A Catholic on Wall St. Banks on ‘St. Bernadette de Lourdes’

Musical will screen at the upcoming National Eucharistic Congress.

A scene from ‘Bernadette de Lourdes’
A scene from ‘Bernadette de Lourdes’ (photo: Courtesy of ‘Bernadette de Lourdes’)

Pierre Ferragu considered it providential when he met the production team behind the powerful French musical Bernadette de Lourdes, which is currently gearing up for a U.S. tour in 2025 — and will screen at the National Eucharistic Congress in July.

“I simply offered them my help if they wanted to consider at some point taking the show to the U.S.,” Ferragu told the Register. A French native, Ferragu currently lives in New York. “[The production team] took the offer and called me back a few weeks later.”

Courtesy of ‘Bernadette of Lourdes’
‘Bernadette de Lourdes’ tells the story of the saint in a new way.(Photo: Courtesy of ‘Bernadette de Lourdes’)

But Ferragu had no experience in musical theater or the entertainment industry. Rather, he’s a Wall St. analyst at New Street Research focusing on the technology, media and telecom sectors. The Catholic Ferragu saw an opportunity to reach American audiences in the story of St. Bernadette.

“You can invite your neighbors to Mass, but, unfortunately, that would be a hard ask these days,” Ferragu said. “But you can invite your neighbors to a show or play, and they would probably go.”

Ferragu and the French team are planning a 30-city tour of Bernadette de Lourdes for 2025. They are currently translating the 17 songs into English.

First performed at Lourdes in 2019, Bernadette de Lourdes follows the plight and perseverance of 14-year-old Bernadette Soubrois, played by French singer Eyma, in her acting debut. The Register previously reported on the musical, emphasizing the production’s intent to make a story intended for everyone, not just the faithful.

This may cause alarm for some of those faithful, but the Register was invited to a private screening of the musical recorded in Paris at Paramount Pictures on June 12. Evoking the power of Les Misérables, the musical drama is a triumph and achieves something largely lacking in today’s American faith-based fare: artistry.

Attending the screening were Ferragu, Eyma and six-time Emmy winning actor Kelsey Grammer, who signed on as executive producer for the American version. Grammer did not know of Bernadette beforehand and came to learn of the musical’s existence through a priest friend.

“I was immediately taken with this profound piece of work,” Grammer told the Register, whose prolific career started on Broadway. “Bernadette’s steadfastness in the face of pressure and resistance is universally relatable.”

Kelsey Grammer
Executive producer Kelsey Grammer, left, with French actress Eyma, who plays St. Bernadette, at a screening of ‘Bernadette de Lourdes’ at Paramount Studios June 12. (Photo: James Day/National Catholic Register)

Bernadette de Lourdes is directed by renowned Canadian stage director Serge Denoncourt, who at first resisted the project when approached by producer Roberto Ciurelo. Denoncourt reluctantly accepted a plane ticket to experience Lourdes firsthand. Then he immersed himself in research, studying the surviving transcripts of St. Bernadette’s interrogation in 1858. He came away transformed by Bernadette’s witness, a nonbeliever moved to interpret Bernadette’s story in a dramatic way for the general public. With original music by French musician Grégoire, the recurring theme of Bernadette de Lourdes draws on a quote from St. Bernadette herself: “My job is to inform, not to convince.”

“What I find strong in Bernadette is her integrity; it would have been easier for her to say nothing,” Grégoire remarked in an interview with French radio. Grégoire previously composed music set to the poems of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, released in 2013.

Bernadette de Lourdes openly depicts Bernadette’s mystic encounters with the Virgin Mary, beautifully depicting the famous grotto. The character of Bernadette reverently makes the Sign of the Cross a number of times, and in the musical’s final moments, Bernadette dons her Sisters of Charity habit.

Like Denoncourt, the actress portraying Bernadette, Paris native Eyma, knew nothing of Bernadette. She was an aspiring singer when auditions were being held in Paris. “My father said I should try out,” she recalled to the Register. “It was intimidating. I had never acted before.” Eyma was offered the part the same day.

Bernadette’s conviction in experiencing the apparitions and bringing forth the messages she hears from the Blessed Mother, including the message that she be called the Immaculate Conception — a key moment in the musical — reminded Grammer of Shakespeare’s quote from A Winter’s Tale: “The silence often of pure innocence persuades where speaking fails.”

If Bernadette’s encounters with Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (who is inferred but never seen in the musical) is the central relationship, Bernadette’s relationship with her father, Francois Soubirous, is the emotional heart of the production. Francois sings the show-stopping number N’être qu’un Homme, performed by actor David Bán.

For Ferragu, a father of five, embarking on the unknown as a producer of a stage production testified to the show’s impact both artistically and spiritually. The bold decision to bring Bernadette de Lourdes to the U.S., rather than as a filmed presentation to release on a streaming platform or a distributor such as Fathom Events, is unique.

There is no lack of faith-based films and documentaries today, Ferragu noted, musicals are a rarity. “The stage, a live performance, is more intimate than a film or TV show,” Ferragu said. “We want communities to experience Bernadette’s story together in this special way.” That decision was part of the show’s charm for Grammer, who dreams Bernadette de Lourdes will one day be performed in 80 countries.

Of course, Bernadette conquered the silver screen more than 80 years ago, with the Oscar-winning epic The Song of Bernadette, based on a novel by Franz Werfel, starring Jennifer Jones, directed by Henry King, and with an original score by Alfred Newman.

When Bernadette de Lourdes appears on the American stage next year, Ferragu hopes it ushers in a renaissance of Catholic artistic productions. “Imagine the story of your favorite saint on stage,” he said. “There is no lack of great stories from our faith tradition.”