Actor-turned-priest is now literally a one-man show
April 20, 2008 Recommend (3)
By Julie Ault Post-Tribune correspondent
VALPARAISO -- A Ukrainian Catholic priest who once enjoyed a career as a Broadway performer recently inspired parishioners at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Student Center with his portrayal of a 19th-century priest who ministered to lepers on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. The Rev. Edward Evanko performed "Damien," a one-man play, at the Valparaiso church. Blessed Father Damien, as he is now known, was a Belgian-born priest who lived with and cared for the Hawaiian lepers before dying of the disease in 1889. The Rev. Edward Evanko performed "Damien," a one-man play, at the Valparaiso church. Blessed Father Damien, as he is now known, was a Belgian-born priest who lived with and cared for the Hawaiian lepers before dying of the disease in 1889. Maryann Dudzinski, a St. Teresa's member, organized Evanko's appearance at her church. She knew of Evanko through a mutual friend and had seen "Damien." » Click to enlarge image
The Rev. Edward Danyo Evanko performs a one-man show at the St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Valparaiso. Leslie Adkins/Post-Tribune
Maryann Dudzinski, a St. Teresa's member, organized Evanko's appearance at her church. She knew of Evanko through a mutual friend and had seen "Damien." "I heard he liked getting families with children involved, and it's about vocations, so that involved the college kids. Families and college kids just sounded like St. Teresa's," Dudzinski said of her church, whose primary mission is to serve Catholic students attending Valparaiso University. Evanko was ordained less than three years ago. Before taking his vows, he performed in more than 200 musicals in America, Canada and Japan. He starred in "The Canterbury Tales" with Sandy Duncan, "Sweeney Todd" with Jean Stapleton, hosted "The Ed Evanko Show" on Canadian television, and appeared on "Ryan's Hope" and "3rd Rock from the Sun." Evanko was living in Vancouver and attending a Roman Catholic Church, where he was asked to read the Scriptures. The priest there asked Evanko if he ever considered the priesthood. "It was like I was St. Paul falling off my horse," Evanko recalled. "I was flabbergasted. I'd been an actor for more than 40 years, but I said, 'You're right!' I didn't even see this door, and he opened it wide for me." Evanko was ordained in the Ukrainian Catholic Church in 2005. His acting colleagues, he said, supported his decision. "They were totally supportive, in some cases, envious," he said. "Acting is a wonderful profession, but I don't miss the business of show business." Evanko said each time he is in front of parishioners at his Vancouver church, he combines acting with his ministry. "Performing the liturgy is theater, but not in the sense of being fake," he said. "Some people will say, 'Oh, an actor, that's fake.' But good acting is truth. "When people leave my liturgy I'm hoping they feel transformed, that they're taking something with them. That's what makes them want to come back again and again." Evanko first performed "Damien" to help raise money for a priest friend needing a kidney transplant. Word spread, and he has since done the play in Rome, London, Chicago, and will present it in Sydney, Australia, during World Youth Day. Charlie Crowley, 13, was in the audience at St. Teresa's. "I've never seen a one-man play, and the story was interesting, too," he said. "You see this clean man going into a neglected leper colony, and still he was accepted in the church." Doug Demaree also attended. "It's so inspiring to hear of a priest who gave his life so selflessly to a cause," Demaree said. "He had no pride about it. It inspires you to do better things."