Actor of VIANNEY Drama Rejoices at News of Pope Benedict’s Proclamation

June 10, 2010

VANCOUVER, Wash. (MetroCatholic) — There are likely few people who can confidently state that they have experienced the Year for Priests more intensely than most. Perhaps most surprisingly, it was not a priest. Acclaimed actor Leonardo Defilippis of Saint Luke Productions ( is that man, the star of the theatrical one-man, live drama VIANNEY ( which has been on a successful nationwide tour since August of 2009. An actor, husband and family man, Defilippis clearly understands why Pope Benedict XVI will proclaim St. John Vianney as the patron of all priests at the ceremonies marking the finale to the Year for Priests in Rome.

In just ten short months, Defilippis brought the riveting story of John Vianney, the priest who valiantly battled the devil to save souls, face-to-face with audiences which now total 80,000 — making it one of the most popular plays in the country. And in theatrical numbers, that is something to note. Not only did church goers turn out in record numbers, but bishops, priests, seminarians and religious orders did so as well, which was unprecedented. Beyond the numbers and the focus on priests, there was another undercurrent moving - Defilippis witnessed the fruits of the Year for Priests firsthand, and what he experienced was unexpected.

When Defilippis would routinely offer a few remarks following the show which included asking audiences to be grateful for and to pray for their priests, the people cheered in long, standing ovations. “They were cheering for their priests and they were cheering for John Vianney. At times, it was difficult to get them to settle down,” Defilippis added. When they saw this example of a priest through the portrayal of VIANNEY, it touched on a hunger deep inside — the bottom line is that they want that kind of priest. People want to have a pastor who will truly sacrifice his life — beyond all comfort and concern for himself.

The itinerant actor who also spent himself, often working 18 hours days with traveling and performing, got a taste of that sacrifice, but it was worth it. He believes that this infusion of fervor and zeal which he witnessed firsthand is exactly what is lacking today and, this may just prove to be the proverbial ’shot in the arm’ which the priesthood needs. “Pope Benedict XVI knows the root of the solution to the problems of the priesthood — it can be found in John Vianney himself. He is the boldest defense of the priesthood.” In fact, many do not realize that upon proclaiming the Year for Priests, the Pope clearly stated that he chose this year in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the death of this beloved saint “to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world.”

It turned out that St. John Vianney was not very well known to many in the pews, pulpit or press, so the timing of the live drama was right on target. VIANNEY became an inspiration to priests who were deeply moved, some to tears. Parishioners discovered a new appreciation for the priesthood and felt a renewed sense of importance to earnestly pray for their priests. In many locations, the VIANNEY drama became tied to a larger spiritual event, incorporating the Sacraments of Eucharistic Adoration and Confession, a unique phenomenon never witnessed before in association with a drama.

This fast-paced production also had a tremendous attraction for the youth. Young people loved the story of a true hero willing to sacrifice for a cause worth fighting, especially against the terrifying image of the devil, a real satanic presence that appeared consistently to provoke Vianney. Young ladies were also quite drawn to the major character of St. Philomena who represents hope and purity to counterbalance the evil in the world.

VIANNEY ( also became a tool for vocations. Defilippis states, “It became almost routine to expect a young man to approach me afterwards and indicate that he felt the calling to discern the priesthood.” Father Jerry Vinke, Director of Vocations in the Diocese of Lansing called the production “a great boost for vocations.” He added, “As some young man told me afterward, ‘how could you not think about the priesthood after watching (the play).’”

Defilippis is grateful to have made a unique contribution to this jubilee year. “Bringing sanctity to the performing arts is so important for our times and this moving production has the real potential to strengthen and convert the people — that’s the beauty of live drama. So let us pray as thousands of priests gather from all points across the globe at the Vatican to offer solidarity to the Catholic priesthood with Pope Benedict XVI. This will be a sight to long remember, when a simple and once unlikely-to succeed pastor of the past will be held up forever for his holiness, his sacrifice and his perseverance against all odds. St. John Vianney truly speaks to our modern world.”

VIANNEY ( will continue on tour in the U.S., Canada, and internationally for another year. There has even been interest from Rome to perform at several venues in the future, and for the Holy Father himself. For a complete list of performance locations, and for information on bringing this professional production to your church or community, visit or call 1-800-683-2998.

Actor Joseph Campanella reflects on Fr. Peyton during Guild meeting

July 7, 2008

July 2, 2008

Veteran actor Joseph Campanella, who performed in several Family Theater Productions’ programs for its founder, Servant of God Father Patrick Peyton, CSC, reflected on the legendary priest on June 10 at St. Charles Borromeo Church Chapter of the Father Peyton Guild. The worldwide Guild supports the cause for canonization of Servant of God Father Patrick Peyton, CSC.

Some 35 people listened in the church’s Social Center in North Hollywood, Calif., as Campanella recounted story after story of Father Peyton, including the time they shot a biblical drama that necessitated long robes, outdoors, in the summer in Arizona.

Father Peyton never interfered with the director and the production team, he said. He would consult regarding theological aspects but not interfere in the production, he added.

The participants watched A World at Prayer: The Vision of Patrick Peyton, CSC, a biographical film on Father Peyton that Family Theater Productions produced in 1997. They also attended a Mass celebrated by Monsignor Robert Gallagher, the parish’s pastor.

A few participants briefly recalled their memories of Father Peyton. One of them was Dennis Roverato, who retired as Administrator of Family Theater Productions last June after nearly 34 years of service in various capacities. Dennis worked very closely with Father Peyton from October 1973 until June 3, 1992, when the Rosary priest/media pioneer died. Dennis will be the guest speaker at the next St. Charles Borromeo Guild Chapter meeting in September. Mary Beth Legg is the chapter’s coordinator.

There are 45 chapters of the worldwide Guild, including at St. Monica’s parish, Santa Monica, Calif., and St. Catherine’s by the Sea, Ventura, Calif. Chapters meet three to four times a year to learn more about Father Peyton, to pray for his beatification and to spread his message to others. To find out if there is a Guild chapter in your area, call Brother Joe Esparza, CSC, at 1-800-299-7729.

On June 10 at the St. Monica chapter meeting, Father Willy Raymond, CSC, National Director of Family Theater Productions, celebrated Mass and gave his testimony about knowing Father Peyton.

Father Peyton died at the Little Sisters of the Poor retirement/convalescent facility in San Pedro. His room is enshrined there, with his books and other personal belongings still there. He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in North Easton, Mass., very close to the Father Peyton Center, a pilgrimage and visitor’s center and the international headquarters for Holy Cross Family Ministries.

Holy Cross Family Ministries

Review of Disney/Pixar’s Wall-E

June 28, 2008

Wall-EDirected by Andrew Stanton. Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy. Disney/Pixar.

From a National Catholic Register review

By Steven D. Greydanus

In a barren wasteland of endless towers and canyons of refuse, a single creature stirs: a small robot chugging tirelessly about, almost imperceptibly bringing order out of disorder. His boxy body is a portable trash compactor into which he scoops load after load of the sea of trash stretching in all directions, producing cubes of compressed detritus which he neatly stacks in heaps growing to the scale of skyscrapers. He is the last of his kind, and “WALL-E” (an acronym for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) is effectively his name as well as his make and model.

WALL-E has a job, but he also has a life… an inner life. He works with his body, but he lives with his mind. Amid the rubble he efficiently disposes of, WALL-E finds oddments and curios worth salvaging: a hinged ring box, a plastic spork, a Zippo lighter. The pride and joy of his collection is an old VHS copy of Gene Kelly’s Hello, Dolly!, which wouldn’t be many people’s top choice for a desert island movie, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Actually, the naive enthusiasm of “Put On Your Sunday Best,” which WALL-E plays obssessively while acting out Michael Crawford’s hoofing, ideally expresses the robot’s spirit of hopeful wonder — probably because he absorbed it from the film in the first place. Isolated for centuries amid the rubble of human waste, WALL-E has become a wide-eyed romantic. Such is the ambivalent legacy of mankind in Pixar’s WALL-E, directed by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo).

Without warning, WALL-E’s world is shattered from outside by an event as incomprehensible and momentous as the appearance of the primordial monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Awe, panic and ecstasy pull WALL-E hugger-mugger in all directions at once. All is changed. The words of Dante catching his first glimpse of Beatrice apply: Incipit vita nova, “Here begins the new life.”

The new life is irrevocable; to go back to being no more than a salvager of curiosities and compactor of trash would be unthinkable. When, to his alarm, WALL-E realizes it could come to that, he unhesitatingly turns his back on his whole world, risking everything for what he has found. Love has opened the universe to him, in all its splendor, terror and ugliness.

Although I suppose most readers will have seen at least the trailers if not the film, I recount the import of these events without mentioning specifics, in part because I figure viewers who know what happens don’t need me to tell them, and the few who don’t deserve a chance to see these scenes for the first time as I was lucky enough to, not knowing what was coming.

Beyond that, though, it’s the import, the effect, that is so striking, that is worth highlighting. Slapstick, adventure and love are all familiar elements in animated family films. Awe, existential themes and wholesale worldbuilding are not, at least in mainstream American animation. Even Pixar has never attempted anything on a canvas of this scale. From Monsters Inc.’s corporate culture to Finding Nemo’s submarine suburbia, previous Pixar films have never strayed too far from the rhythms of real life. WALL-E creates a world that, despite clear connections to contemporary culture, looks and feels nothing like life as we know it, with unprecedented dramatic and philosophical scope.

True, animation master Hayao Miyazaki has done all this and more, with vigorously imagined worlds as evocative and haunting as Tolkien’s Middle-earth. On the other hand, WALL-E’s achievement is realized with fable-like simplicity, with little dialogue throughout and virtually none at all for the better part of the first hour. In addition to 2001, the nearly wordless first act recalls the childlike wonder of early Spielberg and the silent comedy of Chaplin, with WALL-E’s blend of curious naivete and pathos at once reminiscent of E.T. and the Little Tramp. (WALL-E’s “voice,” such as it is, is the work of sound designer Ben Burtt.)

As the story transitions from this magical beginning into the very different second act, in which we learn more about the fate of the human race as well as the cause of the earth’s sad status, it’s not immediately clear that the film will be able to live up to the perfection of the first act. In a sense it doesn’t quite, though continual invention, creative boldness and visual wonder keep the bar high.

One of the best bits involves WALL-E’s quirky destabilizing effect on other robots he encounters, such as M?O (Microbe Obliterator), a fastidious little ’bot determined to sterilize every surface grimy WALL-E has marred. There’s also a lovely, balletic outer-space pas de deux between WALL-E and EVE (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator, voiced by Elissa Knight), the sleek probe droid with big blue eyes and a deadly draw.

Where WALL-E’s lonely life on earth had a level of science-fiction realism to it, when we finally meet mankind WALL-E turns broadly satirical, targeting mindless consumerism with Swiftian savage hyperbole. Now living in a corporate space cruiser, mankind has completely succumbed to the total lifestyle package of the all-powerful BuyNLarge (or BnL) corporation, degenerating into a grotesque parody of couch potato conformity so debilitating that the human spirit is effectively comatose.

Despite one touch with a reasonable sci-fi basis, this conceit doesn’t bear scrutiny. For one thing, the human spirit is pretty irrepressible; for another, a 100 percent couch-potato society wouldn’t be economically sustainable. As Swiftian satire, though, it’s a bold, vivid image. I’m reminded a little of the poem TeeVee by Eve Merriam:

In the house
of Mr and Mrs Spouse
he and she
would watch teevee
and never a word
between them spoken
until the day
the set was broken.

Then “How do you do?”
said he to she,
“I don’t believe
that we’ve met yet.
Spouse is my name.
What’s yours?” he asked.

“Why, mine’s the same!”
said she to he,
“Do you suppose that we could be…?”

But the set came suddenly right about,
and so they never did find out.

In the person of the Captain (Jeff Garlin), WALL-E does give mankind a chance to improve, a little, and to take some baby steps on the road to redemption. While I might have liked a more textured vision of humanity, ultimately the story belongs to the robots, especially WALL-E and EVE.

While the film’s themes of consumerism and environmental carelessness are unmistakable, unduly political spin on the film is probably more related to election-year hypersensitivity than the film itself. WALL-E is not about left or right, liberal or conservative. Rather, it is about living thoughtfully, about what traditional Christian language calls good stewardship of resources and the environment.

If the filmmakers demand a lot of themselves, they have high expectations of their audience too. As with Ratatouille, Pixar has decidedly not set out to make the most broadly audience-friendly film they could have. This isn’t Kung Fu Panda, or even Cars— not by a long shot.

Will kids sit for long stretches of visual and aural storytelling with little or no dialogue? Why not? As I write this review my three older kids are watching a silent Douglas Fairbanks swashbuckler on DVD. Will viewers be willing to immerse themselves in a story with bleak, oppressive surroundings, without familiar parent–child or other domestic relationship dynamics, without fuzzy protagonists, without familiar lessons about believing in yourself and so forth? Those who will will be rewarded with one of the most enthralling, exhilarating films in years.

P.S. The new Pixar short playing with WALL-E, “Presto,” is as brilliantly hilarious as anything they’ve ever done.

Mild animated menace. (“Presto”: Looney Tunes–style slapstick.)

Kung Fu Panda

June 8, 2008

Kung Fu PandaBy John Mulderig
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) — An out-of-shape, awkward bear has martial arts greatness thrust upon him in the winning animated fable “Kung Fu Panda” (DreamWorks).

As the son of Mr. Ping (voice of James Hong), a humble noodle maker in ancient China, Po (Jack Black) spends his days waiting tables and his nights dreaming of spectacular victories over hordes of fleet-fisted opponents. Learning that Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), the sagacious turtle who invented kung fu, is to identify the long-prophesied Dragon Warrior, he hurries to the Jade Palace to be a witness.

Instead, of course, he himself is chosen, much to the consternation of the presumed candidates, the fighters known as the Furious Five (Angelina Jolie, David Cross, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan), whom Po has long admired. Equally baffled and intent on getting rid of the intruder is their master, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman).

As Po strives to make up for his physical shortcomings by sheer endurance, a threat approaches in the shape of villainous snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane), newly escaped from the distant prison to which Oogway had consigned him decades ago. Since prophecy also holds that only the Dragon Warrior can defeat Tai, Po is under the gun to gain Shifu’s confidence and get on with his self-transformation.

Co-directors John Stevenson and Mark Osborne’s wholesome film, by turns amusing and spectacular, features impressive computer-generated special effects and promotes determination and self-confidence.

The film contains mild fantasy violence. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

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Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at

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