Barbara Oleynick had a vision—one forming within her mind and heart for the last 20 years: to bring the story of the miracle of Fatima to all those who wish to hear it. As a producer, director, writer and composer, Oleynick dreamed of a multi-media virtual production to share the story of the Blessed Mother’s appearances to three young children in Portugal in 1917.
This summer, in St. Andrew Parish in Bridgeport, that vision becomes a reality.
“This musical production is a retelling of an historical event that made worldwide news,” says Oleynick of the play that opens on May 13. “We are transforming St. Andrew’s into a mesmerizing performance space to recreate the day the sun danced at Fatima to engage all the senses of our audience.”
In October 1917, in the small Portuguese village, 70,000 witnesses watched as the sun rotated, became large and then small again, and danced—an occurrence prophesized to the children by the Virgin Mary throughout her visits to them over the course of six months. At this time of turmoil during the Great War, she came with a promise from God that the world would be at peace and that souls would go to heaven if her requests were acknowledged and obeyed.
Ever since Oleynick wrote “The Miracle of Fatima” musical as her thesis project for the Writing Musical Theatre program at New York University in 1999, this accomplished performer has felt it was her purpose to spread Mary’s message of hope.
Drawing inspiration from her son John, who struggled with depression and passed away in 2016, she is now realizing the culmination of years of work—just as the world marks the 100thanniversary of this miraculous event.
“It’s so fitting that it’s happening now,” says Father Gene Szantyr, pastor of St. Andrew Parish. “We are bringing back attention to our Blessed Mother. And through technology, we can make the church look like a theater.”
Although technology, animated illustrations, and digitized music add special effects to this production, the heart of it all lies in the actors—primarily middle school aged children in the roles of Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta who bore witness to the presence of Mary. This emphasizes another of Oleynick’s goals: to bring young people into the church.
“This has been transformational for the whole cast,” she says. “I asked myself, ‘Why are the youth not coming to church? What do we need to do differently?’ It’s our responsibility.”
And in turn, the responsibility to which these young people have committed is yielding great results. Practicing lines at home and rehearsing full days on weekends has enabled the talented and enthusiastic cast to create a realistic Fatima experience.
Directing two children who portray Francisco and Jacinta one Saturday morning on the altar-turned-stage at St. Andrew, Oleynick calls out, “This scene is so emotional! So what I want from you is agony!”
“Imagine,” she then says to the teen playing Lucia, “what do the children think is going to happen?”
As this trio continues to rehearse the scene, several others sit in pews recording the actions to assist them in learning Oleynick’s blocking techniques. From there, the three onstage break into song, with Oleynick snapping her fingers to the rhythm like a human metronome.
“Now that was harmony!” she praises. “That was lovely!”
Father Gene’s pride in these children’s accomplishments and in his parish’s role in the production is evident as he visits the church during rehearsals to see the progress and view the set-up. “The kids are so bright!” he says. “They have no fear. They want to learn the history of the event and of terms like ‘Holy Ghost’ that aren’t used today.”
Though many of the actors in this production have appeared on stage in the past, it is the reality of this historical event that makes “The Miracle of Fatima” so special for them.
Sabatino Cruz, an 11-year-old who plays Francisco, enjoys learning about life in 1917. “I like interpreting a character from a period that I didn’t grow up in,” he says.
“What’s really interesting is that usually plays are fictional,” adds Zachary Cecere, 12, who also plays Francisco. “But all of this really did happen.”
The historical aspect of Fatima is something that attracted 14-year-old Summer Charbonneau, who says that her character Lucia is the one who explains the story to the audience. “I wanted to research more about her and understand the emotions that she had,” Charbonneau says. “I hope this teaches a lot of people about what happened at Fatima.”
With themes of compassion and mercy, “The Miracle of Fatima” has something to teach everyone, Oleynick believes. Though she credits the Blessed Mother with inspiring her, others feel that Oleynick and her message are an inspiration to them.
Sue Baldwin, director of Faith Formation and Young Adult/Youth Ministry at St. Andrew’s, says, “I think Mary sent Barbara to us as her messenger. We pray for the success of this production every day.”
Though the musical will be produced locally beginning this month, the technological aspects allow Oleynick to replicate it across the country.
“We can take it anywhere,” she said, acknowledging the virtual accessibility of this multi-media experience. “If we can produce two hours of hope and comfort in today’s world, and at the end, have the audience see Our Lady appear, then I know we have realized our purpose.”
(“The Miracle of Fatima” will be performed on weekend days from May 13-October 14 at St. Andrew Church in Bridgeport. Visit www.fatima100yrs.net for tickets and more information.)