Saints, souls and stories: Students perform ‘evangelization drama’ at St. Cloud cemetery

With a strong wind, near-freezing temperatures and the intermittent snowflakes pelting her face, Kay Ziehl said it would have been so easy to have “backed out” of attending the “Back from the Dead Cemetery Walk” at Assumption Cemetery in St. Cloud.

But she and about 50 others weathered the 45-minute tours through the cemetery in the early evening Oct. 27, encountering dramatic stories and enactments with martyrs and saints.

Onlookers observe Oliver Statz, a member of St. John Cantius in St. Cloud portraying Blessed Father Jerzy Popieluszko, a Roman Catholic priest from Poland. (Photo by Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)

Father Brian Nolan, a priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, wrote the “Back from the Dead” drama. It was created to “help teach the Catholic faith about the ‘Last Things’ including teachings on the communion of saints, the angels and the three great virtues: faith, hope and charity.”

“The looks on their faces, their expressions, you would’ve sworn it was the saints themselves standing before you,” said Ziehl, a member of St. Peter Parish in St. Cloud.

“They were so engaged, so professional, even in the cold and wind,” she said of the actors. “It was almost like something was sheltering them. You could really tell their performances were from the heart.”

Katherine Austad, a sophomore and member of St. John Cantius Parish in St. Cloud, portrayed a young woman who had died in a car accident and found herself in purgatory.

To prepare for the event, she looked over a couple of different scripts and settled on the role of the woman in purgatory because she said she “related to a lot of the things in it.”

“I related to the pain the woman felt not being able to be with God yet, how good God is, and to the parts about worrying when God is wanting you to trust him. And also thinking you have to do everything by yourself when he is actually with you at every moment. Those are the things that really hit me,” Austad said.

Anna Berg-Arnold, 16, portrays St. Therese of Lisieux at the Back from the Dead Cemetery Walk Oct. 27 at Assumption Cemetery in St. Cloud. (Photo by Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)

For her, the weather played a pivotal role. “You could almost feel the saints’ pain because you were cold, you were sacrificing yourself for them. It was kind of cool in that way. Especially in the dark. You couldn’t see anything. Those times were even more emotionally moving,” she said.

A few years ago, Roseanne Throener, a member of All Saints Parish in Holdingford, was looking for a Catholic alternative to Halloween and came upon the website backfromthedead.org. She introduced the idea to some of her friends and fellow area home-schoolers, and last year they performed the drama for their friends and family.

This year, Throener and Brenda Berg-Arnold, a member of St. Michael Parish in St. Cloud, coordinated the effort and opened the event to the public.

“Being it is an evangelization tool, this year we wanted to share it with others,” Throener said. “My hope is that if we touched one person, then it was successful.”

Dressed to fit each part, about 17 local home-schooled students who had memorized extensive scripts about saints and martyrs brought their characters to life around the cemetery.

Participants were led through the cemetery by a guide with lanterns. Ranging from roles like St. Teresa of Avila to Father Jean de Brebeuf to the devil, the stories deeply touched those who attended.

Olivia Stay, a member of Sts. Peter and Paul in Gilman, played a woman in heaven. (Photo by Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)

Anita Miller, director of religious education at St. Mary Parish and high school faith formation director for Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, both in Little Falls, heard about the event and attended.

“I thought it was very inspirational,” she said. “It brought the saints to life. It let you know that there are better things to come.”
She said for her, it reminded her of things she learned as a child.

“Many of the actors said ‘I’ll be praying for you.’ It just reminded me all over again about the importance of the communion of saints,” she said.

“And it resurrected the idea of All Saint’s Day. We know it is a holy day but we are not as aware of it as we used to be. There are so many new saints to learn about, and this was a very good way to be reminded that there is hope and that heaven is worth the wait.”

About Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is a multimedia reporter for The Visitor newspaper.

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