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Faustina: Saint’s story comes to Sioux City

By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
(Email Joanne)

There are many roles an actress can take on.

Maria Vargo decided to embrace a “saintly” one.

Vargo travels the country portraying St. Faustina in a multi-media drama, “Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy.” The event will be presented at 8 p.m., March 22 at St. Michael Church, Sioux City.

“I have had a devotion to Divine Mercy and have been praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for a long time,” Vargo explained. “Besides the tremendous acting challenge of the role, I was most drawn to sharing the message of God’s mercy for every soul. I have experienced and continue to experience God’s mercy personally and I understand the great gift that it is.”

St. Faustina was born Helena Kowalska in 1905 to a large peasant family in Poland. After a vision from Jesus encouraged her to become a nun, the young woman entered the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. She took the name Sister Maria Faustina and spent the rest of her life doing menial labor at the convent.

In 1930, mystical visions started for Sister Faustina. Jesus appeared to her in a white garment, with rays of white and red light emanating near his heart. He asked Sister to paint his image with the message, “Jesus, I trust in you.” That was the beginning of a mission that turned into a devotion for the church – the Divine Mercy.

Sister Faustina kept a diary of her visions until her death from tuberculosis in 1938. Sister Faustina was beatified on in 1993 and canonized in 2000.

Vargo, a Hollywood-based actress, researched the part of the saint for the production produced by Saint Luke Productions of Battle Ground, Wash.

“I was surprised to learn that Sister Faustina was a joyful person, a great storyteller, and that people were drawn to her,” she said. “She was fearless and not afraid to speak the truth to others. She had a lot of determination and spunk! The way she spoke to Jesus was so intimate and affectionate, but also courageous and free. She never minced words with him, asking him for mercy for even the most hardened.”

Vargo spent a week living with the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Dorchester, Mass, in preparation for the role, but don’t expect her to break into Polish during the performance.

“Apart from just a few words, I don’t speak Polish like Sister Faustina did,” she said. “But several of the sisters I stayed with were Polish, so I got a real feel for that culture. Also, I am meeting so many Polish-American communities on tour. They are so hospitable, and they love their three modern saints – the holy triangle of Faustina, John Paul II, and Maximilian Kolbe – so much.”

Prior to taking on this role, Vargo characterized herself as an active Catholic, attending Mass regularly.

“After taking on this role, however, I have a much deeper understanding of sacrifice,” she said. “I think that comes from the hard work involved in presenting this drama night after night in different locations.”

Although Vargo called the role somewhat “exhausting,” she clarified the many graces gained by persevering.

“I also see more clearly now how prayer and sacrifice work together for the conversions of souls,” she said. “And often, these sacrifices can be the simple, little things. Yet they have a great impact when we unite them with Our Lord and His ultimate sacrifice.”

Vargo confessed she always believed prayer could change the world.

“But portraying Sister Faustina has taught me that everything we do in life is a prayer, and that sacrifice has great meaning in the eyes of the Lord, especially in union with praying the chaplet,” she said, referring to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the special prayer Jesus gave to Sister Faustina.

Portraying a saint comes with its own challenges, Vargo admitted.

“First of all, because I am portraying a saint and a real person who had so many holy characteristics, the challenge before me is to always remember that I need to be prayerful as I pour myself into this role,” she said.
Vargo continued, “Next, the challenge is to take this message which I am portraying on stage and take it to heart personally – off stage. I realize that all of us are called to holiness, and that it is only through humility and love of God and neighbor that we can achieve our goal of closeness to God.”

With those challenges comes great satisfaction, Vargo noted.

“The greatest joy is that I get the chance to bring St. Faustina – an amazing woman who loved the Lord so much - alive and face-to-face to audiences,” she said. “She is such a friend to us – not a plaster, holier-than-thou statue. She was a normal person of our modern times, who experienced the same temptations we do, yet through the darkness she trusted in Jesus.”

For Vargo, this experience of traveling the country and bringing this message of the power of God’s mercy to an age and culture, when it is so desperately needed, has gone beyond what she ever imagined.

“I feel so humbled by the way God is using the talents he has given me,” she said. “I love performing and it is a joy to be playing a role in which I wholeheartedly believe every word that I speak.”

If you go
What: “Faustina: Messenger of Divine Mercy”
Who: One-woman drama performed by Maria Vargo and directed by Leonardo Defilippis of Saint Luke Productions
When: 8 p.m. March 22
Where: St. Michael Church, Sioux City
Sponsored: Trinity Heights Queen of Peace and KFHC 88.1
Admission: Free-will offering
Suitable: For ages 12 and older
Questions: Trinity Heights, (712) 239-8670

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