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Monsignor John Sheridan memorialized in new film

Paul Contino (left to right), Martin Sheen, Charleene Closshey and Jeremy Culver pose together in front of a post for the documentary “Radical Kindness: The Life of John Sheridan” on Thursday, July 17.
Dozens of Malibu residents, many parishioners of Our Lady of Malibu, attend the Thursday, July 17, screening of “Radical Kindness: The Life of John Sheridan.”
Rev. Bill Kerze (left) leads a prayer as Paul Contino bows his head.
Ashleigh Fryer, Senior Editor
4:06 pm PDT July 21, 2014

“His was a voice that had its own footnotes,” Douglas Kmiec, Our Lady of Malibu parishioner, said with a laugh that reverberated through the crowd that filled the movie theater, as his fellow parishioners and neighbors watched Kmiec on screen at the premier of “Radical Kindness: The Life of John Sheridan,” a film documenting OLM’s Mongsignor, the late John V. Sheridan. 

The premier of the film, directed by Jeremy Culver, brought dozens of parishioners and Malibu residents to The Commons in Calabasas on Thursday, July 17, to see the fruition of a dream that, for the film’s committee — Brian Oppenheimer, Paul Contino, Sonia Ottusch, Birute Vileisis and Jim Zatolokin — began shortly after Sheridan’s passing in September 2010. 

The film includes one-and-a-half hours of personal stories and interviews with friends, family and parishioners, as well as a thorough biographical account of Sheridan’s life, including his humble roots in Longford County, Ireland which are illustrated with the help of heirloom family photos and home movies. 

“All the people in this community were the storytellers of Monsignor,” Culver said of his role in the film making process. “I was just a cog in the wheel.”

Passages from Sheridan’s books, narrated by actor, Malibu resident and OLM parishioner Martin Sheen, carried the audience through Sheridan’s experiences joining the priesthood as a young man after recovering from a dire injury followed by a bout of morphine addiction.

Sheridan moved to Southern California in 1939, where he completed seminary school and made a name for himself at Our Lady Chapel in downtown Los Angeles, working as the director of the Catholic Information Center and was described as a “people priest.” He eventually reached greater acclaim with his radio show “The Rosary Hour” and his authorship of religious pamphlets. 

Sheridan came to Our Lady of Malibu in 1965, initially begrudgingly, as his writings indicate.

“Malibu seemed too much like a resort,” Sheridan wrote. “The pace was too slow.”

But Sheridan categorically rose to become a deeply beloved member of both the Catholic and ecumenical Malibu communities. Former Rabbi of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue Benjamin Herson and OLM’s Sister Mary Campbell numbered two of his most trusted friends. 

“He is prophetic of a new age,” Herson said in the film. “I literally loved him, spirit unto spirit.”

The film also documents the sadness and shock throughout the community after news of a vehicular accident on Aug. 25, 2010 involving Sheridan, Kmiec and Campbell instantly killed Campbell and seriously injured Sheridan and Kmiec. Sheridan would die three weeks later after injuries from the wreck caused heart failure. 

“Endings always involve loss, and that’s real,” OLM’s Rev. Bill Kerze said in the film. “It was an ending, but it wasn’t the end.”

Among many positive things that came out of Sheridan’s death at the age of 94, came the idea for the film. Two fundraisers were held by the church and the film’s committee, which garnered almost $35,000 in donations. 

In addition to monetary contributions, Vileisis, during a question-and-answer segment after the premier, said that community members deposited photos, stories and memories involving Sheridan into a box in the rectory, which were all added to the film. 

The committee plan to release a DVD of the film in August, and hope to distribute their work to neighboring parishes that might be interested in learning more about Sheridan’s life. 

“To be human is what he was about,” Sheen said during the question and answer segment. “We were all reflecting each other through him, but it was really about us, about this community.” 

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