Father Mac, Known as the Skid Row priest, began ministering to the alcoholics and homeless along Chicago's skid row in the mid 30's, while still a seminarian. After working a full career both as a parish priest and as an administrator in the Chicago Archdiocese, Father Mac, at 65 co-founded Haymarket Center, the Near West Side facility which has helped thousands of people, men, and women, to recovery and rehabilitation from alcohol and substance abuse.
Monsignor McDermott, a native of Chicago's South Side, was ordained in 1936 after studies at Quigley Preparatory Seminary and Mundelein's St. Mary of the Lake Seminary. For four decades he has been known as the "Apostle of the Alcoholics."
While on summer leave from the seminary in 1930 he worked at Arlington Park Race Track. He commuted daily via the Northwestern rail line, leaving from the downtown terminal adjacent to Chicago's most notorious "Skid Row". The plight of Skid Row victims distressed him. He did not suspect that very soon he would find Skid Row his regular beat as he sought fathers, and sometimes mothers, of Maryville children. Even more remote was any notion how very close he would become to Skid Row and his lifetime dedication to a crusade against the disease of alcoholism.
His assignment after ordination until June, 1941, was to staff at Maryville Academy in Des Plaines, a home for dependent children. Experiences at Maryville made Father one of the first to suspect that alcoholism was not only an illness but had a tendency to be inherited. He saw that too many children were at Maryville because of alcoholism suffered by one or both parents. Additional experiences fotified his theory that alcoholism often was a hereditary ailment.
As assistant pastor of Our Lady of Peace (1941 - 1946), in the then affluent South Shore neighborhood, Father Mac noticed some students were troubled because of alcoholism involving one or both parents. This fortified his impression that alcoholism was a disease and not a social problem confined largely to the downtrodden and unfortunate. In 1946 Father Mac was named assistant director of the Chicago Archdiocese's Catholic Charities. His office at 126 N. Des Plaines St., was only a "pop fly" removed from the core of Chicago's most notorious Skid Row area.
Father Mac wore more than one cap with Catholic Charites. He was executor director of the Catholic Dependent Child Commission, where he saw that dependent children often were taken from their natural homes to the sanctuary of a care institution because of alcoholic dependency suffered by the children's parents or other custodians. Simultaneously he was director of Holy Cross Mission, an agency administering to the corporal and spiritual needs of Skid Row inhabitants.
Adjacent to the Catholic Charities offices was the Des Plaines St. police station, with its holding area mainly for alcoholics, and the location of what commonly was labeled "The Drunk Court". There Father Mac witnessed a daily parade before the bench, of inebriates who had languished in basement cells at the Des Plaines lock up. The usual sentence was 30 days in the House of Correction, which had scant facilities for rehabilitation of alcoholics and where alcoholism was recognized more a human frailty than a treatable disease. Father Mac walked Skid Row nightly, visiting saloons and flop houses to mingle with his lambs. He then returned to his 126 N. Des Plaines St. quarters where, before bedtime prayers, he peered into the nearby cell windows to encourage the inebriates and toss cigarettes to them.
In June 1963, the Catholic Dependent Child Commission was fused with the Catholic Home Bureau, families in the Archdiocese of Chicago. The McDermott Foundation (now called McDermott Center) soon was seeded and born.
Recognizing the dearth of qualified counselors and educators in the field of alcoholism treatment, Father Mac in 1963 founded the Central States Institute of Addiction (CSIA). This self funded program offers in depth training for individuals, groups, associations, and professionals involved in handling addictions.
One CSIA program is the applauded Alcohol and Drug Assessment Services (ADAS) operating in cooperation with the Cook County Circuit Court. It is the state's first "Driving Under the Influence" program. This program founded by Father Mac in 1963 was the model for the programs now used throughout the nation.
In 1975 Father Mac, then president of the Chicago Clergy Association for the Homeless Person, and James W. West, M.D. (later director of the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs, California) co-founded Haymarket Center. Haymarket Center was the first free standing, social setting detoxification center in Illinois. Initially funded by the Chicago Community Trust and the Joyce Foundation, it received state funding after a year of operation. Haymarket Center programs, detoxification and treatment are designed to motivate a change of lifestyle.
Father Mac in 1979 founded Intervention Instruction, Inc. (III) as a substance abuse education-prevention agency. It is one of the largest providers of rehabilitation education for Illinoisans convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol.
The McDermott Foundation was founded in 1983 to support and further the many programs founded and operated by Msgr. Ignatius D. McDermott. Over the years Father Mac often had to move some centers and shelters due to the razing that comes with urban renewal, but a long time solution was reached in 1985 when the McDermott Foundation purchased a block of buildings just west of the Loop. This renovated McDermott Center is the permanent home of Haymarket Center, one of the organizations dear to the man for whom the center was named. Retiring in the early 1990s from Catholic Charities, Father Mac's focus was on the McDermott Center and its program.
Haymarket Center in the McDermott Center offers an array of services that include options for most of the areas of treatment which Fr. Mac has identified through his years of exposure to "God's hurting people". Among those services are detox for both men and women including pre-natal detox. Residential treatment and long term care similar to halfway houses for all adults as well as for moms with non-school age children. An abundance of outpatient programs, co-educational and specialized women's, including prenatal addiction treatment services are available and continue to expand. Cook County Court referred programs, rehabilitation confinement and day reporting join a wave of the future in dealing with individuals involved with the criminal justice system. Profuse recommendations of these cases has required expansion to a satellite in the suburbs.
Homeless services based at Haymarket are primarily offered through the O'Hare outreach program. Services for undomiciled mentally-ill substance abusers located in the McDermott Center offers help to a particularly troubled group of people that cannot be "forgotten". Complimentary to the care for so many is the ever-needed education provided by the Haymarket Institute including continuing education for professionals, in-services and workshops as well as DUI Risk Education.
These services and programs give credence to the motto Father Mac followed: "When you no longer burn with love, others will die of the cold".
To Celebrate Fr. Mac's Life visit www.mem.com