“Thérèse: The Story of a Soul,” is a live one-woman drama performed by actress Audrey Ahern and directed by Patti Defilippis of Saint Luke Productions.
Prior to playing Thérèse, Ahern was focused on building her acting career, but said she wasn’t really sure who she was building it for.
“I was struggling and striving, but it all felt pretty empty, honestly,” she said. “I didn’t want to be living for myself alone.”
That’s when she auditioned for the role of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
“I auditioned for [the role] because I wanted to live my life in service to others. Working for Saint Luke Productions and playing St. Thérèse gave me the opportunity to combine my two greatest loves — my faith and acting. It enabled me to use the passion and gifts God has given me to truly serve him.”
St. Thérèse is the first role she’s played for Saint Luke Productions, though she has worked for other theaters.
“My favorite roles have always been those with strong literary value, those that pointed to truth, beauty and goodness, albeit in a more indirect way than my work now,” said Ahern, a Texas-based actress who has appeared in other live theater performances, film and commercials.
Saint Luke Productions is a Catholic theater ministry based in the state of Washington that is dedicated to evangelizing and renewing the culture. It produces plays based on the Gospels and the lives of the saints as well as feature films and DVDs.
The St. Thérèse production is scheduled to run at two locations in the diocese — Sartell and Long Prairie (see box below).
The Visitor is a co-sponsor of the Sartell event along with KYES 1180 Radio and the St. Cloud Book Shop. The Visitor asked Ahern to answer questions about her upcoming performances. Her responses are below.
Q. Why do you think it is important to tell the story of St. Therese?
A. There are so many reasons that St. Therese is important, but I think the biggest reason is that she gives hope. It is so easy to get discouraged, to think that you can never be a saint. And here St. Thérèse comes with a Little Way that works for everyone. Yes, she was a nun, but that’s not why she was a saint. She made it to heaven because she completely trusted God and she constantly looked for ways to serve him. Most of the time, those means of service were little things like smiling at someone she didn’t particularly like or helping an older nun cut her food at the dinner table. These are things we can all do — and these are the things that will make us saints!
Q. Do you have a special relationship to your character in any way?
A. St. Thérèse is my confirmation saint, so I have always been devoted to her. It’s funny, though. I went through a phase in my life in which, though I knew she was important, I neglected her a bit. Playing St. Therese has rekindled my connection with her and brought it to a level where it could never have been otherwise.
Q. What kind of reactions do you receive from those who attend the performance?
A. People often tell me how touched they were by the show. I think, for many, the connection comes through suffering. Often, people are going through such hard times, and they feel really alone because of it. When they see the show and see how much St. Thérèse suffered, spiritually and physically, they feel less isolated. They are also inspired to offer up their suffering, like she did. I think that’s one of the most rewarding things about playing the Little Flower: seeing how she gives people hope in the darkness and how she inspires them to turn their suffering into something beautiful to save souls.
It’s also been wonderful to see how the show touches young girls of all ages. Often, little girls will crowd around after the performance, and they are so in awe of St. Thérèse! It’s like they are gathered around a Disney princess or something. Except that the Little Flower was real, and she’s teaching something far more beautiful than wishing upon a star!
Q. Can you share one example of a story that you’ve heard from an audience member that has touched your heart?
A. Can I give two? One very little girl came up to me after the show and told me that she was going to be a saint. I asked her how, and she said that she was going to be nice to her sister and do little things like helping around the house. She couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6, and the show had really inspired her to draw closer to God.
Recently, a middle-aged woman came to the show. She told me that she had been very devoted to St. Thérèse as a girl and that she had even wanted to be a Carmelite nun. She said that she had since lost her faith but that the show had reminded her of that time in her life. She said maybe it would even put her in a place where she could believe again. I have no doubt that St. Thérèse is praying for her, and I ask anyone who is reading this right now to pray for her, too.
Q. Has playing the role had an impact on your own faith life?
A. Absolutely, though of course, I’m far from perfect in terms of imitating her. I do try hard to live out the Little Way — which is a lot harder than it seems at first. It means always looking for opportunities to serve others. It means holding back when you want to complain. It means never turning down an opportunity to listen or be a shoulder to cry on. It means really being alert at all times to the needs of others.
Playing St. Thérèse has also really challenged me because I realize how much I need to grow in trust. She had such confidence in God, in his merciful love, and I know that I really need to learn to let go and to place myself in his hands.
Father Michael Gaitley recently came out with his book “33 Days to Merciful Love.” It’s a guided retreat as you prepare to consecrate yourself to Divine Mercy, a devotion that St. Thérèse herself devised. So while I’ve been playing this role, I’ve been able to make the same consecration that she did. It’s been challenging — God has asked a lot from me since I’ve made it. But it’s also been incredible because the consecration is all about letting yourself be completely submerged in God’s heart so that you can love with the same love that he does. What a gift!
Q. Is there a “modern-day” message that can be learned from her story?
A. I think two things are particularly relevant for our times. First, St. Thérèse literally comes from a family of saints. Her parents, Louis and Zelie Martin, have both been canonized (the first jointly canonized married couple in church history). The cause for canonization for her sister Leonie has recently been opened as well. This is so important today when the family is facing such crisis. St. Thérèse became a saint because she was raised with a beautiful example of self-sacrificing love and devotion to the church. We need such marriages today more than ever before — and with the Little Flower’s intercession, the vocation of marriage will grow stronger and stronger.
Second, we face so much pressure for perfection in our modern world. We really are expected to do it all — have amazing careers, raise families, have homes that look like a magazine, and take exotic vacations. Then you add on the pressure of social media and the temptation to compare yourself to everyone else. How can you possibly measure up? It becomes so easy to feel like you can never be enough.
But St. Thérèse teaches us that you don’t have to be “enough” for God. The reality is that He is more than enough for us, and that we can never be perfect. He meets us where we are, and when we are able to surrender to him with confidence and love, he lifts us up to him. So it’s not really about us or what we can accomplish at all.