Behind the Scenes of ‘Most Unexpected Opening: Sister Regis Grace and the Founding of Mount Mercy College’
On Sept. 29, 2011, a red carpet was rolled out at Carlow University’s Kresge Theater for the premiere of ‘Most Unexpected Opening: Sister Regis Grace and the Founding of Mount Mercy College’. About 200 patrons – staff, alumni and friends – enjoyed the film.
The idea for telling Sister Regis’ story came from Sister Sheila, assistant to Carlow’s president for Mercy Heritage. Sister Sheila wanted to highlight Sister Regis’ role in successfully shaping the institution and she contacted her niece, Megan ‒ a playwright, director and educator in Chicago ‒ to research Sister Regis. They worked together to gather material from school and convent archives for a script. They also enlisted the help of Sister Cynthia, a minister of the New Membership Office as well as an accomplished composer and musician, to write and perform music for the production.
Sister Sheila recalled that when Megan returned to the Convent of Mercy to read the script to a group of sisters, some wept as they listened and recalled fond memories of Sister Regis. The gathered sisters felt that Megan had captured the spirit of Sister Regis.
On Sept. 21, 2010, Pittsburgh actress Kim Legler performed the one-woman play Megan developed at the Carlow University Theater under the direction of Steve Fatla. The three stage performances were well received. After the success of the play, Sister Sheila wanted to spread the message and she contacted Joe Wittkofski of Mind Over Media, a Pittsburgh production company, to see if he was interested in filming a stage performance. Not only was he interested, he suggested that the script be filmed as a movie.
The project was filmed in July at the Convent of Mercy. In fact, much of the indoor shooting was done in an office that Sister Regis actually used during her years as motherhouse superior.
Meighan Gerachis is the Chicago actress who expertly plays the role of Sister Regis Grace in the film. In an email interview, Meighan called playing Sister Regis Grace “one of the most spiritually enriching experiences” of her life. In trying to inhabit the mind and understand the soul of a woman so dedicated to God and to serving others, Meighan found the process changed her as a person, not just as an actor.
All of my preoccupations fell away the moment I arrived at Carlow and felt the presence of all of the Sisters of Mercy, past and present. I was humbled and suddenly terrified at the magnitude of responsibility I felt to serve this story to the best of my ability. I had to use Sister Regis’ own words to encourage myself. I prayed and I prayed. I enjoyed the kindness of my hosts and made room for God in the endeavor. I cared very deeply, and I let go.
One scene follows an energetic Meighan as Sister Regis Grace purposefully climbing, in full, black habit, the steps of Mount Mercy College. She has a message for those studying at the school, speaking of the five Sisters of Mercy who founded the school: Sisters Philip Mary McCarthy, Eustochia McCormick, M. Frances Xavier O’Reilly, Fides Shepperson and Mother M. Irenaeus Dougherty. She tells students that although they may not have accomplished their “first” yet, she had confidence that they will make their mark “for [they] are now connected to this lineage of bold women. Visionaries. Risk-takers.”