History of the Franciscan Mystery Plays

The unique concept of a multi-media special presentation of The Way of the Cross began over 36 years ago. Fr. Fred Pompei (my brother) who is also a priest in the diocese of Syracuse, New York attempted to dramatize the stations of the Cross to increase participation and address the problem of diminished numbers of people attending the Lenten devotions in his parish. With only one light and a few parish youngsters, he managed to capture the imagination of his parishoners. Then he shared it with me and I began to add more music and new forms of lighting, action, and wrote meditations for all the stations.

What started off as a simple desire to help local parishoners experience the Passion of Jesus tranformed into a very inspirational vehicle that the Lord has since used to bless thousands of people, young and old. The Mystery Play ministry has far transcended its first intentions of 1976.

Presently, there are 10 operating groups in the United States. As 15 or more high school students are required in order to pray each Play, well over 1,500 young people have participated in the Plays over the last 36 years.

In 1988, a new version of The Way of the Cross with updated meditations and music was introduced to Morris County, northern New Jersey. From there, new groups were started and new Plays written and produced.

Of all the groups there are still 12 operating, with the possibility of more in the future. In the summer of 2004 I wrote the mystery play, Francis, the Jesus Fire. I tried establishing it at St. Bonaventure with college students, but found that it was hard to fit this ministry into a college student’s life. So, I'm still hunting for a place to start this new mystery play on St. Francis. Maybe this one will be for adults to be in it. Who knows what the Lord and St. Francis have in store for this one. In 2005, I wrote another play, The Sorrowful Mysteries, that opens with a prayer service, Mystery Players witnessing to their faith, and then praying the mystery play in the format of the Rosary. This has made for a wonderful spirit-filled evening with the Lord through the eyes of the Blessed Mother.

I am truly privileged to be given this ministry by the Lord that reaches many people. Without the Lord it would all be a waste of time, but His constant support and blessing for this work has made it the life-giving experience that it is.

— Fr. Francis Pompei ofm, Author and Director