St. Faustina hits the stage in light-hearted rendition of Divine Mercy painting project  

By Dave Jolivet, Anchor Editor

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NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — What do the Lord, St. Faustina, an unretired play director, and a Superior Court judge have in common? More than one would suspect.

This not-so-typical combination will bring to life, at the Your Theater Playhouse on County Street in New Bedford, one man’s version of the collaboration between St. Faustina and artist Eugene Kazimirowski to create the painting millions of Catholics now gaze upon in devotion to the Divine Mercy.

“The Obraz,” is the brainchild of Raymond P. Veary of New Bedford, a man who has worn many hats during his life, and not referring to costume changes during his various roles as an actor.

Veary, a long-time member of St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford, and a St. Thomas More medal winner in 2012, is currently a judge in New Bedford Superior Court. Despite his prestigious seat on the judicial bench, Veary is an avid fan of the theater.

“I’ve been involved with theater since 1979, when I, with no experience, auditioned for a part in a play being produced by Your Theatre, Inc., of New Bedford,” Veary told The Anchor. “I got the part, and I got the bug. As a side-effect, I started writing plays. Since joining the bench, I’ve suspended my acting, but I’ve continued to write. My work has been produced on both coasts. Recently, I won a production as part of a one-act playwriting contest hosted by the Elite Theatre in Oxnard, Calif. That same play, ‘The Night Copernicus Wouldn’t Shut Up,’ is being given two staged readings this coming week by Break-A-Leg Productions in Manhattan.”

Prior to his role as judge and playwright, Veary was a trial lawyer for 38 years, 25 of which was spent as Assistant District Attorney for Bristol County. And prior to that, the Acushnet native attended Officers’ Basic Training at the U.S. Army Military Police School.

Very told The Anchor that the idea for “The Obraz” started small, as a one-act play.

“In early 2000, I came upon a newspaper story about the upcoming canonization of the first saint of the new millennium, Sister Faustina,” said Veary. “I read about how she was a cloistered Polish nun in Vilnius in 1934, who had collaborated with an artist named Eugene Kazimirowski to produce a painting of what has become the icon for the Devotion to the Divine Mercy. How did that collaboration work? I wondered. There were so many things that could have and perhaps did go wrong. I became fascinated. What resulted was a one-act speculation of what had occurred. I cannot emphasize this point enough. Though I have spent considerable energy in the research and contemplation of the Faustina-Kazimirowski collaboration, what I have written is not claimed as a detailed and accurate account. It is my speculation upon actual events.”

The one-act version, involving only St. Faustina and Kazimirowski, was presented by Peg Holzemer of Theater One Productions in Middleboro in a series of staged readings in Middleboro, Wareham and Lakeville. “Judy Lemay, a veteran director with Your Theatre, Inc., was enthusiastic about the play from the beginning and encouraged me to get it produced,” explained Veary. “I did. First by Theatre Studio, Inc. in New York City for two scheduled weekends, and then, after a coup d’etat in which a champion of the play emerged as the new assistant artistic director, by the Mill Mountain Theatre in Roanoke, Va., a week, maybe more, of their ‘lunchbox’ series.”

Veary said he heard “over and over again,” from audiences that they enjoyed the one-act production, but wanted “something more, a full swing.”

Veary heeded the call and rewrote the piece, adding three more characters and six more scenes.

“The play, always intended to be a lighthearted speculation, had become even more lighthearted,” Veary told The Anchor. “If I may say so, in my uncertain opinion, it was now downright funny. Could one write a funny play about a saint?  Should one even dare? I risked offending my fellow Roman Catholics as well as the comedians. I confess I didn’t know whether the play had an audience and, if so, where it might be. My concerns were not calmed when I occasionally saw eyes roll at my mentioning I’d written a play about a saint.”

Veary said the play isn’t meant to poke fun at St. Faustina; quite the contrary, it’s a tribute to her devotion to the Lord and His request to make His Divine Mercy known throughout the world.

“When Faustina was finally accepted into her convent, she was regarded as ‘nothing special,’” added Veary. “When she spoke of her vision, some laughed at her. Her diary was later banned by the Vatican for 19 years. Two of the five characters in the play, Sister Sophie and Father Felix, are composites, constructed to dramatize these daunting pressures in the life of this faithful and fearless young woman.”

Veary credits his wife of nearly 30 years, Claudette, an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at St. Mary’s Parish, with “lovingly and patiently supporting my peculiar fascinations, including the writing of plays.” 

Lemay desired to direct the new and larger version of Veary’s work on St. Faustina. “She unretired herself and told me she wanted to stage ‘The Obraz,’” he said.

The initial showing of “The Obraz,” was scheduled for early April, but an illness to one of the key characters ended that dream. But since then, a new cast member was added and rehearsals started again in earnest. “Judy has assembled a formidable cast: Natalie Cabral as Faustina; Richard Pacheco as Kazimirowski; Carol Oliva as Mother Irene; Lucy Bly as Sister Sophie; and Tegan Flanders as Father Felix,” said Veary. “Our stalwart stage manager is Ellie Murphy. The group resides throughout in greater New Bedford and Taunton. Braving the most difficult winter in memory, they have endured the hiccupped rehearsal schedule and have worked on with inspired determination.”

Veary said that several cast-members are “serious Catholics,” but none have raised any concerns about the light-hearted script.

All systems are go for the scheduled run for “The Obraz,” at Your Theater, Inc. Playhouse at 136 Rivet Street in New Bedford, from June 4-6. The parking is in the St. Martin’s Church lot, next to the church hall (theatre) on the south side of the church. Parking is also available on nearby streets.

Performances are June 4-6 at 8 p.m., and June 7 at 2:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $10 for all shows. For information, reservations, or directions visit www.yourtheater.org, or call 508-993-0772.

© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts