Bernadette Film to Get American Premiere

SAN FRANCISCO — Actress Sydney Penny co-starred in the Hallmark Channel’s original movie, “Hidden Places” at the end of January. But there’s another aspect of her career that has been hidden to American audiences for years.

That’s about to change.

The actress portrayed St. Bernadette Soubirous in the film that plays at the shrine in Lourdes. She also made a sequel to that film in 1989 — The Passion of Bernadette — which has never before been seen in this country. Americans will have the opportunity to view it for the first time on the anniversary of Mary’s appearance to the peasant girl, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, Feb. 11.

San Francisco-based Ignatius Press is holding a national premiere of The Passion of Bernadette and has invited more than 3,300 parishes, shrines, and colleges across the country to hold local premieres. In exchange for playing host, each parish will receive the film at no cost. Parishes have come forward for the offer in Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon and Pennsylvania. There has been interest from Botswana and Nicaragua.

St. John Vianney Church in Prince Frederick, Md., is excited about the opportunity to hold a motion picture premiere.

“This will be a first for us,” said George Sullivan, building manager. “It’s something exciting and different, and will give parishioners a chance to learn more about St. Bernadette.”

The premiere fits in well with the family nights St. John Vianney holds. The parish’s Family Life Center boasts a 250-seat state-of-the-art theater. Sullivan said that based on past attendance he predicts they will have at least 100 people viewing the film.

The film was directed by French Protestant filmmaker Jean Delannoy, who also directed the first film, Bernadette. The sequel focuses on Bernadette’s difficult life in the convent until her death at the age of 35. The movie was filmed largely on location at the convent in Nevers.

“We spent a good bit of time in the courtyard and gardens, the actual sanctuary, and some of the cloisters and rooms there,” said Penny. “There was a separate soundstage for the rooms that we used a lot, so that we would not disturb the cloistered sisters.”

An independent review on the Internet Movie Data Base ( reads: “The movie is based on actual testimony used in her canonization process, and takes great care to stay with facts.”

“I am certain that the life and death of St. Bernadette will forever hold a profound significance for all people,” said Delannoy. “We live in a time of violence, apparent in men’s souls as well as in political events, and even in global catastrophes. It is comforting that we can refer to these two films which represent a commandment against war and racial discrimination.”

The film represents the “nitty-gritty, day-to-day story of how Bernadette achieved sanctity in the ordinary details of life,” said Tony Ryan, marketing director for Ignatius Press.

Penny said that in some ways she prefers the sequel to the first film.

“It’s a part of the story that not many people know,” said Penny. “You get to spend more time with Bernadette the person rather than Bernadette the celebrity. You get to see this girl that came from the southwest of France and you see that she was funny and lighthearted. She was very humble too. I found it fascinating how she dealt with the mother superior who didn’t believe her and felt she was a nuisance, but is eventually won over by Bernadette’s warmth and honesty.”

Penny was most touched by Bernadette’s perseverance.

“Her life was very difficult — battling illness, going someplace alone knowing she would never see her family again,” said Penny. “She must have had such a great internal fire that kept her going. I’m sure that the things the Lady said just to her meant very much to her.”

Penny described the film as more private than the first.

“This film doesn’t have the awareness of the national and international scope of the occurrences at Lourdes,” said Penny. “It’s a personal film about how these events affected the person of Bernadette and how she affected this community of nuns around her.”

Penny plans to attend a premiere of the film at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Wilmington, N.C.

The film will also make its premiere on college campuses, including Ave Maria University in Naples, Fla., Christendom College in Front Royal, Va., Redeemer Pacific College in British Columbia, and Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif.

Christendom plans to premiere the film the evening before, on Feb. 10. The next morning a contingent of students plans to pray outside of a Washington, D.C., abortion business.

“We had already been planning a Friday night movie when this opportunity became available,” said Tom McGraw, director of student activities. McGraw expects that the movie will air in the college’s commons. He’s thinking of showing the first film the week before, and expects approximately 100 students and staff to attend.

McGraw and his wife, who has a chronic illness, visited Lourdes in 1997.

“It had a major impact on me,” he said. “Going into the baths themselves, it’s a spiritual and physical experience and you can sense God’s graces descending on you. That’s why I was excited when I heard about the opportunity to show the film.”

Ryan sees the film premiere as a way of circumventing Hollywood.

“More and more people of faith are saying we don’t have to rely on Hollywood or the movie moguls of the entertainment business to get high quality films out to the public.”

Tim Drake is based

in St. Joseph, Minnesota.