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Actress' faith enhanced by role as St. Therese of Lisieux

Actress Lindsay Younce portrays St. Therese of Lisieux in the newly released movie "Therese." Raised a Quaker in a Protestant evangelical family, the 22-year-old was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church in 2001. Photo courtesy Luke Films
By Lisa Schulte
The Catholic Voice

MWhen Lindsay Younce came across the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux one day at Mass, the young actress never imagined she would portray the famous saint on film just six months later.

In fact, she had no idea who St. Therese even was.

Raised a Quaker in Vancouver, Wash., Younce had been studying the Catholic faith for almost two years when she encountered the relics, and soon after was cast as the lead role in the film, "Therese," released in select cities Oct. 1, the feast day of St. Therese.

The movie, produced by Luke Films, is based on the life of St. Therese of Lisieux, who died of tuberculosis in 1897 at the age of 24.

Younce was a senior in high school performing a one-woman show on the life of Jesus when she was invited to audition for a part in the movie. She read for the role of Celine, but instead, was given the part of Therese.

"I was shocked that they wanted me to be the lead," she said. "I had done a lot of theater work, but no films."

Once cast, she spent one month preparing for the role, reading St. Therese's autobiography, "Story of a Soul," and "The Last Conversations," a book of St. Therese's conversations while on her deathbed. Younce said she also relied on prayer for guidance and spent some time at a Carmelite convent during the filming of the movie.

"Because this film was about a real person, there's room for interpretation, but it's not like I had the freedom to create this new character. I had to really work at bringing her to life and not create something else," the 22-year-old Younce told The Catholic Voice. "The challenge for me was making her feel like she was a human before she was a saint."

In learning about the life of Therese, Younce found she could relate to the saint in many ways. She identified with Therese's desire to be so many things – a missionary, a doctor, an apostle and a martyr – and related to her great passion for Christ at such a young age, but having to wait to fulfill her desire to enter the convent.

"That happened to me in wanting to become Catholic," Younce said. "I wanted to be Catholic and I had to wait two years after that to actually become Catholic. That was just painful for me, but just as it made Therese hunger for the religious life, it made me hunger more for the Eucharist and being a part of the church."

Younce, who will speak at the Behold Your Mother Conference in Omaha Oct. 10, said she was fascinated by St. Therese's "Little Way," a method of living that undertakes every task – especially the smallest and least acknowledged – with no exception of personal gain.

"Her confidence in God was just unbelievable. She used to say, "Do all things in confidence and love." I don't think I naturally have that sort of straight-out confidence," Younce said. "She makes it sound so easy. I think it's taken me four years to even start to understand what the 'Little Way' really is."

Her faith journey

Younce's interest in the Catholic faith began at the age of 16 when a high school friend challenged her to learn about the Catholic Church. She started reading Scripture and church history, and discovered that the Catholic Church was teaching the same things that Jesus' closest friends and followers were teaching.

"That got me," she said.

Eventually, she went to Mass and was drawn to the Eucharist. She converted to Catholicism in May 2001 at St. James Church in Vancouver.

As for starring in a film, she said, the thought of being part of a movie never crossed her mind.
"It's something God sort of put in my path," she said.

Younce now says the experience of portraying Therese, who was canonized in 1925, assisted in deepening her understanding of Catholic spirituality.

"It was an amazing opportunity to be chosen to play this great saint and tell her beautifully touching story of love," she said. "It really required me to let go and surrender my performance."

While filming the movie, Younce met several Catholic volunteers, many of them young people, who were on fire for the faith and helped her in her faith journey. She also prayed the rosary often with the family of "Therese" director Leonardo Defilippis.

"Here I had been alone and then to meet people who were passionate about their faith, it gave me a boost and a sense of family that I really needed," she said. "All of those little things were sort of the building blocks on top of everything that energized me into the next year of going through RCIA."

Power of film

Since filming the movie, Younce received a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from George Fox University in Oregon and was married this past summer. She hopes, however, to get back on stage where she can share God's love with others.

"I think the one thing that we as Christians have to remember is that just as Mother Teresa shared God's love without proselytizing, we can do the same thing with film," she said. "I think films like 'Therese' supply a sort of subsidence, some sort of meat that has a deeper, richer meaning.

"In order to have a church in 50 years, the youth now need to have some sort of strong upbringing, and if they're watching movies and reading books and magazines, there needs to be something good and wholesome and pure filling their minds," she said.

The Catholic Voice

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