Eleven years ago on Good Friday, Kelly Nieto sat weeping in the pews at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Farmington.
The Farmington resident and her husband, Dominic, had just attended the Stations of the Cross—a Catholic Lenten devotion reflecting on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Nieto was affected profoundly by the experience.
“I felt God’s presence,” she said. “I knew that I was being called to do something more with this amazing message of the Passion of Christ.”
Two years after that day at Our Lady of Sorrows, Nieto directed the church’s first The Living Stations of the Cross, a dramatic re-enactment of the traditional prayer. Nieto wrote the script, added music, and created a set inside the church.
Parishioners took on roles as actors, singers, stage crew, lighting specialists, and costume designers.
“By acting this out for audiences, they become part of the scene and invest in the characters in a whole different way,” Nieto said.
From the beginning, each year's presentation drew larger crowds than the year before. Nieto was certain that people would respond to a similar production on a larger scale.
In 2010, Nieto received approval from the Archdiocese of Detroit to form an apostolate. The non-profit organization produces the theatrical presentation, licenses its music, and trains other churches and schools around the country to do the presentation.
On Friday night, Nieto’s Living Faith Fine Arts Apostolate took to the stage—that is, the altar—of the Most Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit for The Living Stations of the Cross. The cast of professional actors and singers will perform 25 shows with a backdrop of $15,000 in sets and $25,000 in lighting and special effects.
Nieto stays behind the scenes as producer and director, but she’s familiar with being in the spotlight, too. In 1986, she was the third-runner up for Miss America, after first being crowned Miss Farmington and then Miss Michigan. She then spent 10 years performing a one-woman show as a fiddle player and comedian, opening for performers such as Charlie Daniels, Garth Brooks and David Copperfield.
Nieto’s musical background served her well in this new endeavor. She wrote original music for the Living Stations cathedral show with songwriter Nick Dablis of Crossroads Productions in White Lake.
“It’s not your typical Catholic music,” said Nieto. “It’s contemporary, and something people will remember and truly be inspired by.”
Nieto encourages people of all faiths to see the production.
“This is certainly a sacred tradition in the lives of Catholics all over the world. But this musical transcends to non-Catholics and non-believers alike,” she said. “It’s a form of entertainment in the way the movie The Passion of the Christ with Mel Gibson was.”
She is working to expand the production to five major cities next year.
For now, Nieto is thrilled to be sharing the story with a larger audience at the cathedral.
The Living Stations of the Cross will be performed at Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit through April 17, with matinee and evening performances. Tickets are $15, or $5 for obstructed view seats. Several shows have already sold out. For information, tickets or to purchase the CD, go to livingstations.org. Recordings will also be for sale at performances.
In addition to the Broadway-style production downtown, the original The Living Stations of the Cross at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church will be performed by parishioners on April 15 and April 17 at 8 p.m.