By Sister Mary George O’Toole and Sister Miriam Therese Callnan


The opioid epidemic in Maine has impacted thousands of lives, torn apart families, and overwhelmed our cities and towns struggling to get out in front of this destructive tide. We can’t be tempted to think substance use disorder affects only the individual. It impacts family, friends, and entire communities. That’s why McAuley Residence, a recovery program currently operated by Northern Light Mercy Hospital, is as critical to our state now as it was when the Sisters of Mercy opened it more than 30 years ago.

McAuley Residence, located in Portland, was born from the mission of the Sisters of Mercy—compassionate care for all, with special concern for disadvantaged women and children. This one-of-a-kind program is saving lives with an emphasis on providing women the tools they need to heal themselves and rewrite their own personal stories.

During the 1980s, the number of impoverished families in Maine who needed shelter rose tremendously. Sponsored and operated by the Sisters of Mercy, the first McAuley Residence opened in 1988. It contained three small apartments, which housed women, some with young children, for up to two years. The McAuley Residence model draws on the example of Mother Catherine McAuley, foundress of the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland in 1831, who used her considerable resources to assist homeless women, teach young people, and provide skills training for the people she ministered to in Dublin.

Recovery programs for mothers with young children are difficult to find or filled to capacity in Maine due to increasing demand. As one of the only statewide resources of its kind, McAuley Residence receives on average five calls a day for its services from every corner of Maine. From our original three families in 1988, we currently serve 15 families at any one time.

McAuley Residence has remarkable outcomes, with 80% of women remaining clean and sober and a 95% rate of family reunification. We take a holistic approach covering all aspects of recovery, including spirituality, parenting, physical and emotional wellness, career, education, financial responsibility, and recreation. All residents are enrolled in school, have part-time jobs, and are engaged in mental health and substance use disorder services. Those residents with children have individualized parent coaches and play therapy opportunities.

We as the Sisters of Mercy are tightly woven into the history of Maine. We are teachers, caregivers, leaders, and agents of social reform. We are steadfast in upholding our long-standing mission to help the disadvantaged and those in need through our service and prayer. We saw an unanswered need in our state more than 30 years ago, but our work is far from over.

While there are recovery programs available to individuals and families in our state, McAuley Residence is something unique—so much so that our model will be brought to scale to serve more in need. Last year, the Maine Legislature unanimously passed a bill to expand the successful McAuley Residence treatment model. As a result, Northern Light Mercy Hospital will open a new recovery residence in Bangor in the coming months.

While resources are limited, and as overwhelming as our state’s situation is, do not doubt the power of changing one life. McAuley Residence would not be in existence today if not for the community’s support. Coming together as one—health care providers, the faith community, first-responders, family, and friends—let us try to not only treat the person sitting in front of us, but help that individual write her own story and, by doing so, lead to healing in families and communities across Maine.

Contributed by Northern Light Mercy Hospital