PERKINSVILLE — Over a thousand years ago a man was born into royalty and chose a life of faith; on the anniversary of his death a film crew has found a way to honor the impact he left on the world.
St Wendel (or Wendelin) was born to an Irish King in the middle of the sixth century. He made a pilgrimage to Rome, on his way home decided to settle in Germany, and devote his life to prayer. The place he chose was Westricht in the German diocese of Trier, between the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. He left a mark on this world that would continue long after his death …. 1,400 years later to be exact.
Carpe Diem Film and TV Produktion is a film crew out of Germany charged with the task of putting together a history of St. Wendel and the impact he left on the world. Producer Barbara Wackernagel-Jacobs, Director Philipp Majer, and Cameraman Max Kern are taking this journey all over the world. They visited Sacred Heart Church on March 10 to get a look at the St. Wendel Relic and talk with some locals who have a connection to the home country.
Sacred Heart Church was original built in 1836 when several German families migrated to this area. The one that now rests in Perkinsville was built in 1883. In 1896 a decision was made by the German-born pastor, Fr. Alois Huber, to bring a relic of the beloved saint to Sacred Heart Church.
Kern said the St. Wendelin Parish in Germany asked the film crew to do a documentary on the history of the saint and his impact.
“Every 10 years they bring out the skeletal remains of St. Wendel and put him on an altar in front of the church. People have pilgrimages to see him and pray,” he said. “This is the 1,400 year anniversary of his death. There will be a huge celebration at the church. It is a big deal.”
“The St. Wendel Church in Germany came to us and asked Philipp and Barbara if they would make a movie on the traces of him found all over the world,” Kern continued. “We started googling where to find these traces, and needed help from the German historian Roland Geiger. Roland told us to come here.”
After discovering relics of St. Wendel in Brazil, Bulgaria, Romania and even in Minnesota the team found their way here.
“A lot of people in Minnesota said they must have chosen to come there from Germany since it looks so much like home,” Kern said. “They say the same thing about Perkinsville.”
The German film crew started this project in August of 2016. They have done a lot of traveling over these past few months, and find it interesting how many people are still touched by St. Wendel.
“I am discovering that people chose to have these relics for completely different reasons,” Kern said. “Some found it as a way to make others believe the Catholic faith.”
Kern is not a religious man himself, but he thinks that helps him understand this project.
“I am not influenced by anything,” he said. “I am doing this because I want to know the different ways this one person impacted the world, and why he is so important. People still believe in St. Wendel.”
The film will premier at St. Wendel, Germany on Oct. 11. A DVD copy will be sent to Sacred Heart Church and all those who took part in it. This documentary is already touching many lives around the world, and they have expressed eagerness to see it.
“It is really interesting to find people all over the world who share the same love for the same saint,” Kern said. “We are figuring out more and more about him everywhere we go.”
Fr. Mike Twardzik said he thinks this documentary will be fantastic.
“The parish is celebrating this significant anniversary,” he said. “During the 1800s our local parish requested a relic to maintain ties to our German home, and committed to having the relic here. Our area looks a lot like Germany.”
Wackernagel-Jacobs said this has been a spiritual journey for her film crew.
“We are not making a church film. We are making a cultural and historic film,” she said. “We are learning a lot of history, and the ideas people brought with them to their new country. They had a strong trust in church and in God. When you grow up near St. Wendel you know all about his story. We will tell the history. Young Max will do the walk through and interviews. He asks himself what is the story of St. Wendel.”
The film crew is dedicating themselves to travel around the world to find this story.
Fr. Stephen Karani said this documentary will highlight the power of faith.
“It is a highlight of the power of faith, and how far one man can spread the gospel. We still talk about his commitment to faith,” he said. “He is still guiding our community. He went from his village all over the world. He would be very surprised to see how far he has traveled in death. He kept his commitment to faith alive.”
Majer said this documentary has been a great way for him to meet new people.
“It is a great opportunity for me to meet different people and travel all around the world,” he said. “I get to see how far St. Wendel has gone. I think it is amazing that one figure in history can go so far for such a long period of time.”
Some of the long-time parishioners were also featured in the documentary.
Sally Higginbotham said this documentary will mean a lot to the community.
“This means the history of the community. My ancestors came here from Germany,” she said. “I like to think they were a part of building the first church on the hill, and instrumental in bringing this relic to our church. This is home and it has a great history. We have come here every Sunday. Sacred Heart is my home.”
Higginbotham added that is was Rev. Joseph Hummell who helped bring the relic from Germany to Perkinsville.
“He worked with Fr. Huber and brought it with him when he came over to the states,” she said. “They were still lonely for their homeland. They wanted a piece of St. Wendel in their church.”
Higginbotham plans to make the pilgrimage to St. Wendel in Germany for the big anniversary celebration, and would also like to see the documentary there.
Marleen Mark said Sacred Heart Church gives you a sense of belonging.
“You get the warmest welcome when you walk through those doors,” she said. “The church is so beautiful, and you feel God’s grace fall down on you.”
Betty Engel said this church has always been her home, and she is sad to think the doors may close for good someday.
“This is my church. I was baptized here. I was married here,” she said. “I have lived here my whole life, and I hate the thought that those doors may close for good someday.”
This film started in St. Wendel Church and it will end there. St. Wendel’s story has been passed down from church to church all over the world for ions. His legacy lives on in the hearts and souls of all who have knelt before his sacred remains, or believed in his unconditional love in the power of prayer.
After St. Wendel’s death, miracles began to be worked through his heavenly patronage, so a chapel was built to enshrine his tomb. In 1320, the community prayed to him for preservation from the plague. The plague passed their town, so the archbishop of Treves, in gratitude, rebuilt the holy man’s chapel. This building was in turn replaced by a great gothic shrine-church. The people of that whole district, chiefly farmers by calling, adopted St. Wendel as the official patron saint of their work and their locality.
To learn more about the story that has impacted the world you can visit http://www.kateriirondequoit.org/resources/saints-alive/walburga-wolfgang/st-wendel/