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Raymond lectures on Catholics in Tinseltown

Adrienne Ruffner | Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Hollywood – a town known for its scandals, sex and violence – is being made safe for Catholics.

In a lecture titled “Young Catholic Hollywood,” Rev. Willie Raymond, national director of Family Theater Productions, told a group of about two dozen students, faculty and community members in the Hayes-Healy Center Tuesday night how Catholic newcomers to Hollywood can embrace popular filmmaking without sacrificing their spiritual values.

“Young people, because they are artists and think a lot about the important things, are more open to expressing their faith in film,” Raymond said.

According to Raymond, Family Theater is a production company helps young filmmakers settle in Hollywood and allows them to make films that present moral values – eschewing Hollywood’s tendency to make movies rife with sex and violence.

“So much of what is out there is driven by money, power, trying to be edgy and impressing peers,” Raymond said. “I’m not standing outside Hollywood throwing a grenade and condemning all of it, because there is a lot of good work and a lot of good people there, but it’s important to be discerning.”

Family Theater provides many services for young people in the film industry, including Masses, educational services, RCIA programs and a special night once a month called “Prayer and Pasta.”

“It’s something reliably Catholic they know they can come to the third Wednesday of every month,” Raymond said. “There are a lot of ways to go wrong when you first come to Hollywood.”

The lecture was a part of a series called “Hollywood: Mission Field or Mission Impossible?” sponsored by Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture. The Center brought the series this spring because it recognized the importance of film’s impacts on society.

“Film is so powerful that it’s shaping pop culture and even high culture,” Raymond said. “People around the world may not know the Secretary General of the U.N., but they know all the big names in Hollywood.”

Family Theater Productions was started in 1947 by Father Patrick Peyton, an Irish immigrant who graduated from Notre Dame in the late 1930s. Father Peyton made radio shows featuring Catholic celebrities. Today, Family Theater is committed to producing films that embody strong values.

“It’s really important to have people who love the truth in the media and in the film industry,” Raymond said. “It’s important to have people who will not distort the truth.”

Raymond said one of Family Theater’s most important contributions to the film industry are the Angelus Awards, a yearly international film festival for film students. Last year, the festival garnered over 700 entries, and during the lecture Raymond showed a film called “Christmas Wish List,” a story of a generous doctor who teaches a stingy lawyer about Christmas spirit.

“We never expected the Angelus Awards to grow the way they have,” Raymond said.

In a question and answer session at the ended of the lecture, Raymond advised students to be cautious when moving to Hollywood, and he also fielded questions about Notre Dame’s ongoing academic freedom debate.

“What happens at Notre Dame is very important to other Catholics in the country,” Raymond said. “I was glad to see [President Jenkins] was not afraid to take on these questions.”