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Bishop Ireton High School hosts film screenings to promote faith and fellowship

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Two months ago, Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria invited adults to attend the opening of its new social event, Reel to Real, intended to evangelize and build fellowship through watching movies. It’s a night of wine, cheese and cinema, sponsored by Ireton’s Fathers’ Club. Guests are ushered into the school auditorium, where Tom Curry, head of school, and English teacher Brother Rick Wilson, TOR, provide an introduction to the film.

The first of the three-film series was “St. Vincent,” starring Bill Murray, about a single mother who reluctantly entrusts a curmudgeon neighbor to watch her son, who finds the good in him that no one else can. Following the screening, viewers break into group discussions. 

“Instead of having a lecture series — maybe there is a way to talk about the teachings of de Sales and his approach to seeing the world through Catholic eyes (and) see those themes in cinema." Thomas Curry, head of campus at Bishop Ireton High School

“Film can act as a pre-evangelization,” said Curry. “When you go to a cathedral, all of your senses are being invested. The smell of the incense, the grains of wood, the light through the stained glass, the music from the choir and the organ, the touch during the sign of peace, the Eucharist. Because of the Catholic imagination that’s played out in a cathedral, it’s almost like you’re predisposed to seeing film as a positive thing.”

Curry is a film aficionado. His bookshelf is a smorgasbord of the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis de Sales as well as books on directors Martin Scorsese and Andrei Tarkovsky. He was hooked after watching “2001: A Space Odyssey.” 

“I knew intuitively that there was a connection between what I had just seen and what I was studying in theology class,” said Curry. 

The connections between film and faith continued to intrigue him as he taught at St. John College High School in Washington for 12 years. He incorporated film into lessons, and initiated a film society. For his doctorate degree in theology at Boston College, his dissertation was on theology and film. 

When he arrived at Ireton as head of school in 2013, he became active in the Fathers’ Club, a fellowship of fathers who support students through educational, social and service activities. After one meeting, Al Johnson, club president, recalled the conversation turning to film. Impressed by Curry’s knowledge and passion for the subject, Johnson had the club host the movie nights.

“The program is open to Ireton parents, but also prospective parents and people outside of the school,” said Johnson. “It gives them the opportunity to get a feel for Ireton and the knowledge of its faculty, but in a casual setting.”  

Curry added that Reel to Real also provides a chance to teach the school’s Salesian spirituality. 

“Instead of having a lecture series — maybe there is a way to talk about the teachings of de Sales and his approach to seeing the world through Catholic eyes (and) see those themes in cinema,” said Curry, noting that Bishop Robert E. Barron, Auxiliary of Los Angeles, has helped Catholics interpret movies and media through their faith.

The two other movies to be screened this year are “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Rear Window,” which will be held in the school's auditorium.

“Crimes and Misdemeanors,” directed by Woody Allen, is scheduled for Feb. 11, 6 p.m. A stray from clear Catholic themes, the film touches on questions about God and religion from a Jewish perspective. 

The last film, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” will be shown April 8, 6 p.m. It explores ethical questions such as voyeurism.

“Obviously, it’s easy to find religious themes in Christian films just like it’s easy to think about God when you are in church,” said Johnson. “The hard part is experiencing those themes and feelings when you are out in the secular world, and Reel to Real helps to do that.”

Although the first screening drew about 12 people, Curry said that Jesus also started with 12. He hopes the Reel to Real audience will grow, include guest speakers and build fellowship. 

“Originally, film brought people together,” said Curry. “If we’re on iPads only, watching movie after movie on Netflix and we never see it on the big screen or see it with a group of people, I think we’re missing out on a dimension that is expected.”  

Find out more

Contact Leslie Stubbendieck, communications and marketing manager of Bishop Ireton High School, stubbendieckl@bishopireton.org or 703/212-5165.  

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017