FOSTORIA — The pair of men huddled, prepping for their next shot in German while the Rev. Todd Dominique waited.
The St. Wendelin Catholic Church pastor was about to be interviewed about how the church in northwest Ohio is part of a tradition that stems from southwestern Germany.
The Rev. Todd Dominique of the St. Wendelin Catholic Church in Fostoria, center, shows videographer Philipp Majer, left, and Max Kern the St. Wendelin Catholic Church in Fostoria.
The church and its affiliated high school have deep roots in Fostoria, with the congregation being established before the city. And it’s name is not from a random selection of a patron saint, but instead comes from the influence of early German settlers in the area. St. Wendelin was born to Scottish nobility, but lived in rural Germany as a hermit and a shepherd.
“A lot of the folks were farmers,” Father Dominique said. “Simple country folks, and they had that desire to find someone to associate with as a patron.”
The team of Max Kern, Philipp Majer, and Barbara Wackernagel-Jacobs were in town with the film production company carpe diem, which was hired by the St. Wendelin church in Sankt Wendel, Germany.
It’s the 1,400th anniversary this year of St. Wendelin’s death. The church produced a documentary several years ago about the life of St. Wendelin, Mr. Kern said, and wanted to do a new project for the anniversary.
Instead of reprising the same topic, this new film is based on how the saint’s legacy and influence has spread throughout the world through the emigration of German Catholics.
“He left so many traces around the world,” Mr. Kern said. “They wanted to explore that.”
To do that, the trio has traveled to São Vendelino in southern Brazil, where a community speaks an old German dialect because of the influence of immigrants from the St. Wendel area. They spent time in central Minnesota — it was very cold, Mr. Kern and Mr. Majer agreed — western Pennsylvania, and upstate New York.
While the film is funded by a church and based on cultural impact of a Catholic saint, Mr. Majer said they didn’t want to make a purely religious movie. Instead, it’s more of a “road film,” with Mr. Kern serving as the protagonist, traveling the world to find the roots of German immigrants.
And while the movie isn’t inherently political, it’s being made in the context of intense German debates about immigration policy after the country accepted large numbers of mostly Muslim refugees in recent years. While nationalists are loudly pushing for the country to be more restrictive in its immigration practices, the filmmakers hope their movie will remind Germans that they were once on the other side, emigrating into other nations and influencing their culture.
“This could show people that immigration is part of our life here on Earth,” Mr. Majer said.
They need to have the movie done by mid-October for the St. Wendelin Feast celebration, and hope German TV stations will pick it up.
While the Fostoria church has changed over the years, it’s still maintained its small-town identity.
That’s a similarity the film crew found in the St. Wendelin communities elsewhere; they would have picked San Francisco to visit, but that’s not where German immigrants ended up.
“We are very much still a country parish,” Father Dominique said.
That connection to small towns, however, has kept the importance of the church, and St. Wendelin, alive, the filmmakers said, and helps maintain the connection between the German church and those it inspired elsewhere.