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HNP Today
The weekly newsletter of the Franciscan Holy Name Province

'President' Visits St. Francis, 31st Street

June 19, 2002
By John Zawadzinski

NEW YORK -- The 'president' recently visited the Church of St. Francis of Assisi --President Josiah Bartlet, that is.

Martin Sheen, who plays President Bartlet on NBC's "West Wing," visited New York on May 15 to shoot an on-camera introduction and dedication for a documentary on the church here.

The 37-minute video, "The Heart of New York," was written, filmed and edited by Frank and Dale Kolarek, owners of Globe Video Services here. It highlights the church and the story of the Poverello, for whom it was named.

It also focuses on the church outreach programs and its Franciscan history as told through the mosaics, shrines and stained glass windows found inside the church. The documentary is narrated by Sheen and includes footage of the friars.

"The friars are a great community that reflect the work of St. Francis and the church," said Sheen, an Emmy Award-winning actor whose credits include "Wall Street," "Badlands" and "Apocalypse Now."

"They feed the hungry, clothe the naked, look after the homeless and cater to the spiritual needs of the community."

The project came into fruition when the Kolareks began attending Mass at St. Francis and met Jack McDowell, who served at the church from 1994 to 1998.

After Jack learned the couple was in the video business, he discussed the possibility of making a church documentary. The Kolareks agreed to work pro bono as a way to thank the Franciscans for all they have done for them, both spiritually and personally.

Sheen, who worked with the Kolareks on a public service announcement in 1991 also agreed to work pro bono, since he felt strongly about the project and its message.

"When I left Dayton, Ohio, in 1959, this church was my home away from home," he said. "At the time, I was working as a stock boy downtown and I used to come here for Mass every morning."

Over the years, Sheen befriended a number of friars ministering at St. Francis, including Mychal Judge. They developed a casual friendship and Sheen would often visit Mychal when he was in New York.

Sheen recalled Mychal even asked him to speak at a prayer breakfast for the fire department, but the actor's erratic work schedule kept him from attending. That was the last time they saw one another. A few months later, Mychal was killed in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

After learning of Mychal's death, Sheen immediately called Dale and suggested the next time he was in New York, he would read an on-camera introduction for "The Heart of New York." He also expressed interest in dedicating the video to Mychal and reading "Mychal's Prayer" while on location at St. Francis.

"It was such a great loss, but the image of Father Mychal leading the way for so many others was very comforting," said Sheen, 61, a resident of Los Angeles. "Since I couldn't make that prayer breakfast, I felt like I owed him one."

Since its release last year, "The Heart of New York" has sold more than 1,500 copies with proceeds benefiting the St. Francis Breadline, St. Francis Cares and a number of St. Francis-run outreach programs. It is available for a $15 donation by mail or through St. Francis Bookstore, St. Francis Cares and St. Francis Church.

Dale is hopeful the documentary containing the additional footage will be edited and re-released to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks and Mychal's death.

"There is a good spiritual message that we want to share with the people," she said. "Although this video is dedicated to Father Mychal it also focuses on the entire group of friars that carry on the mission of St. Francis."


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