If you go
■ What:Mark Price portrays St. Francis of Assisi
■ When:4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29
■ Where:All Hallows Parish, 6602 La Jolla Scenic Drive South
■ Cost:Free (offering accepted)
allhallows.comor (858) 459-2975
By Pat ShermanWhen a person is referred to as a Franciscan, it generally means they are living in poverty, or have taken a vow of poverty.
More literally, the term refers to people and religious groups who adhere to the spiritual teachings and disciplines of St. Francis of Assisi by emulating the ascetic life he led in service to God.
But according to Mark Price, a professional impersonator and storyteller who portrays St. Francis and other biblical figures, the Italian Catholic friar’s beginnings were far from humble.
“He was very, very wealthy,” Price said. “His father was a merchant and landowner, so Francis was raised with all the best things in life. He loved to sing and dance and stay out late and drink. He was known by his friends as the ‘king of revelers’ because of his partying nature.”
Price will tell the story of Saint Francis’ transformation from a carousing, vainglory-driven young knight to one of the most revered spiritual figures in history, in character, during a performance at 4 p.m. Sept. 29 at All Hallows Parish in La Jolla.
Price began performing one-man shows in 1974, with an impersonation of the colorful Irish writer, Oscar Wilde. In 2009, his portrayal of Paul the Apostle, “One Body, Many Parts,” was filmed and shown in theaters around the country to celebrate the Year of St. Paul. He performed twice at the Vatican as St. Paul, and has portrayed six other biblical figures upon request, including Judas Iscariot, Doubting Thomas and Saint Luke.
However, when a pastor and friend initially asked Price to portray St. Francis, he respectfully declined.
“The biblical characters I’ve done have been ones from the time of Jesus,” said Price, noting that St. Francis (1182-1226) came much later than Christ, of whom Francis was a disciple.
“I sort of blew him off,” Price said, “but then when the new pope chose the name Francis, he called again and asked me to reconsider.”
This time, Price said yes.
“The more I researched Francis the more I came to love and respect him,” said Price, who got into character by poring over 35 books on St. Francis, in addition to viewing French movies on his life from the 1950s.
“He actually did go off to war twice as a knight, but then he had a series of conversions … where he felt that God was calling him to something else,” Price said. “He writes in his own last will and testament that the thing that changed him the most was when he came across a group of lepers.”
At that time in Assisi, a town in what would become Italy, lepers were forced to remain outside the city walls, and were permitted to enter only at night — by ringing a bell to warn others of their arrival.
“All his young life he detested lepers; he couldn’t stand to look at them,” Price said of Francis.
One day, Francis decided instead to reach out and show the lepers mercy. “He saw Christ in them, and realized that something had changed — and he gave himself fully to God,” Price said.
Price said he was intrigued by the fact that no other pope before the one currently in power (born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires) had chosen the name Francis.
“They say he’s one of the most popular saints in the world,” said Price, noting speculation over why the current pope adopted the name.
“Francis of Assisi was known for his love and caring of the poor, and for his love of nature and all of creation,” he said. “But he was also called by God to rebuild the church. … I wanted to maybe find some parallels between the Francis of the 12th Century and this new pope, who’s calling himself Francis.”
Price will deliver his presentation in a form analogous to how Jesus is believed to have delivered The Beatitudes in The Sermon on the Mount, wearing facial bandages St. Francis wore as a nearly blind man in the latter years of his life and bearing the signs of stigmata (a term used by Christians to describe nail wounds and scars in the hands, wrists and feet where it is believed Jesus was crucified).
Whether portraying St. Francis or another spiritual leader, Price said he removes the character from the pedestal on which society has placed him.
“I think the message that they bring to us comes from their humanness — the fact that they were able to rise above their human nature with the same shortcomings, egos, highs, lows, passions, joys and sorrows as we have,” Price said. “I do it as an encouragement to people to say, ‘Here’s another person who turned his life around and made other choices.’ It’s a way of inspiring others to look for that better part that exists within all of us that we sometimes ignore or mask.”