Putting God on the Stage

A former Shakespearean actor, in 1980 he and his future wife Patti started St. Luke Productions, a Catholic production company which is in the process of financing a full-length feature film on St. Thérèse of Lisieux. He spoke with Register features correspondent Tim Drake.

Tell me a little about yourself.

I grew up in Napa Valley, Calif., the famous wine country as the oldest of five children and attended Catholic schools. My father was a meat cutter and my mother stayed at home with the children. In regard to my faith, I began losing interest in it during high school and altogether abandoned it in college with the turbulence of the early '70s.

I got into theater accidentally in high school, and then later more so in college. In my early career, I performed and participated in Shakespearean festivals in San Diego, Colorado, Oregon, and elsewhere, having had a deep love for classical theater.

What led you back to the faith?

It was a combination of things.

I could see the unstable environment I was in, morally speaking. But to be more specific, it was a young dancer I had befriended who ended up a heroin addict. I tried to help her, and in doing so I began to realize that I was helpless and at a roadblock. Another actor friend, a homosexual who later died from AIDS, had given me a rosary many years before. I had kept the rosary, but never used it. I wasn't into that “stuff.” Yet, in trying to help my friend, I came to realize that I had to entrust her entirely to God.

It was funny, at that moment I found that long-forgotten rosary and I began to pray once again. This opened my heart to read the Scriptures and I began the journey home to the Church.

What led you to create St. Luke Productions?

In the late 1970s I had seen a one-man show on the Gospel of Mark and another on Father Damien of Molokai. They planted the seed for my doing something religious. I began taking big risks in my auditions by portraying more religious themes, which is something you are not supposed to do in the theater.

In a way, I was reaching out and doing what I truly wanted to do. In fact, that's how I met Patti, my wife. She saw me at an audition and thought, “Who is that crazy guy?” Patti was a Presbyterian at the time. I was active in my faith, and I introduced her to Catholicism. We participated in a Bible study group together with other actors, and about a year later Patti converted. In 1983 we were married.

I started doing one-man religious dramas because no one else was interested in doing anything like it.

My first religious show was a one-man production on the Gospel of St. Luke. This was most appropriate, as St. Luke is the patron of artists, and it is where we drew the name for our company. Eventually, one thing led to another and I started creating a new show every couple of years. To date we have developed a repertoire of nine original plays. The videos, like Maximilian Kolbe and John of the Cross came later as I realized that our plays could not go everywhere. Seeing the importance and impact of the art of filmmaking, we began producing our live productions on videotape and 16mm film.

We see part of our vocation as being instruments used for restoring the relationship between artists and the Church. The Church, in the past, was the mother of the arts; however, that does not seem to be the case in our culture today. In our own little way, we are trying to restore that relationship, through theater and film. Because of this vision, and the need for quality film and theatre in our culture, our ministry is attempting to expand. We are trying to create opportunities for young people and professionals, and we hope to foster vocations not only through the redemption of our work, but by means of our live dramas and film presentations.

I understand that Saint Luke Productions has become a family affair?

Yes, Patti is an actress too. We started this work before she came into the Church and before we were married. It seems that we would create an original show, and the next year we would have a baby and that is the way it continued — show, baby, show, baby, for 15 years until we had seven beautiful children.

Our children have gotten involved in our work by doing audio recordings for the live dramas, or by acting in our films. We also have even introduced our 14-year-old son to editing. Over the last eight years we have also opened our work to other young people, involving more than 100 youth through involvement in our films and plays.

Do you have any favorite stories of how your work has touched the lives of others?

Our play on St. Maximilian Kolbe, in particular, seems to have had a lot of influence on seminarians and women entering the religious life. Many individuals have written us saying that they named their children Maximilian, after seeing the show. Following our World Youth Day production in Denver, an Episcopalian wrote to me, explaining how the show helped him make the decision to become Catholic. Many parents write us about the inspiration our dramas provide for their children.

In our most recent production, the actress who portrays Thérèse, Lindsay Younce, had just graduated from high school. She was not Catholic, but because of her encounter with Thérèse, through this incredible role and many other encouragements, Lindsay converted to the Church on the feast of the Visitation of this year. The making of the film has also brought others back to the Church.

What do you have planned next?

Our next big project is the completion of the first full-length motion picture on St. Thérèse of Lisieux written in English.

This movie is an interior, intimate drama — not the story of Thérèse's life, but the story of her soul.

This classical period production presents a personal portrait of this extraordinary, accessible saint, allowing Thérèse to speak to the heart of each individual viewer.

Thérèse will be the first feature on a saint ever to be funded entirely with donations. People believe in what we are doing. In fact, the Vatican has expressed interest in the Thérèse project, and has assured us of the Holy Father's prayers.

We are a small Catholic nonprofit attempting something courageous — a grass-roots movement of support for a film that will touch and change the hearts of many.

We pray that the Catholic community can really get behind this film and realize that this production can truly be, as Cardinal Francis George wrote us: “a vehicle for making sanctity attractive.”