'Faustina' drama spreads message of mercy - Catholic Courier
Maria Vargo talks with parishioner Charleen Dygert Nov. 8 after performing in “Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy” at St. Mary Church in Auburn. Dygert asked Vargo to autograph a CD that she purchased. Maria Vargo talks with parishioner Charleen Dygert Nov. 8 after performing in “Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy” at St. Mary Church in Auburn. Dygert asked Vargo to autograph a CD that she purchased.

‘Faustina’ drama spreads message of mercy

More than 250 people showed up at St. Mary Church in Auburn on a Friday evening in early November to watch "Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy." The drama was a one-woman performance focused on God’s divine mercy and the life of St. Faustina Kowalska, but it was much more than a typical theatrical production, noted St. Mary parishioner Mary Ann Turek.

"It just hit me really very powerfully. I knew Faustina’s story, but everything was so much more than I had anticipated it. It just reinvigorates your faith," Turek said.

That’s exactly what Father Frank Lioi, pastor at St. Mary’s, was hoping would happen when he booked the play. This marked the third time the parish has hosted a performance from St. Luke Productions. St. Mary hosted a performance about St. John Vianney, patron saint of priests, during the 2009-10 Year for Priests, and a production of "Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz" in 2012.

"I see it as another way of exposing people to the faith through saints," Father Lioi explained. "In this case we’re exposing them to the mercy of God."

Quite a few parishioners saw all three plays, and many of them said "Faustina" was their favorite, he added.

"I’m not sure why. It could be the message. Who could deny God’s divine mercy?" he mused.

The production not only examines the life of St. Faustina, who lived from 1905-38, but it also incorporates the stories of two modern-day characters: a woman re-examining the choices she’s made during her lifetime and a dying elderly man who has rejected God. Maria Vargo, the actress who portrays St. Faustina, interacts with these two characters through video screens. The modern-day elements help illustrate God’s endless mercy and probably are part of what really draws audience members into the story, Father Lioi said.

"This (play) was by far my favorite," noted Turek, who also enjoyed "Vianney" and "Maximilian" in previous years. "The actress that plays Faustina was beautiful, so true to Faustina’s spirituality."

This may be because Vargo has experienced God’s mercy in her own life, according to the actress. A self-described "cradle Catholic," Vargo said she didn’t really take her faith seriously until 2005, when she had a conversion experience and began to deepen her faith and her relationship with God.

"I was living my own life and being an actress and … I realized that how I was living my life in every area was not exactly in line with how God was calling me," Vargo recalled.

One day Vargo heard another actor speak about his own conversion experience and his realization that he was responsible for the work he did as an actor, and as a Catholic was called to use his God-given gifts in a responsible way. His words resonated with Vargo, who realized she was called to do work that glorified God and brought people closer to him, rather than taking them away from him.

"When you come to know the Lord more deeply, you kind of just have to turn your whole life over to God," she explained.

Vargo took a break from Hollywood’s acting scene and instead turned her attention to writing and singing Christian music. She eventually also began working with the nonprofit G.K. Chesterton Theatre Company. She enjoyed working with the faith-based company, which she still works with, yet she didn’t think her work there would allow her to earn a living. She considered re-entering the world of secular acting but was worried about finding an agent who would be on board with her decision to evaluate potential roles in light of her faith.

Just when she thought she’d have to make that leap back into the secular acting scene, a former St. Luke Productions employee saw Vargo in one of the G.K. Chesterton Theatre Company’s productions and suggested her to St. Luke Productions for the role of Faustina. She was cast in the role in August 2013.

"I guess God had a plan for me to be doing Faustina right now," she said.

Vargo prepared for her role by spending a week with women religious from St. Faustina’s Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy and by reading both St. Faustina’s published diary as well as things others wrote about the saint. The actress said learning about St. Faustina and spreading her vision of God’s mercy has helped Vargo deepen her own faith.

"It is changing me, in the sense of it’s allowing me to get even closer to our Lord. She definitely was so in love with our Lord. When I’m on stage at every performance I just try to fall in love with Jesus as much as she does," she said.

Vargo said she knows God’s message of mercy is reaching people and she often sees audience members who are so moved by the play that they’re speechless afterwards. The production is scheduled to run through June in various cities, and the process of setting up, performing and tearing down in each new place is exhausting for Vargo and her one assistant.

"It’s a lot of hard work … and we really need people’s prayers to carry us through," she said. "I know people’s hearts are being pulled closer to the Lord, not through me or through the show. I know it’s bigger than that."

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