On a Role

The long-awaited live drama, Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy, produced by Saint Luke Productions, debuts in St. Benedict, Ore., on Oct. 5, the feast day of St. Faustina. The show, which will travel the country, is certain to open many hearts to the transforming power of God's merciful love. We recently caught up with the Hollywood-based actress playing St. Faustina, Maria Vargo, to discuss what she calls "the role of a lifetime."

Part of your preparation for the role was to spend five days living in community with St. Faustina's order, the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, in Dorchester, Mass. In what ways did that experience help you prepare for the role?

It gave me the unique opportunity to immerse myself in the daily routine in the life of a nun in the same order of St. Faustina. The days spent at the convent gave me quiet time to pray, read, and reflect on the life of Sr. Faustina, to experience the daily work right alongside the sisters, to read the order's constitution and rules, and even witness the sisters recommit themselves daily to their vows. I was so grateful to truly focus on Jesus during those days. It was a beautiful experience. The sisters were so kind and gracious to me, and they exuded the quality of mercy they are called to show daily toward others. All this gave me insight into the character and life of the beloved nun.

What others ways have you prepared for the role?

The primary preparation for this role has been spiritual by focusing on deepening my prayer life and reading the Diary of St. Faustina. Praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy has taken on a much deeper meaning for me now. In some ways, I feel as though I've been preparing for this drama my whole life; it's as if my joining up with Saint Luke Productions and performing the role of Sr. Faustina was designed by God all along. I'm obviously not a saint, and I've experienced Divine Mercy in my own life through a deep conversion several years ago. And now, almost unbelievably to me at times, here I am, preparing to share that message of mercy in a face-to-face encounter with audiences.

I imagine that playing any character taps into something inside your heart or mind in ways that forever changes you. How has this been the case with your role as St. Faustina?

Yes. First of all, there is a deep responsibility that comes with this role, unlike anything I've experienced in my acting career. I can't just "play the saint, proclaim the message, and then just leave the role at the stage door." I am being called to live this message out, too. Frankly, I am not sure about the kind of acting work I will want to do after this experience. This decision will not be just about acting for me when looking ahead. Like Sr. Faustina, having the humility to obediently surrender to the will of our Lord for my future will be key.

How did it feel when you first dressed up in a habit? That had to be kind of strange.

Actually, I felt very humbled to wear the habit for the first time. I was honored. It was so touching because Sr. Donata Farbaniec, the Sister Superior, gave me step-by-step instructions when I initially put on the habit, and I was transformed into a nun! And I never once forgot that it was a real habit. It was for me far more than a costume for an actress.

I imagine you have poured through available photos of Faustina. I'm curious if there's something you see in those photos that's helpful to you in your role.

Although there are not many photos of Sr. Faustina, I have studied them. There is one image to which I have been drawn in particular, in which I see something interesting. In this image, one may think that she portrays a stern face and appears remote or austere, but I see a smile behind the image - almost as if she were about to laugh. In fact, I read recently that eyewitnesses who lived in her day, attest to the fact that she was indeed a person with a happy and delightful personality. We know as well that she liked to tell stories and entertain people. I hope that audiences see that enjoyable, personable side of Sr. Faustina in the production.

What's the most challenging aspect of taking on this role?

Trusting. Like most people, I find it a daily challenge to trust in our Lord. I have a significant task ahead of me with traveling and performing all over the country with a demanding schedule. Faustina was certainly no stranger to struggles and weakness, and I hope to unite my obedience to God's will for my life through this role, with her sense of obedience to Jesus in the midst of her struggles. Also, this drama has something in it that everyone can relate to, and it's going to be my job to help make that real to those who attend the performances.

How has this project helped you in your own spiritual journey?

The message of Divine Mercy has helped me to want to surrender to God's will and to seek freedom from my own desires. In this way, I feel I am being strengthened to go beyond myself and spread this message of mercy, forgiveness, and healing to others through this inspiring production. Surely this will bolster my journey of faith in ways I have not yet imagined. I have the opportunity right at this moment in history to respond [through the persona of St. Faustina] to Jesus' request that this message be spread throughout the world.

To book Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy in your area, contact Saint Luke Productions at 1-360-687-8029 or e-mail livedramas@stlukeproductions.com. For more information, including the show schedule, visit stlukeproductions.com.

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