BLOOMFIELD – Jesus fished for men with parables. Father Edmund S. Nadolny is using live theater to cast for future priests.
The former director of the Office of Radio and Television of the Archdiocese of Hartford and former parish priest and pastor, Father Nadolny is bringing the multimedia drama “Vianney” to three Catholic high schools in September.
A one-man performance, “Vianney” delves into the life of Saint John Mary Vianney. Saint John Vianney, despite struggling for years with his theological studies, is the patron saint of parish priests worldwide. He returned the residents of Ars, France, to the Catholic faith after the French Revolution.
In his letter proclaiming the Year for Priests in 2009, then-Pope Benedict wrote that when Saint John Vianney “arrived in Ars, a village of 230 souls, [he was] warned by his Bishop beforehand that there he would find religious practice in a sorry state: ‘There is little love of God in that parish; you will be the one to put it there.’” How he did that is a story perfect for the stage.
The 90-minute play, suitable for ages 9 and over, will run in Connecticut for five performances. Public performances are scheduled for 7 p.m. on Sept. 14 at St. Paul Catholic High School in Bristol, 7 p.m. again Sept. 16 at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford, and at the same time once more on Sept. 18 at East Catholic High School in Manchester. Both St. Paul Catholic High School and Northwest Catholic High School are also offering daytime performances for their students.
A $15,600 sponsorship from Father Nadolny’s Good News Fund allows the public to see “Vianney” for free. However, free-will offerings collected at the public performances will benefit scholarships at each of the high schools.
“Vianney” is one of four productions currently being run by Saint Luke Productions, a professional theatrical company based near Vancouver, Wash. Founded by Shakespearean actor Leonardo Defilippis in 1980, the company travels around the country, telling about the life of Jesus and the saints, often going to communities that haven’t seen live theater before.
Both Mr. Defilippis and Father Nadolny view this format as an effective tool to evangelize because the audience participates in the action. Watching a movie or reading a book positions people as observers. A play immerses them in the life of the portrayed person as though they’re standing on the same street, at the same time, with the main figure looking directly at them.
Though touted as a one-man performance, “Vianney” is far removed from, say, Hal Halbrook’s depiction of Mark Twain. With original music and scores of digital backdrops that interact (watch out for the Devil!) with the actor, the experience has moved more than 100,000 people. Then there’s the riveting Saint John Vianney.
“I find the character of John Vianney extremely endearing,” says Mr. Defilippis, who plays the saint. “He was a truly eccentric character, wearing a ragged cassock, living on a diet of nothing but one potato a day, yet sparing no expense for the church or his children. His love and concern for the salvation of every single person he encountered came through in his every word and action. There is an urgency in him that is extraordinarily compelling and convicting.”
Saint John Vianney had a deep cooperative spirit, which Pope Benedict emphasized in his Year for Priests letter. The saint made extra efforts to show how priests need to work as partners with their communities. This trait makes the lessons from his life particularly pertinent for today, according to Mr. Defilippis.
Mr. Defilippis has performed “Vianney” for diverse audiences, including a relative of the saint as well as for Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Austria. Audiences have consistently been moved to act on their faith, he said, from scheduling time to go to confession to being re-energized in their practice and, for young men, considering a call to the priesthood.
Father Nadolny is certain that “Vianney” will help students find their vocations. He believes this so much that attendees of the public performances will receive cards where they can write the names of young men who would make good priests. Then he will help them build a community to pray for those young men.
What characteristics should people look for? “A kind heart and a love for people,” he advises. “I guarantee in five to 10 years, at least one young man sitting in the audience will become a priest.”