Our Lady of Joyful Hope Community in Blountsville, Ala., observed its first anniversary on March 19. There was much joy for the year’s successes and abundant hope for continuing to restore the lives of young men recovering from drug and alcohol addictions.
Our Lady of Joyful Hope is part of the international Comunità Cenacolo (Community of the Cenacle), a form of community life for those overcoming addictions.
The focal point was Mass celebrated by Birmingham’s Bishop Robert Baker. Since the community’s dedication by the bishop last year, the initial 12 young men residents have nearly doubled to 22
“The anniversary in Alabama is another sign of a gift of hope for families who have sons like I do,” said Mary Lou McCall of New Orleans. She was among the parents and friends of the community attending the anniversary celebration. Her oldest son has been in the community program this past year. He started in this house before transferring to a community in Italy.
“Their hope comes from Jesus Christ,” McCall emphasized. “The community brings the young men to the truth of Jesus.”
“The community is a miraculous movement of God now; in my mind, Mother Elvira is the new Mother Teresa,” observed Judy Klein, another mother, also from New Orleans, referring to Sister Elvira
Petrozzi, who founded Comunità Cenacolo in Italy. “She has a heart for the lepers of our society who are the drug addicts. She is pulling them out of their poverty, which is addiction.”
What a difference a single year has made at Our Lady of Joyful Hope, which is Comunità Cenacolo America’s fourth house in the United States, the first outside Florida and one of 60 houses worldwide.
The organization has pontifical status as a public association of the faithful since Dec. 8, 2005.
One Alabama house resident is 27-year-old Luke. He is completing four years with the community and has been appointed the head of the house this year.
Reflecting on the anniversary, Luke found it “neat to have a reference point to say, ‘This is where we were last year, and this is where we are now.’”
That includes the changes “inside ourselves,” he emphasized.
Luke was also joyful about the people living nearby. “When we got here, they welcomed us with open arms, but now there’s much more closeness to us,” he said. “Our friendships have developed.”
Blake, also staying for a fourth year, agreed. “There are plenty of friends we’ve made in this past year, thanks to Bishop Baker,” he said. “We always get strong support from Bishop Baker. He’s an
integral aspect of our house, as well as for spiritual and material providence we need.”
In the 1990s, as pastor of the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine in St. Augustine, Fla., looking to help addicts, Bishop Baker learned of Mother Elvira.
“The house is becoming more like a home,” Blake observed. “People are able to take their own personal responsibilities. You see a lot of character development on the personal level. And guys push themselves to do times of personal adoration.”
They have also developed close ties with the Knights of the Eucharist, who are nearby at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, and with the Franciscan friars from EWTN who celebrate Mass regularly for the community. (Mother Elvira prefers the houses to be located near shrines and monasteries, especially ones devoted to the Blessed Mother.) Normally the men also
attend Mass and Benediction at the shrine itself.
Blake credits the Knights of the Eucharist and the friars with giving the men a perspective of their lifestyle and good spiritual example, as well as helping them balance between physical work and the spiritual aspects of the community’s program.
The Cenacolo Community is not the standard quick-fix rehab clinic; it is a “school of life” because those with addictions, especially to drugs and alcohol, learn an entirely new way of living solidly founded on the Eucharist, prayer, adoration, the Rosary three times daily, physical work and sacrifice. (See more here and here ).
As in all the houses, the focal point is the chapel, where the men spend time in prayer and Eucharistic adoration. The house, built in a European monastic style, is in a peaceful setting, which also promotes a spiritual atmosphere.
Here, as elsewhere (there is now also a house for women in Florida), the residents pay nothing. Mother Elvira insists the communities exist purely on divine Providence, with a special bond to St. Joseph.
In fact, when searching for a suitable place in Alabama, Bishop Baker and those helping him prayed to St. Joseph for assistance; they first saw the house on the feast of St. Joseph. They named the road leading to the house St. Joseph’s Lane.
In his homily on the anniversary, Bishop Baker told the people, “Were it not for the intercession of St. Joseph, this community would never have landed here in this location. St. Joseph’s influence kept popping up to encourage us when we might have gotten discouraged from making this a reality.”
“St. Joseph is viewed as the instrument of divine Providence in helping take care of this community,” Bishop Baker said. “This saint never fails in reaching out to help the men here discover there is a God who provides for them, who looks out for them. Mother Elvira planted that deep sense of his intercession in everyone who is part of this community.”
Albino Aragno, director of the community’s North and South American houses, emphasized that this anniversary celebration was a “thank you” to St. Joseph for all the blessings received during the year “for the guys, most of all, because they stayed, for the local people, for spiritual presence, for the priests coming to say Mass, and for the peacefulness the shrine gives to all of us.”
Aragno acknowledged the great blessing of the area’s “beautiful families [for] being such a great example, living a very Christian life for all of the guys to see.”
Klein feels the presence of the Holy Spirit and sees a miraculous difference in her son since he entered the community nine months ago.
This anniversary was particularly profound for her because her husband was buried two years ago on the feast of St. Joseph. On that day she had no hope for her son.
She observed: “I don’t think my son would be alive today if it wasn’t for the community.” But today, he “is not only alive and doing well, but living in a place where the Blessed Sacrament is present, on his knees several hours a day, learning his faith and the value of work.”
McCall echoes her praise: “I knew I was placing my son in the womb of Christ-centered love because the heart of this community is Jesus, the Eucharist, adoration. It’s a spiritual radiation that’s healing them from the inside out, changing the spiritual darkness for the light of Christ. I saw the big transition in my son after the first six months. … Johnny is a witness to the power of Christ and healing. It’s had a powerful impact on me and his brothers.”
McCall adds, “It’s not just about the addict, but a renewal of the individual, the family and the Church because of strengthening people and sending them back to the sacraments.”
In his homily, Bishop Baker reminded those gathered that Joseph is the “man of hope,” and the Gospels show “Joseph becomes for all time the model of trust in divine Providence. A seemingly impossible situation gets resolved, thanks to Joseph’s trust.”
The first anniversary proves the same happens for the men at Our Lady of Joyful Hope.
Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.
Watch for future shows on Our Lady of Joyful Hope on Women of Grace hosted by Johnnette Benkovic.
Write: Comunità Cenacolo America, 1050 Talleyrand Ave., Jacksonville, FL 32206