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Actor brings saint to life on stage
May 18, 2017
SOMERVILLE — The life of one of the Church’s most beloved saints was dramatically retold at Immaculata High School when Immaculate Conception Parish hosted a performance of “Saint Francis: Troubadour of God’s Peace” April 30.
Performed by Sean Tivenan, the one-man musical drama told the story of how St. Francis of Assisi transformed from a pampered, self-indulgent rich merchant’s son into a devout follower of Christ. St. Francis chose a life of poverty, founded the Franciscan Order and did his best to follow Christ’s teachings as literally as he could.
As Tivenan sang and danced joyfully around the stage, the audience got a true flavor of St. Francis’s cheerful and charming demeanor, despite the struggles often faced by holy men and women who are called to do God’s work. One of the most poignant scenes was when Saint Francis had a vision of Christ and received the stigmata on his body. With red-gelled lights, dramatic music and special choreography, Tivenan seemed to transform into Christ before returning to the ever-changed character of St. Francis.
“It was an inspiring and very professional production that clearly took a lot of work to put together,” said Msgr. Seamus F. Brennan, pastor, Church of the Immaculate Conception, of the performance. “You could tell by the silence in the audience that the crowd was enraptured.”
Tivenan, a Brick native who has been playing the role of St. Francis since March, said that it has been “very special to be both a practicing Catholic and an actor, and to combine the two together in my life.”
Having portrayed St. Francis in this production more than 20 times, Tivenan said, “The role has helped me learn how to think like a Franciscan and become more of a people person.”
While some of his favorite lines in the play were those filled with humor, the actor said he most looks forward to performing a scene in which God speaks to St. Francis for the first time. God’s voice calls, “My house is falling into ruins. Go and repair my Church.” St. Francis takes this calling literally, and attempts to find appropriate bricks to rebuild the local church.
Tivenan said he will never grow tired of performing this scene because “that is the point where St. Francis, previously an outsider, first felt his calling.” He added that this “outside” feeling is one with which all of us can sympathize.
Many individuals who watched the performance felt a special bond with the play’s subject matter because of their personal devotions to Saint Francis.
“Being a [lay] Franciscan, it was wonderful to hear and see many pieces of what Saint Francis left us. It wasn’t just words; it was his life and the example it set for us,” stated Penny Gleeson, a member of the community for 34 years and parishioner of Immaculate Conception. “There are so many levels of Franciscan life, but the most important is that we’re all one through one mind in Christ. Gleeson’s husband, Marty, also a lay Franciscan, said, “It caught the essence of St. Francis in a very uplifting way
Fellow lay Franciscan Frank Cryan, a member of St. James the Less Parish, Jamesburg, was also impressed by the performance, too, which he felt was “true to Saint Francis’s story.”
Forty-six Immaculata juniors and seniors attended the performance as the culmination of their Antioch LIII retreat. The group had spent the weekend at the St. Francis Retreat House in Easton, Pa., where they received reconciliation and participated in small-group discussions and activities. The students wore wooden crosses that received a papal blessing on the Feast of Divine Mercy in 2016, the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Reflecting on the weekend, Immaculata senior T.J. Wietecha said, “The retreat was really powerful and helped me grow in my faith. It was amazing to share the experience with a great group of friends.”
More than 300 people attended the Saint Francis performance, which was produced by Saint Luke Productions, the longest running Catholic production company in the country. The grassroots ministry tours the United States with the goal of renewing faith through media and performances based on the Gospels and the lives of saints.
By Kaylynn Chiarello-Ebner, Correspondent at The Catholic Spirit