Prayer, Work, and Play
Recovery at St. Scholastica is guided by the Benedictine ideals of a balanced life and service to others.
From a hill overlooking Lake Superior, The College of St. Scholastica has been calling students to academic excellence and community service since its founding by the Benedictine Sisters in 1912. At its main campus in Duluth, MN, halfway between the Twin Cities and the Canadian border, St. Scholastica offers CLEAN Recovery Services, a unique hybrid program that not only supports the school’s own students but also reaches out to neighboring colleges and to the entire Duluth-Superior community.
“At St. Scholastica, we’re in the business of helping people,” said CLEAN Coordinator Ben Bertsch, MS, citing the school’s academic emphasis on the health professions and social work, its deep level of engagement with students, and its commitment to outreach. “It goes back to our Benedictine heritage and that tradition of reaching out to marginalized communities, of trying to be part of what’s already going on rather than dominating a culture. You can see it from the beginning in our admissions process, where we’re looking for reasons to say yes rather than finding reasons to say no. We want to bring those students in and help them succeed.”
CLEAN is seven years old but has been operating in its current model for about four years. Its three major components are CLEAN Equip, the weekly accountability meeting that forms the nucleus of the program; CLEAN Connect, special events and educational seminars made available to the community; and CLEAN Reside, a sober living community that can accommodate up to 12 people.
Initially, CLEAN was closely modeled after the highly successful StepUP program at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, in which CLEAN Recovery Coach/Community Development Coordinator Ted Nielson was previously involved. But while StepUP is a residential program, CLEAN deviated somewhat when it became clear that most potential referrals would be people who were already in the community and weren’t looking for housing. Therefore, students in recovery aren’t required to participate in sober living but have the option to do so if they are interested. St. Scholastica makes this housing available to students in recovery at neighboring schools, as well.
“We’re one of many schools within the Duluth-Superior community,” Bertsch explained. “There are about 30,000 college students who call this area home during the academic year, but we don’t see other colleges offering recovery support. They’re looking to St. Scholastica to provide that. So you can be a student at the University of Minnesota here in Duluth and live in our sober residence. And you can be part of the CLEAN program. Or maybe you applied to St. Scholastica, but your grades weren’t where they needed to be for admission or to qualify for a high level of scholarship. We’ll still bring you into sober living, make you part of our recovery community, and support you while you attend a local community college long enough to bring your grades up. Once your grades are stronger, we’ll revisit your application to St. Scholastica.”
The college continues to follow Augsburg’s model with weekly community meetings, an assessment committee, and student leadership in the program. It also has incorporated elements of the Texas Tech curriculum, such as a recovery seminar that the school envisions offering for credit at some point in the future. And it offers a $500 tuition stipend each semester for qualified students who are fully engaged in the recovery support program.
“On paper, our program has 12 students whom we case manage at a high level. But we want our message to be that we’re here for all of St. Scholastica,” Bertsch explained. “We want CLEAN to be a part of this community, not a subset of it. We want to reach out to all students, not just those who are working the 12 Steps. Conversely, we want our students in recovery to participate fully in the St. Scholastica experience. That’s why we stopped creating events and outings solely for CLEAN students if the school already offers something similar that we feel is safe for them to participate in.”
Outreach through the CLEAN program at St. Scholastica takes many forms, from panel discussions in the classroom and at community events to free transportation to recovery meetings for locals living off campus. “We have a community space that’s open to anyone who wants to drop in and be part of what’s going on,” Bertsch said. “We do a speaker series where we invite the entire community to come and learn more about addiction and long-term recovery, and we are promoting discussion about the science of addiction. We’re a health science school, so we want to do what we can to give that next generation of practitioners a better understanding of addiction issues.”
Bertsch believes recovery programs like CLEAN have great recruitment value. Just as a football program brings in students who want to play, a recovery program brings in students who want to live a sober lifestyle and stay on solid academic footing.
CLEAN also aids in retention. Bertsch explained: “When students first develop addiction issues and leave school to enter treatment, more often than not they never come back because they are afraid of returning to what they left. They are afraid of relapse. But if we can identify students who need help, work with them to get that help, and then let them know we will be here to support them when they return, they will come back to St. Scholastica.”
Student engagement and support really is the name of the game at this college, where faculty members know their students well enough to identify developing problems early and to intervene, whether those issues are personal, financial, or something as basic as time management. “If you want to fly below the radar and go unnoticed, we’re probably not a good fit,” Bertsch said. “It’s not that we micromanage students’ lives, nor are we looking to extend the treatment bubble. We want students in recovery to be involved in everything here, but we also want to provide all the support they need to feel comfortable and secure. And we want to instill in them a desire to give something back. From our very first intake meeting with students, we work to shift their perception from ‘what can you do for me’ to ‘what can I do for you.’”
St. Scholastica at a Glance
Campus Character: Located on 186 forested acres overlooking Lake Superior. A Catholic Benedictine institution founded in 1912; the only independent private college in northeastern Minnesota.
Number of Students: 4,144
Academic Offerings: Ranked among U.S. News & World Report’s Best Regional Colleges in the Midwest. Best known for health professions. More than 75 under-graduate majors and minors; also offers master’s and doctoral programs, as well as a variety of certificates and licenses through the school’s professional programs. Student/teacher ratio of 13:1.
Points of Interest: St. Scholastica Monastery, home to the Benedictine Sisters whose values continue to guide the college today; the majestic Tower Hall; Our Lady Queen of Peace Chapel; Benedictine Health Center, which serves the Duluth area and provides practical experience for many students in the health sciences and behavioral arts and sciences.
General Campus Contact Info: College of St. Scholastica, 1200 Kenwood Avenue, Duluth, MN, 55811; (218) 723-6000; css.edu
CLEAN Recovery Info: clean4life.org; Program Coordinator Ben Bertsch, 1200 Kenwood Avenue, Duluth, MN, 55811; (Office) 218-723-6527, (Cell) 218-461-0282; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; Recovery Coach/Community Development Coordinator Ted Nielsen, 1200 Kenwood Avenue, Duluth, MN, 55811 (Office) 218-723-6527; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photography courtesy of College of St. Scholastica