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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Timothy Duff

Gordon: When did you join St. John Guardian of Our Lady, Clinton, MA  and has your parish contributed to your spirituality?

Tim: Theresa (my beloved wife) and I joined the parish shortly after we moved to the area and shortly before we adopted our two daughters (ages 6 and 7 at the time). We found the community at St. John’s to be just what we were looking for as we are committed to raise our children in the Catholic Faith.  Our parish is more traditional, the liturgies are beautiful as they incorporate Latin hymns, and our girls are very involved in the faith worship program (Atrium Montessori), and belong to the choir.  We have many friends who home school their children, and just recently, we decided to become a homeschooling family as well! 

I am convinced that the support we receive is the result of the weekly Eucharistic Adoration we committed to one year ago at St. John’s. It is during this hour of our week we stop what we are doing and thank Our Lord for his blessings.  We all look forward to it (yes, even the children!) and the blessings from it have been numerous.  We have befriended a gentleman at our adoration hour, “Joe”, who struggles with mental illness.  Joe never leaves the Adoration Chapel – he is there all day and all evening to adore Our Lord.  His friendship has been inspiring to us!

Gordon: What interested you in studying theology and where did you obtain you Master’s in Sacred Theology?

Tim: I can say that my early life experiences as well as my ministry have been an inspiration. God uses our human experiences!  From my late teenage years, I wanted to serve God but did not know what I was to do. It took much soul searching and spiritual guidance.  I attended Northeast Catholic College (formerly called Magdalen College) where I studied philosophy and theology.  I entered Holy Apostles Seminary for two years. I left after an intervention (surely it was from God) which you will read about later.  I was never ordained. God had other plans! Three years later, I would return to complete my degree as a lay person. I graduated in 2000 with a Sacred Masters in Theology (STM). Fifteen years into my career as a Catholic Chaplain, I was working for the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and they supported me in taking the year-long study in the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Healthcare (ERD’s) through the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia to become certified in the ERD’s.  My role as a chaplain at a secular hospital is also combined with another role for the Archdiocese of Boston as an educator in pastoral care to sick and homebound ministries.   And most recently, I completed my Master’s Certificate in Catholic Healthcare Leadership from St. Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine. God continues to lead me to study and learn more about theology. Pastoral and Spiritual Care is all about taking our theology and putting it into practice.

Gordon: Why did you choose to become a National Association of Catholic chaplains board certified chaplain in hospitals and where do you serve now?  I

Tim: Interestingly, it was never my life’s plan to become a chaplain. When I left the seminary in the early nineties, I returned home and worked for the state of Massachusetts in a psychiatric hospital as a mental health attendant working directly with patients. After a few promotions, the state hospital asked me to become a chaplain. This work led me to Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) and the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC).  The requirement to be a Catholic Chaplain is a Master’s Degree in theology and certification from these organizations.  After a year-long chaplain residency program at St. Raphael’s Hospital in New Haven, CT, I became Director of Pastoral Care at St. Francis Hospital in Wilmington, DE and was first certified in 2003. I have been working as a hospital chaplain ever since.

Gordon: Can you please explain to me how your brother Scott’s battle with schizophrenia led you to found the Guild of St. Benedict Joseph Labre, with your mother, Mildred?

Tim: My brother Scott has suffered with the pain of schizophrenia for over 45 years, almost my entire life. I remember the years before his diagnosis, when he would carry me on his shoulders with our dog, taking me for walks to throw rocks in the pond close to our house.  I adored him, my oldest brother, and I shared in my family's pain as we watched him enter the throes of mental illness.   In my journey to support my brother and my family, I searched for spiritual support for persons with mental illness and their families. I found absolutely nothing. There were no Church persons of any kind to offer support, even when things became horrific!  Scott ended up in the state mental hospital labelled as a criminal even though he had never done anything wrong. Since the early 1900’s. at risk (and often abandoned) mentally ill patients were placed in the state prison hospital even though they never comitted a crime. These person were treated as criminals – neglected and sometimes abused as a result of fear, ignorance, prejudice and lack of compassion.    I looked for compassion, but there was none, for comforters, but found none.. (Ps 69:21)

My mother, Mildred initiated a class action suit with three other families against the state of Massachusetts (Scott Duff et al). Tragically, five patients died in Scott’s unit under unusual circumstances.  Negligence by staff played a part in these deaths.  Many patients were forcibly transferred to other facilities, but Scott remained at Bridgewater State Hospital.

While Scott remained, he had to endure solitary confinement for many, many years.  As we were trying, desperately, to find another location for him where he could receive appropriate, respectful and dignified treatment, we discovered something written about my brother on his medical record.  Four words that changed my mother’s life:  "Good candidate for Euthanasia".  Here, after so many years of rejection and scorn from society – here he was rejected by those who we had entrusted to help him with his illness.  Because of this, we sacrificed our privacy and anonymity to stand up for him publicly.  My mother Mildred appeared on national news television (“Nightline”) to advocate for the lawsuit.

My mother is deeply prayerful and devoted to her family.  She is also very determined!   Her prayers work miracles!  She continued to petition Our Lady for help with Scott’s grim situation.  We made continual visits to shrines, including a visit to Fatima, Portugal.  Soon afterward, we learned that the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue of Our Lady of Fatima was visiting Massachusetts and would be very close to us.  We knew she was coming for Scott.  We were miraculously able to carry her statue into the state hospital (prison, actually) and make a historical and unprecedented visit, personally, to see my brother Scott.  Our Lady of Fatima came to him, visited with us, and granted us a miracle.  Scott, who was now no longer able to communicate with us suddenly became perfectly articulate and alert during the visit.  It is customary during these visits to honor Our Lady by praying a rosary during the statue’s visit.  During the rosary, Scott called my mother and I over to him and told both of us that he loved us. He then sat up and prayed out loud, beautifully and clearly a full decade of the rosary. This miracle was confirmed when the head guard of the facility called out loudly: “Miracle! Miracle! I have been with Scott everyday for the past thirteen years and now he is perfectly well.”  Sadly, as we struggle to understand Our Lord’s plans, Scott returned to his schizophrenic state after the statue left.  Within the next year, we won our lawsuit.  Laws were changed to prevent the admission of non-criminal mentally ill patients to a prison.  In addition, millions of dollars were allotted to build a new state mental health facility for most severely mentally ill.  Scott would be transferred on the 13th of the month after being in the prison hospital for thirteen years.  Those who hear this story might recall that the number “thirteen” is very significant to Our Lady of Fatima! 

Gordon: How was the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel involved with your decision?

Tim: The inspiration to establish our Guild came to me in the seminary. One night, in a holy hour, my life experiences flashed before me all at once and I felt in my heart God was telling me to do something to help those with mental illness.  I told God there was only one man who would understand what I wanted to do and that was (the late) Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel, FFR.  The next morning, at breakfast with my fellow seminarians, we were told that Fr. Groeschel was coming to our seminary to host a retreat.  Yes, God surprises us!   My twenty year friendship with Father Groeschel would bring me many gifts of holiness and many answers to prayers, particularly for my brother Scott.

Gordon: How many members are there in the apostolate and from how many countries?

Tim: To date we have around thirty-five hundred enrolled members, primarily from the United States and Canada. But we have members from close to 40 countries and that’s all before we went online. Those were all from personally written postal letters to our mailbox.

Gordon: How many spiritual prayer partners in the form of religious communities belong to the Guild? 

Tim: We currently have close to 400 religious communities that have contacted us to let us know they are praying for us and all of our members.

Gordon: St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta supported your mission. What did she say about the mentally ill?

Tim: The late Father Benedict J. Groeschel often told my mother and I that Mother Theresa often told him that “Mental Illness is represented by Jesus’ Crown of Thorns.” You can imagine our surprise when, just over a year after the Guild was founded we received a personal letter from (Saint) Mother Theresa of Calcutta. She wanted to assure us that she and her sisters have joined us in Spirit and in Prayer in the Mission of the Guild. Her letter is posted on the VIP membership page of our website, and she writes, “I looked for someone to comfort me, and I found ONE.”

Gordon: Did Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI give the Guild their Apostolic Blessings?

Tim: I personally visited the Vatican to bring the Guild to St. John Paul II when he was Pope. He was on retreat at the time but I was given the gift to be able to leave a note with his secretary. Before I returned home a letter and St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Blessing was in our mailbox.

 And a few years later, I wrote Pope Benedict XVI. He wrote back with his Apostolic Blessing as well. Both of the letters are posted on the VIP members page of the website as well.

Gordon: What did Pope St. John Paul II say about the mentally ill?

Tim: In the same year of 1996 when we founded the Guild, Pope St John Paul called together the 11th annual conference with the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers named “In the Image of God: Always?” Disturbances of the Human Mind”. In the pope’s opening address: He said that the mentally ill always bear the image and likeness of God. He explains this by saying that when God gazes on man he does not see the deeds he succeeds in doing but His own image.  The Pope reiterates that this image is not tainted even when it is impeded by mental illnesses. Thus they always deserve dignity and respect. And that this calls for an “active response”. He then said that he promised a special prayer for them. The Guild of St. Benedict Joseph Labre is   the active response to St John Paul II’s call to those suffering from mental illness

Gordon: How can one become a member of the Guild? Is there a fee?

Tim: Anyone can be a member of the Guild. All we ask is that you love and respect those with mental illness. There is no fee for Guild membership!  You can join the Guild by going to our website and signing up or send a SASE to PO Box 422, Maynard, MA  01754.

Gordon: What do the Merciful Mother of the Mentally Ill (MMOMI) Spiritual Support Groups do?

Tim: These unique groups offer spiritual support in a way that offers hope, healing and comfort. The groups are organized as a sacred space to allow for prayer, sharing, education and spiritual advocacy. 

Our groups are NOT therapy or self-help focused.  We are: brothers and sisters in Christ who support one another and share a spirituality. We gain the knowledge of coping skills by being together and by reflecting upon what the Church and others have to teach us regarding the illness of the human mind. We pray and support each other.

Gordon: How can one become a missionary for MMOMI?

Tim: By Becoming a member: Join us and enroll. You will share in the prayers from thousands of people. Click Here to join us.

  • Help us get the word out: We need to get our brochure in as many parishes, hospitals, retreat centers, etc. Please ask permission when placing them into these public places. Download our online brochure now (link to pdf) or request them. We will send brochures to anyone who requests them. Click here to request a brochure.

  • Request Masses to be said for the members Guild of St Benedict J Labre in your parishes and monasteries. Please be sure to inform us of the place date and time so that we can spiritually be present. Click here to go to our Room of Hope.

  • Start a MMOMI family support group: We are the “voice for the voiceless”. We come together to share, pray, advocate and offer hope. Click to go to our support group page.

  • Become a 40 Hour Adorer: We invite members to participate in doing 40 Hours of Eucharistic Adoration each year privately. This can be done outside of Mass. Click here to go to 40 Hours Adorers.

  • Become “PRAY-ER’S”: Father Groeschel’s words mean so much. We invite you to pray with us daily for each other.  We have our own prayers that we have printed. You can click and download them now inn our online chapel called: “Our Room of Hope”.

Gordon: What are the 40 Hour Adorers?

Tim: We have a certain kind of membership called our 40 Hour Adorers. These members commit to doing 40 Hours of Adoration each year in any increment of time that will work for them. Spending time with Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration is such an important part of our spirituality. We especially model our patron in this way as he is known as the poor man of the 40 Hours Devotion and lover of the Blessed Sacrament.

· We ask our members to pray for the Guild and all of our members

· We encourage them to pray the Chaplet of St Benedict Joseph Labre

· And there may be special intentions too that they may be asked to pray for as well.

I have personally written every cloistered and contemplative religious community in the United States and Canada that was listed in the Catholic Directory to ask for prayer support for the Guild of St. Benedict Joseph Labre. The responses were astounding!

Gordon: Thank you for this exceptional interview so that we can share your insights and mission to our readers globally on a challenge that affects so many of our lives, our  friends, and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.


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