August 26, 2012
So a group of nuns decided to make a movie... Local Daughter of St. Paul heading up effort along with local studio
So a group of nuns decided to make a movie …. That’s not the lead-in to a joke; that’s the beginning of the story of how the Daughters of St. Paul decided to get the word out about Blessed Father James Alberione, the founder of their order and nine other congregations of religious men, women and laypeople.
The 90-minute documentary about Alberione was to be rough-cut this month with the final product scheduled to debut on Jan. 25, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, said Sister Helena Burns, a Daughter of St. Paul who ministers in Chicago.
Burns said the world needs to know about Blessed Alberione, who died in 1971 at age 86, because “he was really a forward-thinking media priest,” she said. “Our world is really a media world. We need to hear from Father Alberione now. … The [movie’s] gimmick is that he was a priest who was thoroughly enamored by media, and it’s made by nuns.”
Burns studied screenwriting at UCLA and is the film’s writer and producer. She lives in the convent above the congregation’s store, Pauline Books & Media, 172 N. Michigan Ave.
The film, being produced by Chicago’s Spirit Juice Studios, uses archival material and interviews to tell the life story of the Italian farm boy who got kicked out of his seminary for doing “immoral” reading. No one knows just what he was reading, Burns said, but at that time, it could have been nothing more scandalous than a novel.
“He had an addiction,” she said. “He was reading a book a day.”
Filming started in 2010, said Rob Kaczmark of Spirit Juice, and took place in the United States and Italy. The film has presented some unique challenges, including finding ways to incorporate old-style media and filming interviews in other languages, where Kaczmark could tell when people were becoming emotional but could not understand what they were saying
The priest is often depicted with a movie camera and was a filmmaker, speaker and writer. He started his ministry working at a school that taught boys typesetting skills. He set them to reproducing Bibles in many languages so that they could be distributed around the world, Burns said.
He saw the media mission of the church as two-fold: to create and promote good media and to pray in reparation of evil media, Burns said.
But for all his mid-20th century media savvy, Alberione never became terribly well-known in the United States. Some of his books are available in English for download from the Internet, but they tend to be the more scholarly works. More popular books have been taken out of print because they were generally non-footnoted compilations of his lectures and talks, and not all of his sources were given proper credit, she said.
Still, those who remember hearing him speak say he was effective.
“He had this incredible gift for those pithy little sayings that had the power to move you to action,” she said. “He would get all kinds of people doing things for him.”
Perhaps, Burns said, he will become better known if and when he is canonized, she said, noting that cinema still does not have a patron saint.
In Europe, he was known for his biblical films, including ones about Saul and David, the Great Patriarchs and others.
He was prescient enough to see that technology was moving toward more electronic communication. In the 1960s he suggested that people might someday get their newspapers over the telephone wires.
He also was very orthodox in terms of church doctrine. That may have been confusing to people who wanted the Vatican to censure him for using “irreverent” media, such as film, to spread the Gospel; the Vatican encouraged him to proceed.
Now the Daughters of St. Paul are trying to continue his work by sharing his story, but to finish the film by January, they need to raise about $45,000 more. The budget doesn’t include any money for marketing or distribution “which is crazy,” Burns said.
Alberione would have echoed that sentiment. He instructed his media priests, brothers and nuns to pay attention to all three parts of the media world — the creative, the technical and distribution.
The Daughters of St. Paul are hoping the movie will get picked up by EWTN and other Catholic television stations, Sister Helena said. It will also be available through Catholic bookstores and catalogues and can be shown at church events.
Blessed Father James Alberione
Father James Alberione, founder of the Pauline Family, was one of the most creative apostles of the 20th century, according to the biography posted on the Vatican's website. He was the fourth of six children of Michael and Teresa Alberione, farmers in San Lorenzo di Fossano (Cuneo), Italy.
He was ordained in 1907 and served as spiritual director to both the major and minor seminarians in the Seminary of Alba, where he also taught various subjects. He helped out with preaching, catechesis and giving conferences in the various parishes of the diocese.
In addition to this, he devoted much time to studying the civil-ecclesial situation and the newly-emerging needs of society. "He came to understand that the Lord was guiding him toward a new mission: to preach the Gospel to all peoples, in the spirit of the Apostle Paul, using the modern instruments of communication," the website said. He attended every session of the Second Vatican Council.
His first two religious institutes were the Pious Society of St. Paul — priests — formed in 1914 — and the Daughters of St. Paul, formed in 1915. He later founded three more congregations of sisters and several secular institutes.
He was declared blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1996.