Saint’s Story Shines on Freeport Stage
By Megan Peterson, Features/Multimedia Editor
April 7, 2022
FREEPORT—Blue lights rose underneath the glowing stained-glass windows at St. Joseph Church as St. Luke Productions’ play “Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz” began the evening of March 30.
A musical meditation invited the audience members in the crowded church to “leave [their] busy lives behind” as the play opened with the Book of Revelation’s account of the dragon and the woman — Mary, the Immaculate Conception, to whom St. Maximilian Kolbe dedicated his life. 
“Maximilian: Saint of Auschwitz” is a one-actor play performed by Leonardo Defilippis, the founder and president of St. Luke Productions. The Catholic theater company has produced plays, a feature film and more in its mission to “renew the culture” through theatre and the media. The play, directed by Patti Defilippis and produced by Greg Stone, traces the life of St. Maximilian Kolbe from childhood to martyrdom in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Oświęcim, Poland. 
In the dramatic retelling, the young St. Kolbe is offered two crowns representing purity and martyrdom during his prayer to Mary, the Immaculate Conception (called the “Immaculata”). He boldly accepts both.
St. Kolbe becomes a Franciscan priest and builds a spiritual force called the Militia of the Immaculata, a group of Knights that works through missions and media to spread worldwide devotion to the Immaculate Conception. 
With the rise of the Nazi Party, St. Kolbe is captured by the Gestapo and taken to Auschwitz, where he finds strength through Mary to minister to his fellow prisoners until he chooses to give up his life in the place of another prisoner who is chosen for execution. 
Defilippis played four drastically different characters. On one side, St. Kolbe and one of his fellow Franciscans showed strength and determined action. On the other side, Adolf Hitler and even Satan himself showed the same — but in a way that attacked the Church’s goodness. 
These opposites showed both sides of obedience, strength and the value of life. 
Early on, the character of Satan revealed that the Church is not fought head-on, but through corruption. 
Whenever lurid red and purple lights revealed the evil characters, often twisting words from the scene right before, it gave the audience chilling pause for reflection on how quietly evil can rise. 
For instance, St. Kolbe’s obedience and spirit of sacrifice was clear in his simple prayer: “Who are you, O Immaculate Conception? Who are you, and what would you have me do?” 
A Nazi speech later on called for soldiers with a spirit of “sacrifice and total obedience.” This demand for obedience led to the Nazi Party’s rise and the formation of the concentration camps. 
The play’s scenes of deadly punishments for breaking the rules of the concentration camp, though painful to watch, were expected by the audience. 
Unexpected were other practices put in place by the Nazi Party: birth control and abortion, opposites of Mary’s “yes” to becoming the mother of Christ. 
These two practices still threaten innocent life, reminding us that St. Kolbe’s story, though it happened over 80 years ago, is part of what Defilippis describes as a “story that repeats.” 
The biographical play also serves as a warning to watch for and stand against what “tears at society” and divides us. 
Of course, St. Kolbe’s stand against evil wasn’t through violence or military strength, but through love and trust. 
St. Kolbe’s character was a peaceful presence, carrying himself upright and fortified by his faith. His fellow priests recalled that “what really struck me was his joyful confidence—not trust in himself, but trust in Mary.” At each challenge he faced, he turned to Mary in prayer. 
Defilippis’ portrayal of St. Kolbe in the concentration camp was strong and calm despite his pain and frail health. 
Kolbe’s fellow brother told the audience that the prisoners found in him “a calming presence in a sea of violence and oppression.” 
This inner strength is part of what drew Defilippis, formerly a professional Shakespearean actor, to portray saints. Defilippis said that St. Kolbe has “an inner strength and peace from prayer, though essentially he’s powerless.” 
In contrast, Shakespeare’s tragic hero Macbeth is “torn apart and consumed by his sins” and obsessed with the strength of his rule by his end. 
St. Kolbe’s greatest show of strength came at his own ending. Defilippis, as St. Kolbe, resolutely accepted the red crown of martyrdom. 
Narration described how throughout two weeks of starvation, he led the nine other prisoners in song and prayer, and blessed them before they died. 
When he was finally given a lethal injection, St. Kolbe faced his death without fear. The audience was still and silent as Defilippis ended the play by whispering three times: “Love the Immaculata.”
The audience’s stunned silence broke during a question-and-answer session that followed the play. One question that stood out was how to join the Militia of the Immaculata. 
Father Timothy Barr, St. Joseph Parish’s pastor, explained that he was a member of the Militia and that anyone could join through the National Shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe at Marytown, where he celebrated his first Mass. 
Shortly after the question-and-answer session, members of the theater company and St. Joseph Parish volunteers started taking down the play’s set and lights. 
After all, as parishioner and volunteer event organizer Cynthia Saar noted, the company would be performing in Chicago the next day. “We put it all up today, and we’re packing it tonight,” she said. 
Ieasha Munda, a parishioner at St. Joseph, recalled the play as “beautiful and inspiring” as she waited for her four teenage sons to finish helping the company. 
Munda explained that the play held special significance for her oldest son, who had chosen St. Maximilian Kolbe as his Confirmation saint. 
After the play, Leonardo Defilippis addressed the audience at St. Joseph Parish, saying,“I pray that tonight will open a door to the Mother who will never ever abandon you.” 
As the evening came to a close, a sense of reflective calm hung in the air.
It seems, then, that we can have “joyful confidence” and trust that Mary, the Immaculate Conception, opened many doors to us. 
For more information on St. Luke Productions and the Militia of the Immaculata, visit and


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