Movie focusing on the candidate for sainthood debuts at Notre Dame High School
By Gabrielle Nolan
The universal Church is about to become more acquainted with Servant of God Father Patrick Ryan now that a film exists depicting his life story.
“Father Ryan: A Higher Call” shares the tale of the Irish priest who settled in Chattanooga at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish and endured the 1878 yellow fever epidemic, ministering to the sick and dying. Father Ryan ultimately succumbed to the disease, which led to locals recognizing the priest as a hero.
The documentary/drama premiered on April 15 at Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga, with more than 200 people attending the screening.
Father David Carter, rector of the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga, spoke about the connection of past and present.
“[Sts. Peter and Paul], it’s the same parish that Father Patrick Ryan was the pastor of, and that’s my great honor to look back and see this predecessor in faith and in faith leadership and to tell his story, and hopefully to emulate it as best I can. There’s a lot that we can reflect on, and we will, but this movie is going to help situate it emotionally for us,” he said.
“I’m so grateful in particular for the gift of providence. Providence has given us a story to tell in such a beautiful way. The story of Father Ryan, who died 145 years ago. You would think that digging up history would not be very pertinent to our own times, but God in his providence allowed us to experience a global pandemic that brings events like the yellow fever epidemic of 1878 closer to us and to our understanding,” Father Carter continued.
“It also brought out examples from our own history on how to face these trials with a spirit of Jesus Christ. What we find in the example of Father Ryan is a timeless witness to the greater love and higher call that we’ve received in Jesus Christ, who suffered and died for us, to set an example,” he said.
Father Carter also mentioned that providence brought “talented storytellers to bring this story to life; they came from the film industry in Hollywood, and they’ve been able to interpret this wonderful example in such a beautiful and captivating way.”
The husband-and-wife-duo of Marc Aramian and Veronica DiPippo created the docudrama. Ms. DiPippo was the director and writer of the film, while Mr. Aramian was the producer.
The couple, who moved to Chattanooga more than a year and a half ago, are parishioners at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul.
“I was certainly captivated by the subject matter, and I was very excited about working on it. I was particularly excited about the fact that this is somebody who is being considered for sainthood,” Ms. DiPippo said.
She noted that it was “very special” for her as a Catholic to participate in the process of depicting Father Ryan’s story, “because I think that cinema has a great power to engage people emotionally, and I’m hoping that this is going to help his cause by bringing the story to life.”
Mr. Aramian shared the story of how the project began, when he and his wife took Father Carter out to lunch.
“We said we know how to make movies, can we help with anything, maybe a little promotion for one of his events or something like that. And he said, ‘I have been praying, starting yesterday, Lord help us, how are we going to make a movie about Father Ryan?’ He said, ‘This is the hand of God.’ And so that’s how it all started,” Mr. Aramian said.
The low-budget production succeeded with the help of volunteers.
“We volunteered our time and donated our time,” Ms. DiPippo said. “We also had just two paid positions; one of them was we hired a cinematographer for one day to do the interior shoots, and then we had a graphic artist do some work at the opening of the film.”
“We knew we had to get a volunteer cast, so we started basically watching people on our way back from Communion,” she continued. “So, we were sitting there, we were kneeling in front, and after Communion we were looking at people, and my husband came across Jack Pettigrew one day.”
“So, I said, ‘Hey, we’re making a movie about Father Ryan; you kind of look like him. Would you help us?’” Mr. Aramian said.
Mr. Pettigrew, who also is a parishioner at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, said yes to Mr. Aramian’s request to play the lead role.
“When I really think back to it, I feel like yes, maybe I did possibly feel a calling (to play the role). I didn’t use to be as close to God as I am now, and I guess it’s more of a recent thing in my life, but I’ve always been Catholic. Marc asked me to play the part, and I was thrilled,” Mr. Pettigrew said.
“I was kind of excited to be on the screen at first, but I knew that you can’t really play a priest without trying to get close to God, so I spent a lot of time just in prayer to Father Ryan and just to God, basically asking for guidance for this role,” he continued. “I get pretty nervous talking to people, and being on screen it was nice not to have to say any lines, but I just kept praying the whole time, and I felt like God was there with me.”
Following the viewing of the film, Father Carter thanked the many individuals involved in the making of the film.
“If you are like me, you cannot be unmoved by this powerful example masterfully depicted for us in film,” he said. “Providence allowed us to produce this film with few resources, but lots of hopes and prayers.”
A question-and-answer session allowed Mr. Aramian and Ms. DiPippo the opportunity to speak to the premiere audience and share their story.
“I had a very long background in theater, and then I went into film and moved to Los Angeles, which is where I met Marc,” Ms. DiPippo shared. “We were working in the Hollywood film industry, which is not exactly friendly to Christians. After a while we just got tired of it and we moved to the East Coast, and we were ultimately looking for a place we wanted to settle down, and we just fell in love with Chattanooga.”
Ms. DiPippo said the film was also an opportunity to “talk about the beauty of the priesthood.”
“I think Father (Carter) did a brilliant job in doing that and to depict that. Hopefully it would inspire people, especially in this time when there is a lot of anti-Catholic sentiment, like back in the South in the old days. So, if there’s anybody in your family that’s kind of on the fence about the Catholic Church, my hope as a filmmaker is that this would be shared with them as a beautiful testament of the faith.”
The couple also shared that the film is currently on the film-festival circuit and has been selected for viewing at two Christian film festivals. “Father Ryan: A Higher Call” has two award nominations at the International Christian Film Festival, including nominations for best documentary and best director.
The film also has been accepted for international broadcast on EWTN.
“Its air day is on the anniversary of Father Ryan’s passing; it’s scheduled to air on Sept. 28,” Ms. DiPippo said.
On May 6, a second viewing of the film was featured at Knoxville Catholic High School in the St. Gregory the Great Auditorium. Mr. Pettigrew was present to speak to attendees about his role.
To request a viewing of the film at a school or parish, contact Deacon Gaspar DeGaetano at email@example.com.
For more information about Father Patrick Ryan and his cause for sainthood, visit frpatrickryan.com.