Father Michael Decewicz may be retiring as a parish priest, but the ministry he founded will continue saving lives and souls.
The former pastor of Saint Juan Diego Parish in Sharpsburg who most recently served as senior parochial vicar in the Lower Allegheny Valley parish grouping will take up residence next month at the Saint Francis of Assisi Church property in Harmar.
There he will continue his assignment as director of the Addiction Recovery Ministry, or ARM, as it’s known, which was established three years ago.
The move comes as government leaders said overdose deaths in Allegheny County jumped 22 percent in 2020, likely a result of the stress and seclusion caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Countywide, 689 people died of overdoses, most of whom had some amount of fentanyl in their system. Father Decewicz was sympathetic, but not surprised by the statistics.
“Isolation is tough,” he said. “That’s why support meetings are so important. There’s too much temptation.”
In 2017, Allegheny County marked a record 737 fatalities from accidental overdoses.
The Addiction Recovery Ministry’s mission is “to provide support, encouragement, education, and to bring the love of God to all those struggling with addiction and recovery, and to all those loved ones who have been affected in any way by this disease.”
ARM offers weekly meetings, spiritual enrichment and special events. When he moves to Saint Francis, Father Decewicz plans to celebrate Mass at least three days a week, offer a Holy Hour, a weekly reflection on the 12-step recovery process, start a grief support group for people who have lost loved ones, and plant a memory garden.
“There’s a sense of shame for many people,” he said. “Family members blame themselves. ‘What didn’t I see? Did I not do enough? Was I too harsh? Why did my son or daughter do this?’ And that can lead to isolation for family members.”
The ministry has started a partnership with Gateway Rehab for recovering addicts leaving treatment, providing cash for a first month’s rent, a bus pass, or to turn a phone back on.