Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared regularly in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds BS and MS degrees and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside in Connecticut.
Leah Chen has a real knack for explaining the faith.
She was just named the winner of the Goodness Reigns "mini contest" on the theme “Natural Family Planning: The Better Way.”
Chen not only took top prize in this national contest for young filmmakers: A week later, she captured the "People’s Choice Award" after voters picked her “Natural Family Planning Explained” as their winning video.
This spirited 21-year-old didn’t expect either win. This was the first video contest she has entered.
Fellow filmmaker Gabriel Castillo saw her short films on YouTube and contacted Chen to tell her about the contest. Castillo made an award-winning video for the 2011 Goodness Reigns contest; he now works with the apostolate promoting faith-based media and developing their film school.
Now, Chen’s video is a teaching tool online in time for July’s Natural Family Planning Awareness Week.
How did she start making Catholic videos?
“Informally,” Chen says. “I got a camcorder for fun when I was younger, then I got really serious about it May of last year.”
Watching videos on YouTube, she found “nothing there for me as a Catholic young person,” she explains.
“So, when my own sister Anna was going to enter the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist last year,” she continues, “I thought it would be really cool to make a video. I interviewed my sister and invested in an iPad to edit it. I thought 10 or 15 people would watch it, and I could inspire them.”
The early number of hits surprised her. Today that first video has racked up more than 4,700 YouTube viewings. Her channel is named “She Is Catholic.” A sampling of her videos includes why we honor Mary in the "Month of May," "It’s Not a Necklace," "How NOT to Act in Church" and the "Latin Mass."
The “Latin Mass” video is her most popular to date, with over 13,770 viewings.
“My video on how to wear church veils, a mantilla, is very popular, too.”
Chen’s engaging style is just as evident in her winning entry.
In the video, she plays all four roles, mainly using two characters who are on opposite sides of the NFP subject. In a delightful gush of words and details from her main character, Chen condenses the rationale and validation for NFP into a really smart and entertaining 4 minutes and 53 seconds.
Natural flair, drama, humor, clarity of facts and sheer honesty for the subject make their impact on the viewer.
She does the same in her other videos too, like modesty, a subject she’s returned to several times in her Dressing Modestly Journals plus other videos.
.“It’s an important subject,” she says, “and I get a lot of email asking me to please do a video on modesty.”
Providentially, Chen was announced the winner of the Goodness Reigns contest on July 16 — the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
“When I’m inspired to do to video, I pray about it and do it. The Holy Spirit inspires me rapidly. I think, That would make an interesting video, and the next day it’s done.”
She credits the Holy Spirit with the inspiration for the dialogue for the NFP video.
The big win earned Chen, who just finished her second year of college, a choice of a camera with lens or a $1,000 gift card to a photography store.
The decision was easy: She took the $1,000 gift card.
“With it I can get more than one camera,” Chen says. “I’m donating the cameras I won from the contest to the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.” The sisters are raising funds to build a new convent in Texas; their Ann Arbor, Mich., convent is overflowing.
“Because the sisters are so tight on money, and this is an incredibly huge project going on, I’m donating the cameras,” Chen says.
She has another reason to be very excited (and not because she’s planning a video to raise funds for the new convent): God is calling her to religious life. On Aug. 28, she will enter the Dominican Sister of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor.
That’s another story worth filming!