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Sheen Works to Honor Father Chaminade

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Sept. 12, 2000


DAYTON, Ohio -- Just hours after Martin Sheen's television hit The West Wing set a new record with nine Emmy awards, the show's star patiently spent 90 minutes in the Indigo Ranch studio in Malibu recording 10 minutes of narration for a video about the life and legacy of Marianist priest William Joseph Chaminade.

He volunteered his services. He did it out of a sense of gratitude to the Marianist priests and brothers who educated him at Dayton's Chaminade High School. The Marianists draw their inspiration from Mary, the mother of Jesus, and believe strongly in service to youth and the poor.

"I was largely formed in that Marianist community," said Sheen, who grew up in Dayton as Ramon Estevez, one of 10 children in a Catholic immigrant family. "The Marianists are very close to me, and I feel very close to them. I still have contact with some of them."

The star of this year's top drama series set the stage for the recording by suggesting his lines be trimmed. "I think you'll want to cut it. I think you'll want to think of being more judicious. People don't say they heard a good movie," he said as the University of Dayton conference room erupted into laughter and producer Mike Kurtz explained the visuals that would accompany his words.

Then in a gentle voice both deep and warm, he launched into the script: "Father Chaminade's legacy of faith, service and commitment lives on today through the works of the Marianist family. In 34 countries on six continents, Marianist priests, brothers, sisters and lay people come together as communities joined in a ministry of faith embracing the ideal represented in Mary, the first of all believers in Jesus, the woman who proved that with God, all things are possible."

Except for the occasional stray Latin phrase or foreign name, Sheen effortlessly described the legacy of Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, a 17th-century persecuted French priest who was beatified by Pope John Paul II this month in Rome. Beatification is the final step before sainthood. As part of the recognition of Chaminade's beatification, celebrations are being planned in 100 cities in 34 countries where Marianists work in secondary and primary schools, universities and technical schools, parishes, renewal centers, missions and social justice enterprises.

With humility and self-deprecating humor, Sheen urged listeners on the conference call to "just pipe right in and let me know what you think. Tell me you're sorry you got me for this." After methodically repeating a paragraph four or five times until he was sure everyone was "pleased with the pronunciation, interpretation and inflection," Sheen would ask, "Is that cool?"

Enveloped by the richness of his voice and impressed with his composure through six pages of narration, his listeners kept silent, caught in the spell of a masterful delivery. This is not the first time Sheen has loaned his voice to a Marianist cause. In 1997, he recorded narration for a nearly five-minute image film about the University of Dayton that's been used in UD's "Call to Lead" image-building and fund-raising campaign.

"I'm so connected to Dayton. I love that town. Most of my family are still there. My brother John still sings in the choir at Holy Trinity Church. He's a Vietnam War veteran and my hero," he said. "I'm very, very close to the community."

Sheen calls a number of people in Dayton his heroes. He'll take part in a Sept. 23 fund-raiser for the Montgomery County Democratic Party because U.S. Rep. Tony Hall, D-Dayton, is "one of my heroes. He's got more heart than most politicians."

Before dashing off to another appointment, Sheen excitedly talked about half a dozen priests and brothers who either taught him at Chaminade or baptized his children. He asked whether someone could pass a message to one of his former Chaminade teachers, Tom Wesselkamper. "If you can just get word to him how much he lives in my heart. He's been one of my heroes for most of my life."

The half-hour video, "William Joseph Chaminade: His Life and His Legacy," is being developed by the University of Dayton's Center for Business and Economic Research. Slated to be finished by mid-October, it's available for $10, plus postage and handling, by contacting Brother Donald Boccardi, S.M., director of the office for spiritual renewal in the Cincinnati Province of the Society of Mary, who served on an international committee that prepared for the beatification of Chaminade. He can be reached at, (937) 429 0794 or Marianist Provincialate, 4435 E. Patterson Rd., Dayton, Ohio 45430-1095.

"I think it's going to be wonderful," said Boccardi after listening to Sheen record the narration. "We certainly were fortunate to get him at his peak of popularity."

From the Unive of Dayton archives at