Alcoholism plagued Melvin Alyward's upbringing. He grew up in Baie Verte, Nfld., one of 16 children in a poor Irish Catholic family. His family home was without running water, no lights and sometimes no food on the table.
But there was always an abundance of homebrew, which led to such tribulations as the police entering his family's home, violent arguments, broken dishes.
"From age eight to 18, that's when I drank myself into an alcoholic stupor. Every night before I went to bed I would drink myself into oblivion with the homebrew," said Alyward.
He was the guest speaker at the Edmonton Catholic Charismatic Prayer Breakfast, held May 12 at the Chateau Louis Conference Centre. His talk was loud, high-energy and told at a frenzied pace.
Into the 1970s, Alyward graduated from alcohol into drugs. He left home at an early age, and went to work in the underground mines in Thompson, Man., and later to Calgary where his alcoholism came into full bloom.
He ended up on the streets of Calgary, fought men for no reason, except for his drunkenness, and associated with a motorcycle gang. He was suicidal, and used to run a knife across his throat or drive drunk through the city on his motorcycle.
"There was no God in my life. I didn't have room for him," said Alyward. "I was searching for my identity because I did not know who I was. I thought that the alcohol and the drugs and the other things that I did would fill my life, but they didn't."
After the death of his father, he started searching for answers in other places. At age 20, he accepted Jesus Christ into his life as his Lord and Saviour.
Devoting his life to God, he started telling his testimony in jails and prisons. He took prostitutes from the Calgary slum neighbourhoods and brought them to prayer meetings.
"On Dec. 12, 35 years ago, on the feast day of our Lady of Guadalupe, that's when Jesus Christ delivered me from alcoholism," said Alyward.
He always sought to do God's work, whatever that might be. He went to Bible school for a year, later experienced monastery living for two and a half years, and lived in British Columbia for awhile.
He met the Jesuits in Guelph, Ont. and went on a 40-day silent retreat where he experienced a hell unlike anything he had ever experienced before. The silence enabled him to deal with unresolved issues such as the anger he had towards his mother, and the damage he had done to his father.
"The greatest power on this earth is the power of prayer. The Madonna House (in Combermere, Ont.) knew prayer, and there I became a missionary for 11 years. I became on fire for Jesus," he said.
He prayed for a Christian marriage and children of his own. Soon he was introduced to a Filipino woman, and two days later he knew that she would be his future wife. A year later they were married, and have been blessed with two sons and a daughter.
"We lived in Fort McMurray. To buy a house in Fort McMurray, you've got to be a millionaire or you've got to depend on Jesus.
"We were half a million dollars in debt. She was working, we had boarders, and we had a business going, but we were still in the hole," said Alyward.
They prayed, and three months later they were debt free and have been ever since. Staying sober, praying the rosary daily and finding solace through Jesus have become the mainstays of his life.
"The one thing that Jesus has given to me is peace. The one thing that he has taken away is the loneliness. Since the day I met my wife, there has never been a lonely day in my life," said Alyward.