Priest's film 'Trinity's Triumph' lifts stained-glass curtain on the priesthood

Father Stephen Fichter, pastor at St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Wyckoff, N.J., and episcopal vicar of education for the Newark Archdiocese, is pictured in an undated photo on the set of "Trinity's Triumph," with parishioners in the archdiocese used as extras. (OSV News photo/courtesy Trinity’s Triumph)

NEWARK, N.J. (OSV News) ─ An independent film called "Trinity's Triumph," written and produced by a Newark archdiocesan priest, brings Catholic priests into the everyday landscape, peeling back the stained-glass curtain on the priesthood.

Father Stephen Fichter, pastor at St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Wyckoff and episcopal vicar of education for the Newark Archdiocese, drafted the story about 25 years ago based on his early years in the seminary and as a young priest. It has been rewritten many times to reflect the church of the 21st century and now includes the story of three men who are called to serve in today's world.

Father Fichter said too many movies about priests are black-and-white films such as "The Bells of St. Mary's" and "Going My Way" that give a mid-20th century view of the church.

"Trinity's Triumph" -- released by film distributor Quiver on various streaming services in November -- is a modern, behind-the-scenes look at life in the priesthood and the Catholic Church by showing the stories of three young men from diverse backgrounds who struggle to find their way in the world.

"For the most part, priests are part of the everyday landscape, but generally are not known well as individuals," Father Fichter told Jersey Catholic, the news website of the Archdiocese of Newark. "Priests have their struggles just like everyone else. The film takes the viewer into the real world of priests, with all the ups and downs, and the twists and turns, that are part and parcel of every life. 'Trinity's Triumph' is a story about the endurance of friendship and of being true to one's calling in life."

Father Fichter said, ultimately, he wanted to take priests "off the pedestal of perfectionism" while appreciating their commitment to God and to serving the people entrusted to their spiritual care.

"Trinity's Triumph" takes viewers into the hearts and heads of three young men as they enter the seminary with all the surety of 20-year-olds.

The movie opens with the three -- Joe, Tom and Mike -- at a camp the summer before they are to enter Holy Trinity Seminary. Pine Point Camp is owned by Msgr. Gregory Heck, a semi-retired priest who soon becomes their mentor. As they drink beers on the deck overlooking the lake, their discussion ranges from being certain the priesthood is the perfect future to being scared that it might not work out long range.

At the seminary, they find Msgr. Heck has been retrieved from retirement and will be teaching. And so, their seminary journey begins with their mentor by their side.

"What begins as a single mission becomes divided, and each seminarian must decide what God is asking of them," according to a press release on the film. "They struggle individually, with each other, and with God's mysterious ways, but soon their answers are clear with the help of Msgr. Heck's influence. The three can only triumph when they encourage each other to discover the paths that God has in mind for them."

In a seminary class, Msgr. Heck discusses celibacy and the loneliness that comes along with becoming a priest. While Tom says he will not allow himself to fall in love, Msgr. Heck corrects him and says the question is what he will do when it happens.

Although originally absent from the story, the film also addresses clergy abuse, how it affects the faithful and how the church deals with it.

The final script -- filmed in 2019 -- was co-written by Kathe Carson, who Father Fichter credits with spending 15 years collaborating with him on edits, and Michael Wickham, the director with a vision who tweaked the script even more.

The title, "Trinity's Triumph," refers to the fact that ultimately each character lands where they are supposed to in the world, said Carson, who has produced television and radio commercials and videos for over 40 years and also is the director of communications for St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Wyckoff.

Over the years, Father Fichter's script also got help from the legendary Italian filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli and New Jersey novelist Mary Higgins Clark, both of whom died before the movie's release last April at the Ridgewood International Film Festival.

Father Fichter said it took a village to get his vision from paper to the screen. Friends he met during his assignments in Europe and his Bergen Catholic High School days came up with the funding. Fellow Bergen Catholic alum Thomas Hanna signed on as the business manager and lawyer and helped formulate a plan for obtaining a production company. One of their investors introduced Father Fichter and Carson to Tucci and Company, which ultimately produced the film.

Although 25 years in the making, "Trinity's Triumph" only took three weeks to film and a few months to edit.

Father Fichter, who grew up in Tenafly and attended Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, took advantage of the Archdiocese of Newark’s Catholic landscape when filming, including Caldwell University's campus and several parishes including his own, St. Elizabeth of Hungary.

Parishioners from churches where he has served all played extras in the movie. Bishop John Walter Flesey, a Newark auxiliary from 2004 to 2017, played the archbishop at the ordination Mass, and Father Fichter's mother also can be seen in the front pew. Father Fichter himself appears three times in the movie.

Msgr. Heck, played by Joe Morton, sets them on their true "callings" for the rest of their lives.

Joe Finnerty, played by Joshua Wills, struggles with loneliness but loves his parish work. Tom Kim, played by Young Mazino, is a brilliant student who sets his sights on becoming a religious scholar. He begins to question the Vatican's ruling on celibacy when he thinks the church may have deviated from Christ's original intention regarding married priests. Mike Martinez, played by Adriel Irizarry, is a fun-loving seminarian who is brilliant at Bible trivia.

The film hits on faith and loss of faith, friendship, trust, commitment and love.

Michael Wickham, the movie's director and co-writer, called on his Catholic upbringing in New York, where he was an altar server. He later learned from Franciscan priests at Siena College in Loudonville, New York, while writing and directing.

The film's production company, Tucci & Company, which specializes in low-budget films, suggested Wickham, said Father Fichter. He described Wickham as faithful and said he directed the film to "depict our Catholic culture well."

Wickham said Father Fichter's script made priests "so approachable and relatable" in answering who decides to become a priest, what they sacrifice in making that choice, and how they deal with the complex issues that surround their vocation.

"I hope everyone who watches 'Trinity's Triumph,' whether they are lifelong Catholics or never set foot inside a church, can recognize a bit of themselves in our story of friendship, mentorship, choices, consequences, trials, failure, and -- of course -- triumph," Wickham said.

Although the final cuts to the movie were made in 2020, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic deterred the movie's distribution. The film was officially released Nov. 17, the feast day of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the patron saint of Father Fichter's church.

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Jaimie Julia Winters is the editor of Jersey Catholic, the news website of the Archdiocese of Newark.


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