The Rev. Joseph C. Martin dies at 84; expert on alcoholism and drug addiction


The Rev. Joseph C. Martin, an expert on alcoholism and drug addiction whose lectures and films have been leading tools in recovery programs for more than 40 years, has died. He was 84.

Martin, himself a recovering alcoholic, died Monday of heart failure at his home in Havre de Grace, Md., according to an announcement from Father Martin’s Ashley, an addiction treatment center located in Havre de Grace that Martin co-founded 25 years ago. He had been in failing health with heart issues for a number of years.

Considered one of the country’s foremost educators on alcoholism, Martin’s role in that field started, he said, almost by accident.


“That was in February 1972,” Martin told a Times reporter in 1998. “I was a seminary teacher. I had no plans to go into alcoholism treatment. I had some notes I’d taken because of my own recovery, and I used them for a talk. The Navy filmed it, and that was ‘Chalk Talk.’ ”

The title of the film came from the blackboard Martin used to illustrate points during his lecture. It became a classic in treatment programs around the country. By the end of his life, Martin had more than 40 motivational films to his credit. His book “Chalk Talks on Alcohol” was published in 1982 and is still in print.

Those who heard Martin recalled him as a gifted speaker who was funny and sprinkled his talks with a sense of the absurd.

“He seemed to believe that the discussion of alcoholism was too important to be taken deathly seriously,” recalled one member of Alcoholics Anonymous, who heard Martin on several occasions over the years. “He thought that laughter was the best approach to reach the sick.”

A native of Baltimore, Martin was born Oct. 12, 1924, and graduated from Loyola High School, where he was valedictorian. He later attended Loyola College before studying for the priesthood at St. Mary’s Seminary and St. Mary’s Roland Park in Baltimore. In 1948, he was ordained a priest of the Society of Saint Sulpice, whose mission is to train and educate seminarians.

Martin’s first teaching job after his ordination was in California at St. Joseph’s College in Mountain View. He was there from 1948 to 1956 before going on to St. Charles College in Catonsville, Md., from 1956 to 1959.


He began his recovery from alcoholism in 1958 and marked his 50th year in recovery last year as well as his 60th year as a priest.

In the early 1980s, Martin and his co-founder Mae Abraham, who began her recovery after hearing a lecture by Martin at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, began raising funds to buy and renovate an estate located on the Chesapeake Bay near Havre de Grace. Father Martin’s Ashley opened in 1983 and has since provided treatment to more than 40,000 people dealing with alcoholism and addiction.

Martin was invited by Pope John Paul II in 1991 to participate in the Vatican’s International Conference on Drugs and Alcohol. He traveled widely around the world, including visits to Russia to speak at Alcoholics Anonymous groups and to teach addiction counselors.

He is survived by a brother, Edward Martin of Liburn, Ga; two sisters, Frances Osborne and Dorothy Christopher, both of Baltimore; Mae and Tommy Abraham, with whom he lived for 30 years; and many nieces and nephews.

A funeral Mass will be held Friday at 10 a.m. in Baltimore at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Interment will be private.