By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
HATBORO – “Vianney,” a dramatic one-man stage production depicting St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, the patron saint of all the world’s priests, received rave reviews at its archdiocesan premiere Monday night, Nov. 30, at St. John Bosco Church in Hatboro, Bucks County.
“This play is an opportunity for the laity to look inside the heart of a priest, but it is also an opportunity for the priest to look inside the heart of Jesus,” said Father Martin T. Cioppi, pastor of St. John Bosco Parish. “That’s why it’s so important for everyone to see ‘Vianney.'”
The Philadelphia Archdiocese is sponsoring the 90-minute multi-media play in five parishes through Friday, Dec. 4. The remaining two performances, both at 7:30 p.m., are Thursday, Dec. 3, at Holy Cross Parish Hall in Springfield, Delaware County, and Friday, Dec. 4, at Our Lady of Ransom Church in Northeast Philadelphia. In lieu of an admission fee, there is a free will offering.
Known as the Curé (parish priest) of Ars, St. John Vianney won the hearts of his villagers in France by conversing with them, teaching them about God and reconciling them to the Lord in the confessional.
“Vianney” chronicles the saint’s life – 1786 to 1859 – from his childhood amid the chaos of the French Revolution through his death at age 73 after serving for 40 years in Ars.
Depictions of the devil, who cunningly tempted and tormented the peasant-turned-pastor in his rectory, are among the play’s startling scenes, while St. John Vianney’s prayerful resolve, compassion to penitents in the confessional, commitment to his priestly vocation and penchant for saving souls are among the poignant scenes.
The Speranza family of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Warrington, Bucks County, was among the approximately 600 who attended the opening night performance at St. John Bosco Church.
Mike and Christa Speranza, parents of six – Nicholas, 13; Benjamin, 12; Victoria, 10; Gianna, 5; Angela, 3; and Daniel, 11 months – took their three eldest children to the play.
“I learned that the devil can tempt you in many ways and that you should always trust in God and never let the devil lead you in his path,” Victoria said. The play also reminded her how priests help steer people away from sin, particularly through the sacrament of reconciliation.
Benjamin, who is considering a vocation to the priesthood, was also pleased with the play. “It helped me understand more of what it’s like to be a priest,” he said. “You have to make many sacrifices.”
Mike appreciated how the play portrayed the humanity of saints. “It’s an inspiration that sainthood is within reach of all of us,” he said.
Among the numerous priests in attendance was Msgr. Joseph P. Duncan, regional vicar of Bucks County and pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bensalem, Bucks County. “The production makes present and visible the remarkable life of this truly tremendous saint,” he said.
Father Christopher B. Rogers, director of the archdiocesan Vocation Office for the Diocesan Priesthood, believed the play would prove to boys and young men in attendance “that the priesthood is not boring.”
Accompanying him to the play were several seminarians from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood. After the play, under Father Rogers’ direction, the seminarians distributed business-style cards. The front of the card included the name of a St. Charles seminarian and a request for the cardholder to pray for the seminarian. A “Prayer for a Seminarian” was printed on the back of the card.
David Friel, a seminarian in third theology from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Doylestown, Bucks County, said the play was an encouragement to seminarians to grow in their knowledge of the Lord.
In April 2008, Friel portrayed Vianney as the lead actor in a three-act play at St. Charles Seminary titled, “Deliver Us from the Evil One: The Trials and Tribulations of the Priest of Ars, Jean-Marie-Vianney.”
“It was enlightening to see so many of the same thoughts and even the same words used, but in a different creative expression,” Friel said. “It was really intriguing.”
St. John Bosco Parish made the event a dinner theater of sorts. Roast beef sandwiches were served in the school cafeteria prior to the play.
The parish sent invitations to all of its parishioners, as well as a general invitation to the surrounding parishes in Bucks and Montgomery counties.
Parishioners helped with the invitations and dinner preparations and assisted with the set installation in the church sanctuary.
In the Archdiocese, “Vianney” was also performed Tuesday, Dec. 1 at St. Cornelius Church in Chadds Ford, Chester County and Wednesday, Dec. 2 at St. Helena Social and Recreation Center in Blue Bell, Montgomery County.
“Vianney” coincides with the universal Church’s celebration of the Year of the Priest, which commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Aug. 4 death of the saint.
The play is produced and performed by 57-year-old Leonardo Defilippis, president of St. Luke Productions, an independent Catholic company that produces professional theatrical, DVD and feature film dramas on the life of Christ and His saints.
Defilippis co-founded the company nearly 30 years ago with his wife Patti, who is also a director and screenwriter.
The couple and their seven children are members of Holy Cross Parish in the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon.
Although the promotional material states that “Vianney” is suitable for those ages 12 and above, Defilippis said younger children have also been accompanying their parents to the peformances.
For more information, visit the web site www.vianneydrama.com.
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remaining Performances of “Vianney”
Thursday, Dec. 3, 7:30 p.m. – Holy Cross Parish Hall, Springfield, Delaware County; 651 E. Springfield Road, Springfield, PA 19064
For more information, call 610-626-3321.
Friday, Dec. 4, 7:30 p.m. – Our Lady of Ransom Church, Northeast Philadelphia; 6700 Roosevelt Blvd., Philadelphia, PA 19149
For more information, call 215-332-6166.