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First Faith Based Recovery High School in the US Opens in PA

Empty classroom at a school in Florida

The second recovery high school in the state of Pennsylvania had its grand opening in late August. Named after St. Maximilian Kolbe, the patron saint of those with addiction, Kolbe Academy is run by the Diocese in Allentown and is the first faith-based recovery program of its kind in the country.

Though the school is primarily Catholic, students of all faiths are welcome to attend this unique teen treatment program. Along with teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, the curriculum focuses on assisting students with alcohol and drug addictions. Teen drug abuse shouldn’t affect an adolescent’s education, which is the underlying belief that recovery high schools follow.

Brooke Tesche, the chancellor for Catholic education, explains, “We work closely with Mid-Atlantic Rehabilitation Services for the intensive recovery support, we use the Diocesan curriculum and we are in a faith-filled environment.”

First Faith-Based Recovery Center in the US

According to the Diocese, there are 60 secular recovery high schools in the country. However, Kolbe Academy is one of the first catholic recovery centers in the country. Recovery schools are important because adolescents affected by substance use disorders need a way to receive an education while in recovery.

In addition to their regular education, students attending Kolbe academy participate in faith-based recovery programs that consist of counseling sessions as well as resources like sober after-school programs. While helping students in a supportive environment, the school will also focus on assisting their families. A person’s addiction can affect the entire family, and it’s important that families receive resources, education, and support.

Linda Johnson, the founder of Voices for Change, is helping the Diocese establish the school. She said, “They’re going to have family support [through the school]. If the family doesn’t heal and the family doesn’t understand what’s going on, that can really destroy a family. It comes in like a tornado running through your lives, just destroying everything it touches.”

The Role of Religion in Recovery

Many people look to religion for strength and support during difficult or challenging times. However, the role of religion in addiction recovery hasn’t been extensively researched because it’s not as easily defined or collected as traditional quantitative measures.

Religion can provide people with a meaning or purpose that helps them understand and cope with life’s challenges. As far as spirituality versus religion in recovery, researchers have concluded that both spirituality and religion can enhance health and quality of life. According to one study, engaging in spiritual or religious activity can provide hope, give strength and create meaning during stressful times.

More research shows that spirituality and religion can improve the likelihood of attaining and maintaining addiction recovery. Two of the most common faith-based 12-step programs for addiction recovery include Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. Both of these fellowship programs have an approach that includes unity, service, and recovery. The basis of these programs is spirituality, where the person is encouraged to rely on an external power greater than themselves. For some people, that power is God.

While these 12-step programs encourage attendees to find support in a higher being, they aren’t necessarily religion-based. Researchers found that spirituality, religion, life meaning, and 12-step programs can increase coping skills, provide hope and create a heightened sense of control. In one study, participants expressed a sense of needing someone or something that is trustworthy, dependable and always available. Some participants said that the lack of spirituality and religion contributed to the severity of their addiction.

Faith-Based vs. Secular Recovery Schools

Kolbe Academy is one of the first recovery high schools of its kind, due to its basis in religion. Because of this, it can be hard to compare faith-based recovery high schools and secular recovery high schools. However, it is possible to examine the similarities and differences by comparing faith-based rehab vs. secular treatment centers.

Because every person and addiction is different, addiction treatment facilities across the country offer different types of treatment in varying settings. Two of the most common types of addiction rehabs include faith-based and secular. Religious people benefit from attending faith-based treatment centers because it is helpful to be in a community of others who share similar beliefs. These centers allow patients to have support through religion as well as from one another.

However, a faith-based teen recovery center may not be for everyone. Some people do not have a connection with religion and may not agree with the way a faith-based addiction treatment center treats patients. Non-faith-based recovery groups use approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy and teach the importance of self-empowerment and reliance instead of focusing on external power. Faith-based treatment centers may also implement these types of strategies as part of their treatment.

Ultimately, the decision to attend a secular or faith-based addiction treatment center or recovery high school depends on the person with the addiction. The person should choose a program or a school that will treat their addiction and teach them coping mechanisms as well as offer a support network to help with sober living.

The Importance of Peers in Teen Recovery

It can be hard for adults to remember what it was like to be a teen, but one of the easiest things to remember may be the desire to fit in. Peer pressure is often mentioned in discussions about teen substance use, but positive peer pressure exists too. Having a support network of peers who are struggling with addiction can help teens in recovery cope with triggers and distress.

Being part of a recovery culture can increase the likelihood that a teen in recovery maintains sobriety. Researchers found that teens who attended peer support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous tended to have comparable to slightly better abstinence-related outcomes when compared to adults who attended support meetings. Attending a recovery high school can offer positive peer support, peer relationships and a sense of community. Each of these influences can help promote sober living for teens.

If a teen in your life is struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction, help is available at Next Generation Village. Our team of professionals is able to create individualized treatment plans that help address addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. Contact us today to learn more about treatment programs that can work well for your teen’s situation.


Karakos, Holly. “Positive Peer Support or Negative Peer Influence? The Role of Peers among Adolescents in Recovery High Schools.” Peabody Journal of Education, January 1, 2015. Accessed November 3, 2019.

Laudet, Alexandre; et al. “The Role of Social Supports, Spirituality, Religiousness, Life Meaning and Affiliation with 12-Step Fellowships in Quality of Life Satisfaction Among Individuals in Recovery from Alcohol and Drug Problems.” Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, August 3, 2006. Accessed November 3, 2019.

Morjaria, Asesha. “The Role Of Religion And Spirituality In Recovery From Drink Problems: A Qualitative Study Of Alcoholics Anonymous Members And South Asian Men.” Addiction Research & Theory, 2002. Accessed November 3, 2019.

Sussman, Steve. “A review of Alcoholics Anonymous/ Narcotics Anonymous programs for teens.” Evaluation & the Health Professions, October 1, 2014. Accessed November 3, 2019.

Thompson, Carol. “Allentown Diocese to open addiction recovery high school.” The Morning Call, September 6, 2018. Accessed November 3, 2019.

WFMZ. “Kolbe Academy, a faith-based addiction recovery high school, holds grand opening.” August 26, 2019. Accessed November 3, 2019.

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