expanded to include those recovering from other addictions.

Currently, most chapters of the society in the U.S. exist along the Eastern seaboard with others scattered throughout the Midwest and central Southern states.

The Spooner chapter is likely one of the smallest seat cities, but has maintained a monthly attendance average similar to its closest neighboring chapter in St. Paul.

Spooner’s unit of the Calix Society became operational in January 2019, after Sarona resident Jay Hands, a parishioner of St. Catherine of Alexandria Catholic Church, had been an active member of the St. Paul group for two years.

“Tiring of spending a whole day traveling to St. Paul and back for a one hour meeting, valuable as it was,” Hands shared, “it occurred to me that such an opportunity could be brought to (northwest) Wisconsin for myself and others.”

He brought two others to the St. Paul meeting for exposure to the organization. Fellow parishioner Tom Christ, of Shell Lake, then committed to the idea and began working with Hands.

After bringing serving members of the St. Paul unit to Spooner to present a one-time invitational meeting for interested persons, the group followed the instructions available at the website to start their unit.

One of the steps for establishment is to obtain permission from the diocesan bishop. According to the Calix Society, that permission has never been denied.

In a message of Pope Paul VI to members of the Calix Society on the celebration of their 25th anniversary in May 1974, he rejoiced “to see how many people esteem recourse to a higher power in overcoming the problems related to alcoholic abuse.”

The Holy Father noted with special mention “the fact that you identify this higher power as the supernatural grace of Jesus Christ, the healing power of his word and of his sacraments.”

Hands contacted the Catholic Herald with the interest of getting the word out about Calix and in hopes of offering its spiritual mentorship to others.

An active member of a 12-step program for 32 years, he agreed to be interviewed by the paper. At Hands’ request, the Spooner group agreed to a reporter’s presence at the January meeting, with the understanding that anonymity of participants would be respected.

The meeting was attended by mostly men. The women present were both daughters of alcoholics. A lay chaplain – allowed by Calix though the organization advises a priest-chaplain whenever possible – explained to newcomers of the “benefit of listening and learning through recovery.”

One of the unit’s initial members said he had not expected the spirituality angle of AA in his early stages of recovery.

“I was just looking to get sober,” he admitted, adding that the emphasis of the 12 steps on spirituality, “taps into a desire for more. But then what?”

Others acknowledged that membership in AA started a process of rediscovery of their Catholic faith leading to their return to fuller participation in the sacraments.

One of the women shared that her father had been involved with a former chapter of the Calix Society in Superior. She described Calix as “comforting” and appreciated the specific focus of Catholic spirituality over the more generic concept of God presented – necessarily so given the diversity of its membership – in AA.

While Hands clarified that the scope of the Calix Society had broadened to include more than just recovering alcoholics, he emphasized “recovering” and elucidated that membership in a 12-step recovery program is not only encouraged for members of Calix; “We require it.”

Calix’s website dispels any misunderstanding of The Calix Society as a Catholic version of Alcoholics Anonymous.
“Nothing could be farther from the truth,” the site says. “Calix doesn’t attempt to sober anyone up. A drunk (or other addict) is not ready mentally or spiritually for Calix membership.

“As stated in the ‘Credo,’ the society is ‘an association of Catholic alcoholics who are maintaining their sobriety through affiliation with and participation in the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.’ …When, and only when, the recovering person achieves some measure of sobriety is he or she ready for Calix.”

The full credo is read at the start of each meeting. It expresses desire for the virtue of total abstinence from substance abuse in addition to promotion of members’ spiritual development and the sanctification of their whole personality.

Each meeting also includes an element of formation, often based on a booklet of collected talks by Jesuit Fr. Francis Canavan, spiritual director of the Westport, Connecticut, Calix chapter. Even though some date back to the early 1980s, Fr. Canavan’s observations and reflections show a sensitivity and understanding of timeless spiritual and human elements necessary for full recovery of the person as a whole.

A sample of topics includes: spiritual awakening; God in the steps; powerlessness; freedom; well-ordered love; the uses of adversity; and God loves me.

The chaplain or another member prepares for and leads the presentation to unpack the topic, to achieve dialogue and discussion geared towards application in personal life.

As with churches and other faith-based organizations, increasing membership in the Calix Society has been a challenge. According to Hands, who attend Calix’s national retreat last August in Washington, D.C., with nearly 50 others, attendance at national retreats used to max out closer to 1,000 participants.

At the January meeting, which takes place once a month after the 10 a.m. Mass at St. Francis de Sales, a first-time attendee shared that he wasn’t totally sure what brought him that day. He had known of the group through another faithful participant and finally felt “something drawing him to something more.

“I was moved by the desire to explore,” he said.

Alcoholics Anonymous had brought him back to basic principles he’d grown up with, but he sensed there was more room for growth, in depth and breadth.

His demeanor matched the two words he called “starting points”: Self-knowledge and humility.

Hands, quoting from the phrase on his Calix Society contact card said, “Twelve-step programs restore our health, Calix helps save our soul.”

“That’s the difference right there,” he added.

“In Calix, we are a place you can go to extend, develop and mature your understanding of your God.”

He said that members and meeting attendees are mostly Catholic, but that being Catholic is not a pre-requisite.
“The language will be Catholic … the traditions and sacraments are Catholic,” but non-Catholics, in his experience, are benefitting from the transformative program.

Hands and Christ are available to answer questions and share resources with others interested in this ministry. Hands may be contacted at 715-469-3656, and Christ may be contacted at 715-645-0730.

In addition, the Spooner unit of the Calix Society is planning to host a spring Day of Reflection in the Diocese of Superior. Information will be shared as it is made available.

The Annual Calix Retreat for all members will be hosted by the St. Paul unit and held in Stillwater, Minnesota, Aug. 28-30. Details can be found at

“The only requirement for AA is a desire not to drink,” Hands stated. “The only requirement for Calix is that you want to find personal sanctification and maturity in your spiritual experience” – a mindset he said doesn’t have to be “expressly present in your mind.” As long as the desire for more is present, more will definitely be given and received.