Austin Ripley, Founder of Guest House

Within the past several months, Guest House has experienced some growth to ensure that we continue to provide effective life-saving and ethical treatment every day with compassion and respect. We honor the intentions of our founder Austin Ripley and provide a “hospital and hospice, a haven and a sanctuary for clergy and religious who suffer from alcoholism or other addictions” (The Guest House Philosophy).

In August of 2017, Jeff Henrich returned to Guest House in his new role as president and CEO. Jeff was well acquainted with Guest House because he served as the executive director of the men’s program in Rochester, Minnesota, from 2011-2014 and even earlier as assistant director and counselor. Fourteen years of Guest House experience coupled with his most recent leadership experience as the program director of Champion Center, a former 80-bed chemical dependency treatment facility in California, made Jeff a natural fit to lead Guest House into its next sixty years. Evident daily to clients, staff, Church leadership and benefactors is Jeff’s passion for recovery and for the Guest House ministry. In his words, “It’s possible to recover from addiction and lead a healthy, productive life. Not enough people hear that or know that, so we must share that message.” He promotes the ideas that treatment works and recovery is possible, and his quiet strength has already brought about positive results.

Men’s Treatment Center – View from Back

One major shift in programming in December was to move from two executive directors (men’s program director and women’s program director) to one executive director, Mary Ellen Merrick, IHM. Sister Mary Ellen has extensive clinical expertise and has been in the ministry of education and addiction since 1969. She transitioned seamlessly from the executive director of the women’s program to the executive director of both the men’s and women’s programs, and our clients responded positively to the change. “Guest House has a history of providing quality care, and I am proud to continue and grow that tradition with the support of an exceptional staff,” comments Sister Mary Ellen.

To strengthen the men’s treatment program, Guest House added two full-time positions: continuing care counselor and lead therapist. In the past, the continuing care position was a limited contract position, and in January we welcomed Brian Shaffer to the full-time role. To acquaint Brian with the program, he experienced an orientation similar to one of a new client. His reaction: “I was able to see and encounter the comprehensive and integrated way that the entire clinical team engages with the client to be able to gather all the necessary information to build a treatment plan that is individualized to the client’s needs. I felt like I was being cared for in an attentive, unique and special way.” Brian brings a passion to companion and journey with those in recovery, supporting their efforts for holistic well-being. His clinical and pastoral experience made his arrival to Guest House seamless.

Women’s Treatment Center – View from Back

Then, in February, Guest House was pleased to add Tom Ghena to our staff as the new lead therapist of the men’s program. Tom shares a 30-year career of providing clinical care in residential and outpatient settings focused on treating a range of substance use disorders and mental health conditions. He is inspired by the perspective that all individuals possess skills and motivation that make them unique. He explains, “The goal of counseling is to draw out those traits and initiate relationships that help clients realize fully their gift set and become the individuals they have been created to be.” Tom’s experience will be utilized to enhance curriculum development and quality of care.

Additionally, in December, Guest House welcomed Deacon Chris Stark as outreach director and, in January, Rev. Mark Stelzer, STD, as education director. These gentlemen bring a wealth of experience and dedication to the Guest House mission. They are critical to maintaining connections with our alumni, offering support to the treatment process, and taking addiction and recovery awareness and education on the road to parishes, dioceses, religious communities and seminaries.

The Guest House mission is all encompassing as we provide the information, education treatment and care needed to assure that clergy, men and women religious, and seminarians suffering from alcoholism, addictions and other behavioral health conditions have the best opportunity for quality recovery and overall health and wellness. Those we serve are welcomed and treated with dignity. Guest House takes pride in offering excellent care with an outstanding staff. We invite you to learn more about our staff members by visiting our website at and exploring the “About Page.”

Written by Guest House Staff Writer