March 26 • 05:33 PM

Big project to hit big screen

Dryden family delves into feature film project

July 22, 2009
DRYDEN — With a beautiful name like Mary Rose, it's hard to imagine an ugly disposition would go along with it.

But such is the case for the 17-year-old when she's playing the lead role in a feature film 'Leonie!' shot right here in Michigan.

Mary Rose Maher, a home-schooled high school senior, is on set at a Victorian house in Romeo this week for the full length production that depicts the life of Leonie Martin, the "problem child" older sister of St. Therese of Lisieux in Alecon, France.

Director Joe Maher and daughter Mary Rose Maher, cast in the lead role, are working together on feature film ‘Leonie!’ They live in Dryden and are currently filming on set in Romeo.
It's a bit of a family affair for Mary Rose, too. The film is being directed by her father, Joe Maher, who also developed the story line and wrote the screenplay. A former resident of Hollywood, Maher operated a multi-media company for 15 years before moving back to Dryden in 1999.

Leonie's family story is interesting, too, Joe Maher says. Despite obstacles and naysayers, she earned her own sainthood in the Catholic church, and was revered by thousands at the time of her death.

"It's a story of hope," Joe says. "Though it's set in the 1800s it's really a modern day story about a problem child and the things that parents go through to deal with a problem child."

Leonie, Joe explains, wanted very much to enter a monastery and become a nun. Her efforts were thwarted, he adds, because of ill health and a less than desirable disposition. Through determination, however, Leonie not only persevered, she excelled.

"What makes it more interesting is that her little sister St. Therese the Little Flower is the most well-known female 20th Century saint in the Catholic realm," he says. "So it's dichotomy of family. The perfect daughter who is the most well known saint and then the other daughter they tried to hide because of her terrible disposition but who becomes a wonderful woman in her own right. It gives a lot of hope."

Mary Rose says she's hopeful that her performance as the saintly "problem child" will reflect her passion for the story. A natural on the stage at her church, Assumption Grotto, 'Leonie!' is Mary Rose's debut in a feature film.

"I love it, it's so much fun," she says. "It's a lot different from the stage, but I like it. It's more relaxing."

Mary Rose also likes the hustle and bustle of a film set. Makeup artists, camera crews and lots of helpers from her church's youth group.

Most of the movie will be filmed in Michigan, with scenes shot at the historic Bunert School in Warren and others planned for St. Mary's church in Redford. The crew will also head to Toledo, Ohio to film at the Visitation Monastery, Mary Rose says.

The compelling story was originally pursued as a documentary, Joe says. But the more he researched the subject, the more he wanted to bring it to life as a drama.

"I realized it has to be an experiential project for the audience to understand the situation of what Leonie and her parents felt," he says. "The things that parents have to deal with, and it turns out to be a story of hope."

Barbara Middleton of Shelby Township is the executive producer of the film. They're expected to continue to shoot at the Sisson St. home in Romeo through the Monday, July 27.

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