By Elizabeth Fisher
Special to the CS&T

Joseph Ruggiero is living yet another dream: The retired psychologist who founded Self-Help Inc., a successful long-term addiction treatment facility in Northeast Philadelphia, which was one of his dreams about 30 years ago, is on hand as the novel he wrote in 2002 becomes a movie.

And according to Ruggiero, he has revived the old-fashioned tradition of providing a story with a moral. {{more}}

“A Rose on Ninth Street” isn’t just a quickly made film. Ruggiero is totally involved in the project to make certain the moral lesson from his story – in this case, redemption – remains intact. For more than two years, Ruggiero and friend Dwight Wilkins have worked together to develop the screenplay. Now, the two are holding auditions, and actors from TV shows such as “All My Children” and “Law and Order” have showed up for screen tests.

The project is being developed as an independent film by the company named after the title of the movie. As in the book, the question Ruggiero raises is whether drug dealing, interpersonal conflict, immorality and murder can morph into morality and dedication to God. Can main character Bob O’Connor rise above the cesspool of the underworld in which he’s trapped?

With the sharp prose that highlighted the book, the author-turned-filmmaker uses a healthy dose of comic relief and, of course, a compelling love story, to bind his story together.

There are some differences that Ruggiero, a member of St. Ann Parish in Bristol and a member of the Poverello Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order, brought to the movie. For instance, the background for his book is set in 1956, but the movie is set in contemporary times.

The story opens with O’Connor being sent by “Boss” Francis Harley to retrieve an incriminating ledger from Pontello’s produce market on Ninth Street in South Philadelphia and to “hit” Pontello, his boss’s former partner. O’Connor is caught up in a suspenseful maelstrom of death and greed, relieved only by unexpected love.

Viewers from Philadelphia and Bucks County will see some familiar sites when the movie premieres. Scenes in Bristol include the solemn and dramatic, century-old novena to St. Ann at the Bristol Borough parish named after the mother of Mary. Other settings include Mignoni’s Jewelers on Mill Street, and, of course, the Italian Market at Ninth Street in South Philadelphia.

Before his retirement in January 2010, Ruggiero had been writing his screenplay and collaborating with screenwriter Wilkins, an instructor at the Wilma Theatre in Center City. While Wilkins has considerable directing experience, this will be his first foray into a full-length movie.

Ruggiero said he takes the production one step at a time, but he believes that God will sustain him through its completion. Filming is slated to start sometime in August.

“I know that we could fall flat on our face, but I’m certain that God has blessed this project,” he said. “I think in terms of success and I look forward to that success.”

Elizabeth Fisher is a freelance journalist and member of St. Mark Parish in Bristol.