The Serenelli Project Offers Those Released from Prison Recovery, Fellowship, and Home

After many years of struggling with alcohol, drugs, and sex addiction, Stephanie found sobriety at the age of 33. It was during that first year of her recovery that she also returned to the faith of her childhood, joining RCIA and becoming a confirmed Catholic. That was in 2006, and she has been sober since.

In response to the gift of her sobriety, Stephanie has continued to serve others by becoming active in her church. It’s this deep desire to bring Christ and healing to others that recently placed on her heart a desire to serve those specifically struggling with addictions.

“I recently went through a divorce and moved in with a girlfriend,” Stephanie said. “She lived in a rough neighborhood in Cincinnati with lots of prostitution and drug sellers and I was hoping to buy the place from her and turn the back apartment into a women’s recovery house.”

Stephanie soon found out the house was selling for more than she anticipated and decided it wasn’t the right move to purchase it. However, the very next week God revealed to her what He had in mind for her instead.

“The next week at church this man named Marty, a member of our parish, gave a pulpit announcement about this project for men and women just released from prison who have nowhere else to go. I met with him after church and asked him if they would also be helping women. When he said yes, and that he had plans for both men’s and women’s houses, I told him I wanted to be involved,” Stephanie shared.

This would become the Serenelli Project. Scheduled to launch next year, the Serenelli Project will offer homes for men and women released from prison who are committed to growing in their faith and being part of a Christ-centered community.

The men who are accepted will help rebuild old and abandoned churches, rectories, and houses in the surrounding neighborhood to provide a space for them to live. They will also help manage these spaces so that they can be used for liturgies, retreats, wedding receptions, and community events for the local community. The women who are accepted will serve through their own unique work, which could include raising therapy animals, social services, cooking, catering, and more. They will create a space for daily prayer, work, and fellowship.

“The motto for the Serenelli Project is ‘Rebuild, Repair, Restore,’ both for the human person and the abandoned churches not in use anymore,” Stephanie said. “The homes will be modeled after a religious community.”

The ministry takes its name from Alessandro Serenelli, an Italian gardener who went to prison for stabbing to death St. Maria Goretti when she refused his attempts to seduce and molest her in spite of his threats of retaliation. In prison, St. Maria visited Alessandro in a vision and offered him 14 lilies for each stab wound, highlighting her forgiveness that she had already given him on her deathbed. He converted, and after being released from prison he lived out the rest of his life in a monastery.

Stephanie volunteered to lead the mentoring of Serenelli’s residents as well as manage recovery and small groups since many released from prison struggle with addictions and are especially susceptible to relapse. However, she was unsure exactly how to integrate the Catholic faith with recovery. She was discussing this over a Zoom call with Marty and two others involved in the project who were recently released from prison, a woman named Kathy and a man named Steven.

“We were discussing how we would handle the recovery meeting aspect and Kathy got her phone out during our Zoom meeting and found Catholic in Recovery. So we purchased the book and since I had volunteered to help formulate the recovery program, I got in touch with Scott and we basically just decided it was a no-brainer. We will still encourage members living in the Serenelli Project homes to attend 12-step and other meetings, but the one that we will facilitate on site every week will be our Catholic in Recovery meetings.”

While these meetings will be hosted at one of the Serenelli Project homes, they will be open to anyone in the Cincinnati area. In fact, Stephanie has already started facilitating a weekly Catholic in Recovery meeting at a church in preparation for when the building is done for the first Serenelli Project community.

“I have never had the opportunity to sponsor others and I have missed that. I’m looking forward to that opportunity now,” Stephanie said.

She is also grateful for the opportunity to serve those struggling with addictions and unhealthy attachments who have been imprisoned—something she admits could have very well happened to her.

“I have the gratitude of knowing that I very well could have ended up in prison,” Stephanie said. “I sold marijuana and drove around with cocaine and LSD. At any point, it could have been me.”

She also understands this opportunity to serve as a chance for her to embrace forgiveness for her past and the harm it caused her and others.

“I think one of my biggest stumbling blocks in recovery has been forgiving myself. I hope through the Serenelli Project homes I can mentor others and we can help each other toward that forgiveness,” Stephanie said.

Lastly, she remains grateful for having found Catholic in Recovery.

“I love the Catholic in Recovery take on recovery because you don’t have to only be addicted to gambling or alcohol. I love that it’s open to anyone, including people who might be suffering from a family member or friend who is struggling with an addiction,” Stephanie shared. “If we’re honest, we all have unhealthy attachments of some kind, which we call sin. Our Catholic faith allows us to relieve our defects through the sacraments, and Catholic in Recovery can help us grow in our relationship with God and others.”