Leonardo Defilippis’ dramatic theater productions bring audiences face-to-face with the saints

By Jerry Circelli

Correspondent

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For more than three decades, Leonardo Defilippis has played the role of holy figures in the Church through Saint Luke Productions. In this photo, he is portraying St. Maximilian Kolbe, in Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz. (Photo courtesy of Saint Luke Productions)

Especially during his most demanding days on the job, Leonardo Defilippis is a saint. The characterization, of course, is in the theatrical sense, but Defilippis takes all of his divine roles seriously. As president and founder of Saint Luke Productions, based in the state of Washington, Defilippis is on his 33rd year of evangelization through live theatre, feature film dramas, radio and television programs, and DVD distribution.

St. Francis, St. Luke, St. John the Apostle, St. John of the Cross, St. John Vianney, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and St. Augustine are just a few of the roles Defilippis has played in the course of his long career. Portraying Jesus and his saints for more than three decades, while also producing and directing, has had its challenges. Married for 29 years and the father of seven children, Defilippis began his career as a Shakespearean actor performing at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

In 1980, the young actor teamed up with his now-wife, Patti, to put together a touring show, The Gift of Peace, based on the Gospel of St. Luke. They charged no admission, with their only income derived from donations made by churches and schools where they performed.

Through their strong Catholic faith and encouragement in the form of personal correspondence from Mother Teresa, the couple forged ahead with their career and ministry. Saint Luke Productions, named for the central Church figure in their first endeavor, now enjoys a long history of success. The nonprofit production company has put on thousands of live performances throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe.

Performances have been staged at churches, theaters, schools, convents, penitentiaries, and even at World Youth Days in both Denver and Rome. Audiences have included Church leaders, government dignitaries, concentration camp survivors, and many more. In addition, television films have been broadcast internationally. Dramatic productions are also distributed via digital media.

Saint Luke Production’s live dramas and films have included: Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz; The Passion According to Saint Luke; Vianney; The Confessions of Saint Augustine; Saint Francis; John of the Cross; The Gift of Peace; and The Gospel According to John. Dramas have earned numerous national and international awards and have been aired on cable and network television stations.

Vianney, one of the most recent projects undertaken by Defilippis, is based on the life of St. John Vianney of France, patron saint of priests. It was recognized by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as a model for priests and laity and has toured throughout the United States, Canada, and abroad.

Probably one of the best-known works by Defilippis was the film, Thérèse: The Story of a Soul. It was the first major motion picture distributed solely by an independent Catholic film company and funded entirely by donations, Defilippis said during a recent stop in Fort Worth. The producer was here to talk with members of the local chapter of Legatus, a group of dedicated Catholic CEOs, presidents, managing partners, business owners, and their spouses.

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In this photo, Defilippis is portraying St. Augustine, in The Confessions of Saint Augustine. (Photo courtesy of Saint Luke Productions)

Playing so many important roles, said Defilippis, fulfills his long-held passion to help people hear the Word of God on a personal level.

“When people attend a live production, they meet a real, living person — a human being,” Defilippis said. “Faith comes to life and you realize that the longing in your heart for goodness, for happiness, and for peace is matched by the longing of God for you, personally, face-to-face, eye-to-eye.”

As an actor, Defilippis said he realizes audiences look to him to become the real person he portrays. And playing the part of a saint, or Jesus himself, is among the hardest work any actor can take on, he said.

While it is true that Defilippis relies on his Shakespearean training and acting experience, it is through prayer, religious study, and reflection that he approaches each role.

“I have learned, really, that it is the Holy Spirit that sustains an actor. My job as an actor is to get out of the way and let God use me as his instrument.”

At age 60, Defilippis possesses the same boundless energy he had when first venturing into the profession that he said allowed him, “to use my talents to serve God.”

Defilippis is now pouring energy and enthusiasm into a multimedia drama scheduled to open this fall, titled, Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy.

St. Faustina, born in Poland in 1905, had visions as a young nun around 1930. Jesus appeared to her with a message of mercy for all mankind. His message focused on trust in God and mercy toward one’s neighbors. The young nun recorded it all in a diary now known as, Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul.

Pope John Paul II beatified Faustina in 1993 and named her as the first saint to be canonized in the new millennium on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 30, 2000.

Defilippis said the performance will coincide with the 75th anniversary of St. Faustina’s death. It is the perfect opportunity, he said, to connect with people of all ages today.

“It is a prophetic message of our time, where God wants to tell us, ‘Be not afraid. My mercy is more powerful than evil. Turn to me. Trust in me. I long to give you a peace that the world cannot give.’

“We all have loved ones in our families who feel that their sins and their lifestyles have separated them irreparably from their loving Father. They’ve lost hope, they’ve lost faith. They’re lukewarm, they’re indifferent,” said Defilippis.

Through the message of St. Faustina, he continued, “We can help people understand that God never gives up on a single soul.”

Profound messages and a better understanding of our faith can be gleaned from holy men and women who came before us and led exemplary lives, Defilippis said. And while all the saints he portrays lived in different times under various circumstances, there is one central figure who remains the focal point for Saint Luke Productions.

“Performing saints points us constantly back to one person—Jesus,” Defilippis said. “He is always the catalyst for change in our world that is everlasting.

“Think about every other movement in the history of mankind. What does it do? It turns to dust. That is why the Church is truly a miracle.”

For more information and video clips from productions, visit: www.stlukeproductions.com.

de-Fillippis-Max-Kolbe-BUTTON.jpgEspecially during his most demanding days on the job, Leonardo Defilippis is a saint. The characterization, of course, is in the theatrical sense, but Defilippis takes all of his divine roles seriously. As president and founder of Saint Luke Productions, based in the state of Washington, Defilippis is on his 33rd year of evangelization through live theatre, feature film dramas, radio and television programs, and DVD distribution.

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