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St. John Vianney was born into a farm family at Dardilly, France on May 8, 1786. This was just three years before the storming of the Bastille that began the French Revolution. His early years were spent against the backdrop of a country whose Catholic heritage and faith had been systematically destroyed.
When the Church was re-established in 1802, John seemed an unlikely candidate for the priesthood because of his lack of schooling. Nevertheless, at the age of nineteen, he convinced his father to spare him from the farm so that he could pursue his vocation. Forced to learn Latin with boys of eleven and twelve, he was a terrible student, yet he never gave up his desire to be a priest.
His studies came to an abrupt halt when he was inducted into Napoleon’s army in 1809. Through a series of mishaps, John lost his regiment, and was misled into the mountains to a troop of other deserters. After this harrowing experience, he was finally able to return to Ecully and his studies.
Because of the shortage of priests and in spite of his poor academic record, John was ordained. In 1818, he was sent to Ars, a tiny, out-of-the-way parish with a shabby church, few resources, and a lax spiritual life. Though no one expected great things from him, his personal holiness led to the miraculous transformation of the parish.
Amazing things happened in Ars, witnessed by ordinary people. The Virgin Mary appeared regularly at the rectory. So did the devil, who kept trying to smash the furniture. There were miracles of multiplying bread to feed the hungry, of healing, and of prophecy. Most dear to John Vianney’s heart were the miracles of conversions – thousands of them. Often, the Curé spent more than sixteen hours a day in the confessional in order to save a single soul.
Although it was his life-long dream to retire to a contemplative life of silence and prayer, John remained in Ars until his death in 1859, at the age of seventy-three. In 1925, he was canonized by Pope Pius XI, and he is the patron saint of priests. To date, Saint John Vianney is the only parish (diocesan) priest in all of Church history to be canonized.
Leonardo Defilippis’ one-man religious theater production, Vianney, opens amidst the chaos of the French Revolution. This period in French history mirrors the secularization, materialism, and anti-religious sentiment of our own day. Because of these parallels, Vianney is a powerful tool for the evangelization of our contemporary culture. Against this dramatic backdrop, a simple peasant priest enters Ars. This backwater town is a place where no one cares much about their faith. They don’t expect much out of John Vianney either, but then the impossible begins to happen. Through John’s example, love, and sacrifice, the townspeople begin to change.
This is a story of perseverance against all odds. It is the story of a humble pastor with a passion for souls. He’ll do anything to save a sinner. Played with Leonardo’s warmth, humor, and insight, Saint John Vianney is a man with whom audiences fall in love.
“It is my prayer that when people meet John Vianney, they will be transformed by his life, story and message,” says Leonardo Defilippis. “I know that young men looking for a radical way of serving God will be drawn to the priesthood through his example.” Over the last two decades, thousands of people have seen Vianney. Audiences have grown closer to Christ, and many young men have indeed discerned vocations to the religious life.
Our production incorporates an original musical score by composer Randall DeBruyn. With our state-of-the-art technology, we project a full cast of characters onto a screen, making the story come alive in a multimedia experience. Above all, Leonardo’s portrayal brings audiences to tears, laughter, and a deep experience of the presence of God in our midst.
Founder of the Catholic theater group Saint Luke Productions, Leonardo Defilippis got his start as a Shakespearean actor. In the early days of his career, he worked at renowned theaters, such as the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. After experiencing a profound awakening and return to his faith, he created and toured The Gift of Peace. The one-man show covered the first six chapters of the Gospel of Luke and was taken directly from Scripture. This venture was the beginning of Saint Luke Productions. For over 35 years, this ministry has brought professional dramas about Christ and His saints to millions of people worldwide. Leonardo has starred in many of those one-man shows, including The Passion According to Luke, John of the Cross, Francis: Troubadour of God's Peace, and several others. He also directed and starred in the feature film Thérèse. Leonardo has several dramas currently touring North America. In addition to Vianney, they include Thérèse: The Story of a Soul and Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz. He and his wife Patti have seven children. They live near Vancouver, Washington.