The plan is for the men to live in houses, owned by the Serenelli Project, surrounding Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, in Sedamsville, a neighborhood of Cincinnati. Currently, the project owns and is renovating one house with a chapel inside near the church.
The 19th-century Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church was closed in 1989 by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and was sold to a developer years later but is now owned by the The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority.
Arlinghaus is hoping to buy the church and its rectory from the port authority with the intention of refurbishing the historic establishment to be used once more.
The ex-inmates living in the community will play a large role in the renovation of the church, he said.
The Serinelli Project will partner with tradesmen and construction companies and offer their members as laborers. Through this work, the former inmates will begin to develop a craft in the trades and use these skills to develop a career, as well as to refurbish the church.
Eventually, Arlinghaus hopes to have trades professionals who work for Serenelli Project that will train community members and lead the work on the church and with external jobs.
Arlinghaus said that his vision is for the members of the community to receive spiritual formation from a priest in residence during their time of labor and reentry.
The total cost of buying the church, rectory, and their restoration will cost millions, he said, but he’s not worried about reaching the fundraising feat.
“We have the next thousand years to make this look like what God wants it to look like,” Arlinghaus said. “I’m not worried about raising that much money to do the full restoration in a quick amount of time. This is something that gets built up slowly in the Spirit more than it does physically.”
Although its first large undertaking will be a community for men, the Serenelli Project also serves women and anyone else reentering society who doesn’t want to live in community but still wants help in their faith. Some of those services include connecting these individuals to parishes in their area, counseling services, and “spiritual encouragement.”
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The Serenelli Project is named after Alessandro Serenelli, the man who in 1902 attempted to rape and then murdered Maria Goretti, who was later canonized a saint.
Serenelli served a 30-year prison sentence but repented for his sins after the saint appeared to him in a vision and offered him 14 lilies representing her 14 stab wounds.
His life was changed in that moment and when he left prison he asked forgiveness from Goretti’s mother, which she gave. Serenelli lived the rest of his life as a Third Order Franciscan, working on the religious order’s monastery grounds until his death.
In a letter dated May 5, 1961, Serenelli wrote: “At the age of 20, I committed a crime of passion, the memory of which still horrifies me today.”
“Maria Goretti, now a saint, was my good angel whom God placed in my path to save me. Her words both of rebuke and forgiveness are still imprinted in my heart. She prayed for me, interceding for her killer,” he wrote.
Arlingaus said: “We’re trying to create the same community for guys like him.”