AIKEN—Four years ago, Samuel Pierce was only 18 but his life had hit rock bottom.
The teen struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, and had abandoned his family and faith. His parents, Deacon Robert Pierce and Donna Pierce told him he could no longer live under their roof if he continued to abuse drugs.
Months in rehabs and treatment programs did not work so he asked his family for help, and slowly found the road back through Comunita Cenacolo. The Community of the Cenacle or Upper Room is a Catholic religious community for young people struggling with addictions.
It was founded in Italy in 1983 by Sister Elvira Petrozzi, of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity, and currently has 33 facilities in 10 countries. Bishop Robert J. Baker helped bring the organization to Florida in the early ‘90s, and it was there that Pierce traveled to free himself from addiction.
He is back in South Carolina for a few weeks and told his story on June 8 to youths attending a Christian disciples camp at St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken.
He said the road to addiction began with being bullied and struggling to make friends in middle school. In a desperate attempt to be accepted, he started hanging out with kids who smoked, drank, and took drugs. By high school, Pierce said he was abusing substances such as marijuana, alcohol and cocaine.
When he finally made the decision to go to Cenacolo in 2012, he said he had reached a point where “he was tired of being tired, tired of not being able to feel anything anymore.”
Life there was different than anything he had known. Each day revolved around prayer, hard work, reflection, counseling and fellowship. Pierce said even the most menial work in the kitchen taught important lessons.
“You sacrifice your time for others, learn how to sacrifice yourself and give yourself,” he said. “If you’re able to do that well, you’re able to go out in the world and have relationships, to have a family, because you’re willing to give yourself to someone else.”
The community has a three-year minimum commitment, but Pierce said he has stayed longer to deepen his relationship with God.
During that time he has visited the community’s houses in Turin, Italy, and Barcelona, Spain, and learned to speak both languages. He also honed his skills as a musician and singer to spread the Gospel.
“I thanked God recently that I’m able to cry, I can show emotion again,” he said. “I’m a human being and not an animal anymore, I can feel and give of myself.”
Now at age 22, Pierce said he has reached a point where he will decide whether or not to leave the community and begin to rebuild his life back home, or do mission work at a Cenacolo orphanage in Mexico. He wants to work with youth and help them avoid the mistakes he made.
“I think about all the good I’ve received and all the mercy God has shown me through living in the community, and I need to give it back,” he said. “I want to … see someone else be touched and changed. I can’t be quiet about the miracle God has worked in my life.”
Photo provided: Samuel Pierce is a resident of Comunita Cenacolo, a religious community in Florida for people struggling with addiction. He shared his story with his parish, St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken recently.