Category: Inspirational

Jeannie Gaffigan Updates Her Life After Surgery to Remove Brain Tumor

On April 18, Jeannie Gaffigan, wife and creative partner of comedian Jim Gaffigan, underwent a nine-hour surgery to remove a tumor wrapped around her brain stem.

Recovery for the 47-year-old Catholic mother of five has been difficult. She suffered aspiration pneumonia in the hospital, that landed her in the ICU for two weeks. Because of the surgery, her throat was paralyzed and she has had a temporary tracheotomy and a feeding tube.

Gaffigan and her husband have said that the ordeal has reaffirmed their faith and taught their children about being compassionate.

Now, through People magazine, Gaffigan has given an update on her condition. She still has the feeding tube, but she’s progressed to taking food by mouth, and has worked her way up to purees. The tracheotomy has been removed, and she can now breathe without an oxygen tank.

Read the whole thing here, but below is an excerpt from her essay.

As my cranial nerves start to come back to life, I have found a new appreciation for everything. Every moment is a gift from God.

My love for my [five children] which seemed boundless before has multiplied a thousand fold as has my love for Jim. The marriage vow “in sickness and in health” became more than just words, and I am inspired every day by the strength and courage of the man who held everything together through this hurricane brought on by the brain tumor.

I dodged a bullet and my life will never be the same. Don’t wait for the hurricane to hang on to your family and friends and to find the blessings and the glory in every detail. Do it now.

Image: Twitter/Wikipedia

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

Marshall McLuhan on Media and Faith, With FTP Founder Father Patrick Peyton

In his 1970s show “Matter of Faith,” Family Theater Productions founder Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., did an extended interview with media visionary Marshall McLuhan, who originated the phrase, “The medium is the message.”

Here’s how his official Website describes McLuhan (whose birthday is July 21):

McLuhan was still a twenty-year old undergraduate at the University of Manitoba, in western Canada, in the dirty thirties, when he wrote in his diary that he would never become an academic. He was learning in spite of his professors, but he would become a professor of English in spite of himself. After Manitoba, graduate work at Cambridge University planted the seed for McLuhan’s eventual move toward media analysis. Looking back on both his own Cambridge years and the longer history of the institution, he reflected that a principal aim of the faculty could be summarized as the training of perception, a phrase that aptly summarizes his own aim throughout his career.

McLuhan was also an adult convert to Catholicism. Said McLuhan:

I was reading [G.K.] Chesterton, and [Christopher] Dawson and [Jacques] Maritain and those people. That’s how I came in.

I had no instruction even from clergy at any time but there was a friend of mine who said, ‘Well, since you don’t believe in Christianity’ – I was an agnostic – he said ‘you could pray to God the Father. So you pray to God the Father and simply ask to be shown.’ And so I did.

And I didn’t know what I was going to be shown, all I said was, ‘Show me,’ and I didn’t ask to be relieved of any problems. I had no problems. I had no belief and no problems.

Well I was shown in a quite amazing way and quite unexpected: I was arguing about religion with a whole group of grad students one night at Wisconsin and one of them said to me suddenly, ‘Why aren’t you a Catholic?’ and I shut up because I didn’t know. Up to that moment, it had never occurred to me that I would ever become a Catholic. But I was suddenly caught. I became a Catholic at once within a few days.

In the three videos below, McLuhan — who had a prescient view of how man and modern media intersected, even though he’s speaking before the internet — talks to Father Peyton about how the instantaneous and enveloping nature of modern media affects man’s mind, heart and soul.

Here McLuhan discusses the value of the replay, the effects media has on interpersonal relationships, and faith and resonance.

Here McLuhan discusses resonance, joining the Church, and the Church as a source of nourishment.

Here McLuhan discusses women as victims of sexism, the mother’s role, and the nuclear family.

Looks like McLuhan and Father Peyton were well ahead of their time!

Image: Family Theater Productions

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.

Monks of Norcia: Benedictine Brothers Bet on Beer to Overcome Earthquake Devastation

In honor of the July 11 Feast of Saint Benedict of Nursia (a k a Norcia), let’s check in with the Monks of Norcia, who became world-famous for their Gregorian-chant CD, “Benedicta,” which came out in 2015.

But becoming international music superstars didn’t insulate them from the ravages of nature, in the form of powerful earthquakes that struck their region in Umbria in August and October of 2016. Hundreds of people were killed, many more displaced, and the monks’ home, the 14th-century Basilica of St. Benedict, was destroyed.

Here’s how they describe themselves on their Website:

The Monastery of San Benedetto in Monte is perched above the ancient town of Nursia, birthplace of St. Benedict, founder of Western monasticism.

The Monks of Norcia, who have called the city home since the year 2000, were forced to begin work on a new, seismic-resistant monastery on site of their old monastic grange when a series of devastating earthquakes destroyed their church and home in town in 2016.

The international community of monks who live there are committed to living according to the ancient observance of the Rule of St. Benedict and understand this otherwise tragic moment in history as a call from God to deepen their vocation as men of prayer, conversion, study and manual labor, and to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

But music alone is not enough to make the monks self-supporting, as is called for in the Rule of Saint Benedict, who wanted his monastics to live by the work of their hands. The Monks of Norcia took up the brewing of beer called Birra Nursia, which landed in the U.S. in the spring of 2016 — only months before the quakes.

Amazingly, the quakes spared the brewery, so the monks are counting on thirsty customers buying in stores and online to help rebuild their monastery and their mission to the surrounding area and the world.

From The New York Times:

Led by Father Folsom, who is the prior emeritus, the monks now number 15. They learned beer-making from experienced Trappist brewmasters in Belgium, and began to make Nursia in 2012. The beer’s name was chosen “specifically to help the townspeople, rather than naming it after St. Benedict,” Father Nivakoff said.

“We wanted people to identify the beer with the town,” and to help support it, he added.

Brother Augustine Wilmeth, who was born in South Carolina and serves as the brewmaster, said Nursia was “the only monastic beer in the world that is made exclusively by the monks.”

Other monastic brewing operations, he explained, have grown into milliondollar enterprises with many workers. In Norcia, the monks do everything themselves, producing around 10,000 bottles each month.

Meet Father Folsom, on EWTN’s “The Journey Home”:

And when you have some extra time, here’s a whole documentary, from the pre-quake days in 2012 …

Here’s to hoping they find the time to produce some more beautiful music for the world.

Images: Courtesy Monks of Norcia

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘Catholic Central’ Star and Saint Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Artists

This fall, we’re launching a new Web series, called “Catholic Central,” to teach about the Faith in fast and funny short episodes that are both entertaining and informing — “enter-forming,” if you will — and our hosts are Kaiser Johnson and Libby Slater.

Both Minnesotans, Johnson and Slater are multitalented actors, writers and producers. Slater is also a graduate of John Paul the Great Catholic University, near San Diego, California, a relatively new school that, among other things, specializes in training students in all aspects of media.

Back in 2014, the school produced a video in which a group of students recited sections of Saint Pope John Paul II’s 1999 Letter to Artists, in which the pontiff — himself an actor in his younger days — spoke to hearts and souls of musicians, actors, painters, sculptors, writers, etc.

This mirrors what’s been going on in our in-house studio, as writers, actors, producers and crew people assemble to shoot new episodes of “Catholic Central” — which we’ll be doing again next week, in advance of a Sept. 15 launch.

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s Libby and her former fellow students in the video, released in 2014 to coincide with John Paul’s canonization. Watch closely for a fresh-faced Libby:

Click here for the full text of the Letter to Artists, and here’s a taste:

Society needs artists, just as it needs scientists, technicians, workers, professional people, witnesses of the faith, teachers, fathers and mothers, who ensure the growth of the person and the development of the community by means of that supreme art form which is “the art of education”. Within the vast cultural panorama of each nation, artists have their unique place. Obedient to their inspiration in creating works both worthwhile and beautiful, they not only enrich the cultural heritage of each nation and of all humanity, but they also render an exceptional social service in favour of the common good.

The particular vocation of individual artists decides the arena in which they serve and points as well to the tasks they must assume, the hard work they must endure and the responsibility they must accept. Artists who are conscious of all this know too that they must labour without allowing themselves to be driven by the search for empty glory or the craving for cheap popularity, and still less by the calculation of some possible profit for themselves. There is therefore an ethic, even a “spirituality” of artistic service, which contributes in its way to the life and renewal of a people. It is precisely this to which [Polish poet and dramatist] Cyprian Norwid seems to allude in declaring that “beauty is to enthuse us for work, and work is to raise us up.”

This past May, the National Catholic Register published a reflection on the Letter to Artists. The whole thing can be found here, but this is one particularly illuminating passage:

Those of us have felt that artistic “spark” brimming within us — those of us that love to write, to create, to paint, draw and sing — would do well to heed the call upon our souls that this Letter speaks of.

This spark is something divine – let us keep it that way. It is something God has endowed us with, and whether we always acknowledge it or not, it still belongs to him. Let us keep it sacred and use it to set the world on fire for Christ.

But to do this, an artist doesn’t always have to be obvious about it. Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., who’s just joined us on staff at Family Theater, is both a Holy Cross priest and a filmmaker. I asked him about the Letter, and here’s what he wrote back:

JPII’s Letter to Artists encourages Catholics to evangelize through Beauty. Hopefully, this leads to openness to Truth and the Good. My own prayer is that artists may do so, subtly and with veiled language as Jesus did — in some stories and parables he doesn’t even mention “God.”

So, if you want to praise God directly in your art, have at it. But, also know that there are many ways to lead people to the light of Christ, and it takes true talent to do it without your audience even realizing they’re being evangelized.

Images: Courtesy Kate O’Hare for Family Theater Productions/Wikimedia Commons

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘Silence’ Star and Former Marine Adam Driver Fulfills a Wish for a Veteran’s Family

Adam Driver came from a small Midwestern town to L.A. with dreams of acting. When that didn’t work out, he volunteered for the Marines shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. He met people from all over the country, from different walks of life, and found a band of brothers.

An mountain-biking injury prevented him from being able to deploy to the front with his unit, but he did go on to have a career as an actor. Most recently, he’s playing Kylo Ren in the Disney “Star Wars” movies, and played the Jesuit priest who didn’t become an apostate in 17th-century Japan in Martin Scorsese’s movie “Silence.”

This summer, Budweiser is honoring those who, like Driver, wore the uniform of their country, by partnering with Folds of Honor, a foundation that provides scholarships to the families of wounded and fallen service members.

Here’s how the foundation describes itself:

Since 2007, the Folds of Honor has carried forth this singular, noble mission. To provide educational scholarships to spouses and children of America’s fallen and disabled service-members.

Our motto says it best.

Honor Their Sacrifice.  Educate Their Legacy.

Last week, Budweiser posted this video to its Facebook page, in which Driver visits the home of a fellow veteran. The man’s daughter wrote to Folds of Honor, talking about her father’s service, his guilt over — like Driver — being prevented from deploying because of injury, and how she is struggling to finance her education.

I’ve always thought the best use of celebrity and business success is to turn around and use both to help people. As we remember those who risked life, liberty and sacred honor to found our country this Fourth of July, it’s great to see that Driver and Budweiser are making good use of their blessings.

Get a hankie.

And if you want to hear more about Driver’s military experiences, here you go (there’s also a dramatic reading after Driver’s talk, with some very rough language).

Image: Courtesy Budweiser/Folds of Honor

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

John Wayne and Steve McQueen: Finding Faith at the End

Hollywood stars John Wayne and Steve McQueen apparently found new faith — and not a moment too soon.

Friday, May 26, is the birthday of Wayne, born Marion Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa, in 1907. He died on June 11, 1979, at the age of 72, from stomach cancer (after surviving lung cancer).

He was baptized a Presbyterian, but he married three Catholic women, and his children and grandchildren were raised Catholic (we know the first wife never remarried after the divorce and continued to pray for Wayne’s conversion).

One grandson, Father Matthew Munoz, is a priest in the Diocese of Orange in Southern California.

Because of his spouses, Wayne moved in Catholic circles and became good friends in Los Angeles with Archbishop Tomas Clavel. But, he still didn’t become Catholic.

But, as told in an article at ChurchPop:

Then, in 1979, as he was dying of cancer and surrounded by his family in his home, he finally decided to join the Catholic Church. He requested for Archbishop Clavel to come to his house, but he was too ill to come, and so another archbishop in the diocese was sent.

Wayne was received into the Catholic Church and then died just two days later.

Why did he wait until his deathbed to convert? His grandson explained that Wayne was regretful about not becoming a Catholic sooner, blaming “a busy life.”

That other archbishop was Archbishop Mark McGrath, C.S.C., of Panama City, Panama, a member of the Holy Cross Order — which also operates Holy Cross Family Ministries and its subsidiary, Family Theater Productions.

I contacted Father Willy Raymond, President of HCFM and former head of FTP, to ask about Wayne, since there is a parking spot for him in the lot at the FTP offices on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

While Fr. Willy — as he’s widely known from his years in Los Angeles — doesn’t believe that Wayne ever worked for Family Theater Productions or its founder, Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., but his “The Quiet Man” co-star Maureen O’Hara did (and she also has a parking space, as does fellow Catholic and “Quiet Man” director John Ford).

Fr. Willy wrote back:

I had a long conversation with Maureen O’Hara, who said that she loved John Wayne and loved working with him. He was always a perfect gentleman, always well-prepared.

There was never anything inappropriate in their relationship, but she said one of the great joys of her life was working with John Wayne on “The Quiet Man.”

He added that Wayne’s son, Michael Wayne, was a regular donor to the Angelus Student Film Festival, which FTP used to run, and that he was a member of a Catholic parish in the San Fernando Valley.

Now, although Wayne came into the Catholic Church on his deathbed, he was already a Christian.

The same can’t be said of the late conversion of actor Steve McQueen, who died of malignant mesothelioma in Mexico in 1980 at the age of 50.

As related in the upcoming book, “Steve McQueen: The Salvation of an American Icon,” coming out on June 13, Southern California Evangelical preacher Greg Laurie (co-author with McQueen expert Marshall Terrill) relates that McQueen had a dramatic conversion experience near the end of his life.

From The Christian Post:

The book includes interviews conducted by Terrill and Laurie with people who were close to McQueen and can attest to his spiritual transformation, such as McQueen’s widow, Barbi, the pastor of McQueen’s church, McQueen’s flight instructor and even a metabolic technician who served McQueen in the days leading up to his death.

“There was a statement that McQueen made, which was, ‘My only regret in life was that I was not able to tell others about what Jesus Christ did for me,'” Laurie said, quoting what McQueen had told Pastor Leonard DeWitt of Ventura Missionary Church before he died.

“I thought, that’s a wrong that needs to be righted,” Laurie added.

According to the book, McQueen began asking profound questions about the reliability of the Bible and the nature of Christianity, with the help of his pastor, a flying instructor and a stuntman friend.

McQueen met with renowned evangelist Dr. Billy Graham in his last days. The book relates how his son, Chad McQueen, found his father holding tight to the Bible that Graham had given him, and that it was with him when he died.

Here’s a video of Laurie discussing McQueen’s conversion at an Evangelical event last year:

God works in His own way and in His own time. Of course, it’s better to come to the realization of faith as soon as possible, but the last guest to the banquet is as welcome as the first.

Images: Flickr: Steve Avery (McQueen); Wikimedia Commons; Family Theater Productions/Kate O’Hare

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.