Salesian priest starts theater groups at Corpus Christi

By: Nicholas Wolfram Smith
Catholic San Francisco (CSF)

A priest at Corpus Christi Parish has started not one but three new theater groups at his parish to engage parishioners in the dramatic arts.

Father Jesse Montes, a parochial vicar at the San Francisco parish, said the key to starting up a successful theater group “is stimulating interest and trying to make it fun. And you have to be prepared: If you don’t know your craft, then you can do whatever you want and it’s not going to work out.”

That’s wisdom Father Montes will put into practice as he directs the parish’s new theater groups. The Corpus Christi Theater Company and the Teatro de la Comunidad Corpus Christi are youth and adult theater companies which will perform English and Spanish language plays, respectively. The Don Bosco Young Actors Guild will be for teenagers and children.

Each company has taken a running start by putting on a performance in its first year. The Don Bosco guild performed scenes from “Pinocchio” the weekend of Nov. 24 and Teatro de la Comunidad Corpus Christi will perform scenes from the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 11-12. In February of 2020, the Corpus Christi Theater Company will perform “Aztec of the City,” a play about Latino superheroes. Father Montes said each theater company will perform one play per year.

Doing theater has been a mainstay of Father Montes’ ministry. He holds a master’s degree in theater production from Central Washington University, taught drama in high schools and founded theater companies when he was assigned to a parish in Watsonville.

For Norma Mata, who will be in “Aztec of the City,” performing in a play has an intrinsic appeal.

“I think everyone in some part of their life would like to sing, act and play music,” she said. “I think everybody has that. I never got to do it as a professional, but if I have the opportunity to enjoy one of these plays it would be a great experience.”

For Mata, the theater companies are also a “nice, healthy way” for young people to get involved in their church.

“I think it’s good to pass faith to young people and kids, but sometimes we have to give them something they already are interested in doing,” she said. “Once they get here then we can work with them to give them values, to increase the good things that happen in their family.”

Father Montes said some of the actors in this year’s plays come from outside the parish. “What’s going to happen, I hope, is that once word gets around people will come from different parishes when its mature,” he said.

Laura Caballero, whose daughter is acting in “Pinocchio,” said being involved in the theater company is also an opportunity to give back to the parish that had helped her raise her children. “They helped us to raise our kids, to keep them busy with good things in a good way,” she said.

Mata agreed, saying that “every time I work here, I take in somebody else’s kid to help them as much as possible.”

Colleen Casey, whose nephew Noah Casey is playing Candlewick in “Pinocchio,” said she has seen good changes in her nephew.

“I’ve been encouraging him to be more outgoing, he has a lot of personality, and I’m like ‘put it out there, let it shine,’” she said. “I think it’s a good way to get out there and build up confidence.”

Casey added that as an alumna of now-closed Corpus Christi School, it has been “very nostalgic” seeing her nephew at the parish.

“I spent a lot of time in the parish hall,” she said, “so to see him on the same stage that I performed on, I love it.”

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