Josephine Lombardi’s film reflects on life and legacy of Mary. Image from The First Lady & Her Successors

A cinematic love letter to the Church's ‘First Lady’

By 
  • July 28, 2021

“We’re about to hear the story of a woman — an accompanying witness whose story begins with a prophecy and ends with victory. A woman whose story can be reflected in other people, helping us to see our story in her story.”

Author, filmmaker and theologian Dr. Josephine Lombardi recited those words in the opening monologue of her new documentary The First Lady & Her Successors, a love letter to Mary and a salute to the women — and men — who strive to model the example of the Mother of God.

This project could fittingly be described as a labour of love for the associate professor of systematic and pastoral theology at St. Augustine’s Seminary as she felt a pull towards Mary of Nazareth throughout her life.

“I always had a strong devotion to Mary. I also teach Mariology and we have enrichment seminars every other year at the seminary. I’ve published on the topic of Mary. She has been a huge interest for me spiritually, emotionally and intellectually.”

Before taking a sabbatical during 2020 to film the feature alongside director of photography David LeRoss, Lombardi conducted meticulous research to flesh out the vision for her documentary. She ruminated on the concept of Mary being the First Lady.

“I was interested in the early Church and how the term ‘Our Lady’ came to be going back to Saint Jerome. And I just reflected on ‘Our Lady’ but also on another title — ‘The New Eve.’ Mary is God’s gift to us, revealing the image and likeness of God in the female from the very beginning of God’s intended plan and purpose for all of us.”

Lombardi says using First Lady in the title also tips a cap to the popular culture understanding of the moniker — the wife of a head of state or a female leading her profession.

Modern torchbearers of Mary’s vibrant legacy are spotlighted during the 100-minute production. The professor of field education and director of lay formation at St. Augustine’s strived to feature women of all ages and backgrounds.

She was expressly interested in chronicling women with a life event or story that somehow exemplifies the mysteries of the rosary. For example, her first profile was Tia Marie Vargas, an Idaho mother who attracted media attention in 2018 for carrying an injured and abandoned 55-pound dog named Boomer on her shoulders seven miles to safety after she discovered the English Springer Spaniel while hiking on a mountain.

Lombardi told the story about how Vargas’ “legs were shaking and how she wanted to quit, exhausted and discouraged.” But in that moment Vargas prayed and she then felt that “an invisible force was helping her to carry Boomer for the rest of the hike.”

The First Lady & Her Successors connects Vargas’ call for extra strength and resolve in that moment of adversity to the first Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation of the Lord. Just like Vargas felt graceful support from above, the angel Gabriel assures Mary that God will be there every step of the way providing support to Mary as she embarks upon her journey to Bethlehem to conceive Jesus.

Lombardi interviewed nine women for the film and was able to speak to them in person at her home last summer when COVID-19 restrictions were loosened in Ontario. She conducted Zoom interviews when the tighter guidelines renewed in the autumn.

Audience appraisals for the film have been strong, and the production has attracted viewership from over 50 countries, including Vatican City, according to her personal website analytics. She intends to submit the doc to multiple film festivals.

You can watch The First Lady & Her Successors free of charge and on demand at josephinelombardi.com

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