Saint John Vianney
Now, for the first time ever, the touching relationship between Saint Philomena and the Curé of Ars has been dramatized in a powerful production entitled VIANNEY. This live one-man theatrical piece is currently touring the U.S. in celebration of the Year for Priests, and is performed by Leonardo Defilippis, the actor who is best known for his starring role and direction of the feature film “Thérèse.” For nearly thirty years, Defilippis has also produced and performed live and DVD productions on the scriptures and the lives of the saints. His live shows have been seen by more than a million people.
The words of Saint John Vianney’s demonstrate his remarkable confidence in a young Roman girl of the 1st Century. “My children, Saint Philomena has great power with God, and she has, moreover, a kind heart; let us pray to her with confidence.” In fact, the Curé of Ars, as Saint John Vianney, is commonly known, attributed many of the miraculous occurrences of his ministry to her intercession and friendship.
“The story performed centers around three characters: John Vianney, the Devil, and Philomena,” explains Defilippis, who also wrote the script for the play. “At first, Philomena’s role was small, but I gradually began to see the crucial role she played, not just in Vianney’s life, but in the dramatic structure of the production. The Devil is a truly terrifying personage, and a powerful presence in the play. I felt that it was necessary to balance his influence of discouragement and despair with the gentle, encouraging innocence of this young girl, who throughout the play constantly reminds the priest to trust in God. She ended up becoming a vision of goodness contrasted with evil.”
Incorporating a young female character presented a challenge for the 57 year-old actor, who, with white wig and ragged cassock, bears an uncanny resemblance to the distinctive and eccentric-looking Curé of Ars. In order to incorporate other characters into the drama, innovative technological elements were added to the production, with a rear projection screen integrated into the set. There various characters appear on film, interacting with the actor on stage.
“It was a big risk to incorporate film characters, but it has worked spectacularly,” says Defilippis’ wife Patti, who directed the production. “Audiences are riveted by the drama. I am especially thrilled at how the video element has excited young audiences. The Devil is terrifying on the screen and Philomena is truly an ethereal joy.”
Keeping things in the family, the role of Philomena is played by Lucy Defilippis, the couple’s 13 year-old daughter. The young actress knew little about Saint Philomena, but grew to love her through the course of filming the role. “She’s like my sister now,” says Lucy. “I’m very close to her. I see her as very strong and brave. It was really fun to be in front of a camera. It was a very spiritual experience also, because the lines I said were messages for me, not just for John Vianney. I hope that other people will be able to learn from the words she speaks, as I did.”
Just as Philomena encouraged John Vianney, Lucy was a support to her father, Leonardo, throughout all of the arduous rehearsal period. Ever faithful, she spent hours going over his lines, and she never let him lose hope. “When I think about it, Lucy was a little Philomena to me in more ways than one. The entire family got involved in the heat of the production, but she was my constant help and support.”
Audiences are meeting Philomena in a very personal way in the VIANNEY production, and they are falling in love with her. “I am amazed at the response,” says Yvonne Hurst, who orders the inventory of books and items for sale after the performances. “The Philomena items are the ones that go first.”
Little is actually known about Saint Philomena, but her reputation as an intercessor before God is remarkable. Early in the 19th Century, the remains of a young girl were found in the catecombs of Rome with the broken clay inscription, “pax tecum Filumena,” or “Peace to you, Philomena.” Devotion to this young martyr, for that is what she appeared to have been, spread like wildfire, and miracles associated with her intercession abounded. The Curé of Ars formed an intense devotion to the saint, and built a shrine in her honor.
Says Leonardo, “It is our prayer that through this production, modern audiences will realize that in the beauty, innocence and purity of Saint Philomena is a role model for our young people to imitate. We are grateful for her intercession in the production of VIANNEY. She’s a powerful saint for our times.”