Film about Alaska's patron saint plays Juneau

Posted: Thursday, December 09, 2004

Saint Therese of Lisieux, the patroness of Alaska and the namesake of the shrine at Mile 23 of Glacier Highway, comes to Glacier Cinemas this week in "Therese," a major motion picture funded entirely by private donations.

The film premiered in 32 theaters on Oct. 1 and is hoping to expand to 900 screens, including Juneau. It opens Friday at 7:10 and 9:20 p.m.

The staff at the Shrine of St. Therese learned just a few days ago that the movie would play in town.

"We're delighted about it," shrine director Thomas B. Fitterer said. "This little person who died at 2412, and went into the convent when she was 15 ... is one of the most profound influences in the world today."

Luke Films, the Portland faith-based nonprofit film organization behind Therese, contacted Gross-Alaska after receiving calls from Catholic groups in Juneau. "Therese" will play at Glacier Cinemas for two weeks at the most, Gross-Alaska theater manager Eric Forst said.

"This time of year it's hard to get movies in that aren't major releases, but we were able to and happy to do so," Forst said. "From what I've read, it has performed quite well in certain markets. I know Regal (Cinemas) and Century (Cinemas) have been playing it in some of their theaters. I think it's just a good holiday product."

Marie-Francoise Therese Martin was born on Jan. 2, 1873, in France. Her mother died when she was 4, and her sister-adopted mother abandoned her for the Carmelite monastery six years later. She suffered a nervous breakdown at age 10 but recovered. Three years later she converted, and at the age of 15, Pope Leo XIII gave her permission to enter the monastery.

Therese began writing her memoir, "Story of a Soul," two years before she died from tuberculosis at the age of 24. Her sisters read it, realized its value and set to work writing down everything she said on her death bed.

That book, "The Lost Conversations," brought attention to "Story of a Soul." Her memoir has since sold millions of copies and been translated into 63 languages.

In 1908, a 4-year-old blind girl was cured, and Therese was given credit for the miracle. Countless instances followed. She was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1925, and in 1997 she became one of only 33 Christians, and three women, to be honored as Doctor of the Church.

Bishop Joseph Raphael Crimont, the first bishop of Alaska, chose Therese as the state's patron saint.

"She was a person that did literally nothing remarkable in the worldly sense," director Leonardo Defilippis said. "But she's gone from complete obscurity and humility to be one of the most well-known and popular women of the entire modern century."

Defilippis and his wife, Patti, put together a one-woman show on Therese in 1997. They were challenged by a group of Carmelite nuns to make the film, and they began work in 2000. The couple made the film with the help of Therese's monastery.

"In a very interesting way, in a heavenly way, I was kind of drawn to her, because of the simple message of simplifying our lives," Defilippis said. "There's something magnetic about here. There's a sense of peace. She's a person who gave great hope, and she's a person who's kind of like a window that you can open up and see yourself in."

"There's a message there that's not just for Catholics, but for all people of God's love," Fitterer said. "Her message was that everyone can spread the love of the Good Lord in a little way, just to hold the door or smile or listen."

Lindsay Younce secured the role of Therese when she was 18. She grew up a Protestant but was preparing to enter the Catholic Church at the time of her casting.

"I actually didn't know anything about (Therese) before we did the film," Younce said. "There was a lot to read in order to get an understanding from the horse's mouth of who she was.

"Therese is a much simpler person than I had ever played," she said. "She was really protected by the ways of the world so to speak, and it's hard to play somebody that's never been touched by sort of everyday evils. But she was very personable, and I wanted to make her as human as possible."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at

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