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Students Living Stations of the Cross attract crowd
In this final scene of The Living Stations of the Cross presentation by the students of St. Anthony School, the body of Jesus played by Keenen Donatelli is carried down the churchs aisle to be buried at the tomb. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

A parishioner went up to St. Anthony of Padua School teacher Nancy Hoag and said, “Good job, as always.”

The woman was part of the standing room-only throng that packed the church for the annual school presentation of The Living Stations. As the title suggests, the program is a dramatization of the events on that first Good Friday when Jesus was condemned to die, forced to carry a heavy wooden cross on which he was crucified once he reached the top of Calvary. With the haunting soundtrack of the visually stunning 1986 movie, “The Mission,” serving as part of the audio backdrop, complemented by the moving rendition of the song, “Mary, Did You Know?” by parishioner Norma Franco with Amy Cambra on the piano, right after Jesus’ breathes his last on the cross, the solemn and moving church performance has continued to draw a growing number of church goers to come an hour early before the actual Good Friday Veneration of the Cross, scripture readings, prayers and holy communion at 1 p.m.

For many, the hour-long student presentation has become a spiritually uplifting prelude to the traditional church service that immediately follows. Some members of the faithful, however, usually leave right after The Living Stations of the Cross which prompted Father Patrick Walker, church pastor, to remind everyone after the drama presentation that the actual service was going to follow shortly.

For the students, as much as the parishioners like the woman who complimented Hoag about her students, and Mary Del Pino, the drama was more than just action on stage. As young as the students are – pre-teens as well as teens, “their demeanor was just outstanding,” Del Pino said.

“They took (their roles and the dramatization) seriously. Each one of them is going to have a memorable feeling inside for participating (in this project). It touches me every year,” she added.

Hoag said the annual Living Stations of the Cross started the year before she started teaching at St. Anthony School about 20 years ago. She has been at the helm of this student project every year since.

Hoag said The Living Stations of the Cross was brought to St. Anthony of Padua by the pastor at the time, Father Lawrence McGovern – now a monsignor and pastor of Presentation Parish in Stockton – and then-school principal Stephanie Pappas.

The characters in the spiritual play are Hoag’s seventh graders, with other eighth graders taking part in other roles. The main characters this year were Keenen Donatelli who played Jesus, Madison Jackson who had the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus, Xavier Reyes as Simon, LaNia Taylor as Veronica, and Marcus Panelo as Pontius Pilate. Other students who were on the cast were Stephanie Salemi, Shelby Hooks, Jason Marquez and Caitlyn Oberman, narrators; Mariana Ortiz, Savannah Jackson, Ceara Costa, Malia Blanson and  Elizabeth Tolbert as the Women of Jerusalem; and K.J. Martinez, Manuel Telles, Alez Velazquez, Lucas Dias, Derek Morrison, Jonathan Vargas, and Daniel Van Lewen as the soldiers.