Our Lady of Malibu is just a small church, tucked away on a side road of the seaside town known for surf and celebrity. But it’s a beloved place for the people who go there, and that’s due in no small measure to its former pastor, Msgr. John V. Sheridan.
He died at 94 on Sept. 17, 2010, of complications from injuries sustained in an Aug. 25th single-car auto accident that also killed Msgr. Sheridan’s fellow passenger, Sister Mary Campbell of Our Lady of Malibu, and injured the driver, parishioner Professor Douglas Kmiec of Pepperdine, who was the U.S. Ambassador to Malta at the time.
Directed by Jeremy Culver and produced by parishioners Birute Vileisis, Jim Zatolokin, Brian Oppenheimer and Paul Contino, and narrated by fellow parishioner Martin Sheen, “The Radical Kindness of Monsignor John Sheridan” won the 2015 Gabriel Award for Best Documentary Film, an honor handed out by the Catholic Academy of Communications Professionals.
The film includes a biography of Msgr. Sheridan, who was born in County Longford, Ireland — one of a large number of Irish-born priests who have shaped the Catholic presence in Los Angeles — and interviews with friends, family and parishioners, including his successor as pastor, Father William Kerze.
Also featured are excerpts from Msgr. Sheridan’s books, read by Sheen, detailing his journey into the priesthood and his recovery from morphine addiction after an injury as a young man.
Msgr. Sheridan arrived in Southern California in 1939 to complete his seminary training and came to Our Lady of Malibu in 1965.
Oppenheimer, a TV and film producer, told The Tidings that Msgr. Sheridan helped bring him back to the faith, that he was a “living saint” who “modeled Christ for us.”
Northern Ireland-born “Touched by an Angel” star and producer Roma Downey (“The Bible,” “A.D.: The Bible Continues,” “Ben-Hur”) echoes the sentiment. In an email message, she wrote, “It’s a lovely wee movie and celebrates a truly amazing, Christ-like man.
“I experienced firsthand the kindness of Msgr. Sheridan when I moved to the Malibu parish in 2003 after ‘Touched by an Angel’ ended its run. I not only joined the parish but enrolled my young daughter Reilly at the school. …
“Msgr. Sheridan welcomed us with great warmth and gentleness. I recall a number of memorable and interesting conversations with him over endless cups of tea. He was a fellow Irishman — humorous and eloquent and very well-read.
“He was also a great example of how to walk the talk — he was kindness in action. … Maya Angelou once said you may not remember what people said, but you will always remember how they made you feel. I will never forget how Monsignor’s kindness made me feel. When you experience authentic goodness and kindness, you never forget that. I imagine that’s what Jesus was like.”
Contino, who is the Blanche E. Seaver Professor of Humanities at Pepperdine, feels much the same way, and he wanted that to come through in the film.
He said to The Tidings, “I wanted people to be inspired by the life of a saint. All of us here in the parish saw him as a saint. He was the person in our community such that when Father Bill asked at the funeral, ‘How many of you thought Monsignor was their best friend?’, half the people raised their hands.
“After 20 years of terrible news about priests, when is the last time you heard a story about a priest who saved people’s lives simply by his kind and loving and charitable presence? That’s what Msgr. Sheridan did. He imaged Christ, and people need to hear those stories as well as the awful ones we’ve been hearing far too many of.”
Contino also spoke to Msgr. Sheridan’s grounding in the faith, saying, “You’re speaking to an orthodox Catholic whose faith is so important, he would, without a wink of an eye, die for it. [Msgr. Sheridan] was as orthodox a Catholic as I have ever known in my 57 years. You can quote that.”
Anyone wishing to purchase a copy of the DVD version of the film (which has extra features) may contact Our Lady of Malibu Parish Manager Peggy Thomas at [email protected], or call her at (310) 456-2361.