Film gives glimpse into life of Lawrence parish

Most Boston area Catholics have heard of Lawrence’s Cor Unum Meal Center and its innovative Labels Are for Jars fundraising campaign. However, most probably don’t know much more about the day-to-day reality of the parish that gave rise to these programs.

In “Scenes from a Parish,” a new documentary film produced and directed by James Rutenbeck of Chestnut Hill, viewers can get a glimpse into the life of life St. Patrick Parish in Lawrence.

The film follows the lives of parishioners from both the parish’s English and Spanish-speaking communities, documenting their faith experiences as they struggle with issues of poverty and race. It also helps document the origins of the Cor Unum Meal Center.

“This film came out of my own spiritual journey,” explained Rutenbeck. “I had a feeling of wanting to connect with people outside the world I live in.”

A Catholic whose films are known for delving into social issues, Rutenbeck “felt a real urge” to take an in-depth look at an inner city parish and their struggles.

“I have a heightened sense of awareness for people on the margins,” he said, noting that he has a 19-year-old nonverbal autistic son which has prompted him to better understand those people who are often placed on the periphery of life.

It was these very people Rutenbeck wanted to highlight in “Scenes from a Parish,” he added.

After visiting several parishes in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, he decided to focus on St. Patrick’s because of its diversity.

“It’s a traditionally Irish parish in a Latino setting,” he said. “It was so diverse, so filled with stories just waiting to be told.”

Beginning in 2003, Rutenbeck spent four years travelling to St. Patrick’s, following the lives of several parishioners and documenting their experiences.

“With this film, it was almost an experiment,” he continued. “I wanted to see if it would be possible for these people to come together.”

“There are many moments in this film where you see community at work in a micro-level,” he said.

To depict the Hispanic community more authentically, Rutenbeck sought the help of Hispanic filmmaker Angelica Allende Brisk. Brisk, who co-produced the film, also helped as a translator so the members of the Hispanic community would be comfortable speaking in their native tongue.

According to Rutenbeck, the film has been seen by the parish pastoral council at St. Patrick’s, as well as by the men’s group, both of whom consider it to be, “an honest portrayal of the parish,” he said.

“I think the initial impulse to make it was fulfilled,” Rutenbeck said.

He noted that the film will be shown five times at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston beginning April 8. These screenings, co-sponsored by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy [MIRA] Coalition, will also feature a short presentation and a question and answer session on immigration issues.

“Scenes from a Parish” will also be shown at the Boston International Film Festival on April 20, as well as at Boston College on April 23.

To raise awareness of the documentary, Rutenbeck has sent flyers to 30 Boston inner-city parishes.

“I really think it’s a film that all Catholics should see, especially those who live in the inner city,” he said.

In an effort to bring the film to audiences beyond the Boston area, Rutenbeck is hoping to obtain a grant to distribute the film nationally. He is also waiting to hear whether the Public Television series “Independent Lens” will air the documentary.

“I think this film is a very useful tool in opening dialogue about cultural differences within a parish,” he said. “I just want everyone to come see it.”

More information on screening dates and locations is available at