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The Rite: The Story Behind the Film View Comments
By By Matt Wielgos and John Feister

Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins, left) administers the Rite of Exorcism for Rosaria (Marta Gastini) as seminarian Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue) apprehensively looks on.

This month The Rite opens at movie theaters across the United States. It’s the gripping tale of a San Jose, California, priest, Father Gary Thomas, who at his bishop’s request went to Rome to study exorcism.

Matt Baglio, an American journalist in Rome, wrote a book based on Father Gary’s story. The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist was published in 2009 by Doubleday (with an audio version shortly thereafter by St. Anthony Messenger Press). The film is based on Baglio’s book.

Baglio, living in Rome, spent time with Father Gary during his exorcist training in 2005, while Father Gary was apprenticing with an Italian priest at over 80 exorcisms. In Italy, exorcism is a ritual that never really left the public eye.

St. Anthony Messenger interviewed Matt Baglio twice in recent years for our radio program, American Catholic Radio. Our most recent interview was last November, as the film was being completed. Radio producer Matt Wielgos, on his way to a pilgrimage in Assisi, talked to Baglio in Rome in a piazza over a cup of coffee.

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Matt Wielgos is manager of the media production department at St. Anthony Messenger Press (SAMP). He holds a B.A. in mass communications and theology from the Franciscan University, Steubenville, Ohio. John Feister is general editor of periodicals at St. Anthony Messenger Press.

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Katharine Drexel: If your father is an international banker and you ride in a private railroad car, you are not likely to be drawn into a life of voluntary poverty. But if your mother opens your home to the poor three days each week and your father spends half an hour each evening in prayer, it is not impossible that you will devote your life to the poor and give away millions of dollars. Katharine Drexel did that. 
<p>She was born in Philadelphia in 1858. She had an excellent education and traveled widely. As a rich girl, she had a grand debut into society. But when she nursed her stepmother through a three-year terminal illness, she saw that all the Drexel money could not buy safety from pain or death, and her life took a profound turn. </p><p>She had always been interested in the plight of the Indians, having been appalled by what she read in Helen Hunt Jackson’s <i>A Century of Dishonor</i>. While on a European tour, she met Pope Leo XIII and asked him to send more missionaries to Wyoming for her friend Bishop James O’Connor. The pope replied, “Why don’t you become a missionary?” His answer shocked her into considering new possibilities. </p><p>Back home, Katharine visited the Dakotas, met the Sioux leader Red Cloud and began her systematic aid to Indian missions. </p><p>She could easily have married. But after much discussion with Bishop O’Connor, she wrote in 1889, “The feast of St. Joseph brought me the grace to give the remainder of my life to the Indians and the Colored.” Newspaper headlines screamed “Gives Up Seven Million!” </p><p>After three and a half years of training, she and her first band of nuns (Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored) opened a boarding school in Santa Fe. A string of foundations followed. By 1942 she had a system of black Catholic schools in 13 states, plus 40 mission centers and 23 rural schools. Segregationists harassed her work, even burning a school in Pennsylvania. In all, she established 50 missions for Indians in 16 states. </p><p>Two saints met when Katharine was advised by Mother Cabrini about the “politics” of getting her Order’s Rule approved in Rome. Her crowning achievement was the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic university in the United States for African Americans. </p><p>At 77, she suffered a heart attack and was forced to retire. Apparently her life was over. But now came almost 20 years of quiet, intense prayer from a small room overlooking the sanctuary. Small notebooks and slips of paper record her various prayers, ceaseless aspirations and meditation. She died at 96 and was canonized in 2000.</p> American Catholic Blog Our task during these forty days is to examine our lives in light of God’s Word and see where we’ve allowed darkness to creep in, where we’ve taken the bait of the diabolical fisher of men. It’s time to use the sword of the Spirit to cut through his web of deception, to free ourselves from the net that holds us as prey.


 
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