ACT ONE: CONVERGENCE
The teenagers in the Sacred Heart Catholic Church youth group had never seen anything like it: the young deacon with an actor's confidence and good looks was putting them through theater exercises-routines designed to enhance an actor's ability to use his senses onstage.
"These exercises teach the actor to hear and see things the way they are," Pat Beidelman '93 explains. "These are essential senses for an actor onstage. You need to hear a line, hear a cue. Acting isn't two people exchanging lines they've memorized; there has to be interaction, cued by careful listening."
But Beidelman's goal wasn't to make actors out of his high school charges. Deacon Patrick, who has spent the last five years at St. Meinrad's Seminary and will be ordained a priest this summer, was teaching them how to pray.
"I wanted them to learn not just to talk to God, but to really listen to God speaking through their families, friends, and community; to really look for the things God does to show you He loves you," Beidelman says.
The hands-on exercises were a hit with the kids. It caused them to reflect on their prayer lives. But the former Wabash theater major/religion minor was also quietly pleased that the activity had brought together theater and his religious life-two disparate disciplines he'd felt compelled to choose between after his graduation from Wabash.
Beidelman was born into a Catholic family of Irish-German descent, complete with three cousins who were priests. He can't recall an important family event where there wasn't a priest present.
"Of course, when we're young, we look up to family members who seem to be happy, to be loved, and to love others, and I saw that in them."
He was in the fourth grade when Sister Francis, a nun from the Sisters of Providence Convent in Terre Haute, Indiana told Patrick that he'd make a good priest. Graduating from Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, Beidelman considered entering St. Meinrad's College as an undergraduate. He chose Wabash instead.
"The people I talked to agreed that, in this day and age, it's best to broaden one's experience at an earlier age and then focus one's vision a little later after some life experience," Beidelman explains, then chuckles. "Wabash was a great place for that-and I sure did have a lot of life experience there!"
He also became, Professor of Theater Jim Fisher says, "one of the most gifted actors ever to attend Wabash." Beidelman got a fast start. Auditioning for Professor of Theater Dwight Watson for a part in Of Mice and Men, the freshman earned the lead role of George. He never looked back.
"I was walking around on cloud nine that whole first semester, so I was sold on the program from the get-go."
Beide "lman went on to perform in comedies, dramas, farces-essentially every play for which he auditioned. He remembers Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Nobel Laureate Dario Fo as being particularly challenging.
"Jim and I really got to know each other then," Beidelman says. "Just last night I was reflecting on the times that I spent at Jim Fisher's house. The cast came together at his house and ate with his family, it was a real relaxed environment-kind of a home away from home."
But with Fisher, a self-professed "former" Catholic, and Fo, an ardent critic of the Church, you might have thought the environment would be tense for a young man considering the priesthood.
"I know Jim is very outspoken and candid, and at times we exchanged barbs, but especially during that play, when it came down to it, I knew there was respect on his part for me, and I hope that he felt that from me. And we made good things happen. It was really electric, really a positive process.
"Wabas h gave me the opportunity to look critically at what I believe, and theater was a forum for that," Beidelman explains. "I was undergoing my own process of maturing in my faith, and Jim and I talked through a lot of that stuff. I think that brought a depth to the play that made it better.
"Jim's greatest gift to me was the courage to enter into the question; the courage to enter into the unknown and not be fearful."
Beidelman was also influenced by Watson.
"He was a source of inspiration for me-a man of true integrity and not afraid to love. I really felt that from him. From both of them. They're a good team."
But Beidelman's questioning and self-discovery weren't confined to the stage. A year in Ireland and England found him pulled again by his two passions; he split his course load equally between theater and philosophy. And when commencement rolled around, he felt well-prepared by professors Fisher and Watson, as well as by Professor of Religion Steve Webb '83, for either discipline.
"I knew I had what it would take to go on and study further in theater or for the priesthood," the Fine Arts Scholar explains. "I really had to decide what it was in my heart I felt called to do. And looking at my whole self, I saw that I'd be most fulfilled in the life of the priest."
Yet at St. Meinrad's, his ties to Wabash-and the theater-only deepened. He discovered that the late Eric Dean '61H, one of the College's most revered professors of religion, had a close association with the seminary and had once written a Rule of St. Benedict for laymen there. To honor Dean, Beidelman directed one of Dwight Watson's plays at St. Meinrad's, inviting the playwright to attend and lead a question-and-answer session.
"The Catholic bishops of Indiana had just released a statement against the death penalty, and Dwight's treatment of that subject in the play raised some great points for discussion down here," Beidelman recalls. The next year, Dwight returned to St. Meinrad's, this time with his children and his wife, Jamie, who performed in Watson's one-woman show, Eden Creek.
"My point in all that was to share some of what I had here with them and to honor them by allowing them to share their work with the St. Meinrad's community," the deacon says, "and to increase this community's awareness of theater and the arts.
"That was one of the highlights of my time here-connecting the two worlds. I imagine that's a little of what adulthood is about."
This summer in Indianapolis, Reverend Mr. Patrick Beidelman, deacon, will become, simply, Reverend Patrick Beidelman, priest. As his hands come together in prayer to take his vows bef íore the archbishop, his worlds will be united in that church-his family, the priests he looked up to, Sister Francis, his friends and teachers from St. Meinrad's, and, he hopes, his friends and teachers from Wabash.
"I imagine they'll make every effort to be with me," Pat says of his theater professors and their families. "It will be such an honor to have them there, because they are a part of who I am."
And if the actor turned priest uses his senses the way
he taught those teens with his theater exercises at Sacred Heart Church,
he will hear in the congratulations, see in the smiles and tears, and feel
in the warm embraces, a resounding answer to his prayers.