National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Actor Brings St. John Vianney to Life on EWTN

BY Joseph Pronechen

Register Staff Writer

October 23-November 5, 2011 Issue | Posted 10/14/11 at 2:19 PM


Leonardo Defilippis wears many hats well.

He is an acclaimed actor, producer and director of award-winning films and videos, including the feature-length Thérèse; he is also the founder and president of Saint Luke Productions and Luke Films (, which celebrated their 30th anniversary on Oct. 18, the feast of St. Luke.

Defilippis’ latest production is the made-for-television program Vianney Speaks, which is co-produced with EWTN and premiered on EWTN on Oct. 14 and 15. Vianney Speaks grew out of Vianney, Defilippis’ highly praised play about the life of St. John Vianney, the patron of parish priests.

Why did you decide to make Vianney Speaks for television?

Basically, the drama became so powerful and impactful. Never had I seen a play, secular or religious, that had this kind of impact on people and how it transforms them. The majority of Catholics did not know John Vianney, and many priests do not know him well.

How did you change the approach for a very different experience?

In the play we use only a piece of his sermons, vignettes in the context of his life. His preaching in the very beginning was very strong and to the point. He was not afraid, like a lot of people in our culture would be. He was not worried about popularity or human respect or embarrassment about our teachings or about Christ.

John Paul II said of John Vianney: “He is the priest par excellence. He is the model for all priests.” We thought, Why don’t we get his sermons out? It’s never been done before. This is a historic opportunity.

So we took the entire sermons, the whole nine yards. People can hear his words uncensored and unedited, so they can absorb it.

We are doing three sermons. In the evolution, I also integrated his prayers. Instead of a snippet, I took his whole prayer — his crying out to God in the chapel, staying up all night in vigil. It was common for him to ask for God’s guidance, mercy and inspiration. He never thought of himself as a preacher or speaker, so he was always asking for God’s help.

It’s like an hour-long meditation. It’s as if you’re going to a mission in a parish, but you’re not listening to the popular mission priest. You’re actually going to Ars to a priest who was never able to travel or leave his parish. But this is an opportunity for him to reach out to the world.

How is John Vianney relevant today?

John Vianney is the remedy so relevant to our society. Most people don’t believe in the devil. Most Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence because they’ve been led astray by the devil. But John Vianney helps you understand the true presence of God by basically putting a focal point on confession, the key to breaking the paralysis of blindness and sin to see the presence of God in the Eucharist.

He is the greatest confessor in the history of the Church. He heard more confessions than any other priest in history.

He was able to convert every single soul in his village. All the bad marriages reconciled; all the drunkards. They were all living in harmony, one mind and one heart in the parish. God used him through much suffering to bring all souls to Christ and into the Church. Everyone came from all over Europe to be near this priest and village of holy people.

So, in the midst of a terrible time, God gave us an echo of what really shall be. And God didn’t choose a professor or one of the best preachers. He chose the lowliest person to confound the proud. The dumbest seminarian is now the patron saint of all of them. That’s God’s sense of humor. He chose the littlest child. John Vianney, through pure grace, becomes one of the wisest priests God has given us.

Because he chooses the weakest vessels, echoed always in the Scriptures, it gives people hope God can use me too. That’s another reason John Vianney is so relevant today.

I think the Pope (Benedict XVI) created the Year of the Priest on the 150th anniversary of John Vianney’s death to show how important it was to inspire priests — and all laity too — to look to John Vianney, so not one scandal, difficulty and cross will shake them and nobody will be paralyzed by sins.

What do you hope the television version will accomplish?

If one opens to his words, like Christ, then this particular program can create an immense amount of conversion. It has a real evangelical mission.

Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.

Read the entire interviewhere.