Priests on Film


Rosaries, Latin incantations, holy water? Check, check and check

To further celebrate the release of Calvary (read about it courtesy of S. Brent Plate  and me) I’d like to present a completely subjective and by no means exhaustive list of my favorite priest-themed TV shows and movies. Thanks and praise to everyone who volunteered their own favorites on Twitter and Facebook. I am now rich in the goodness of lots of clerical movie and TV shows to catch up on! Fall viewing: already sorted.


What has been on my mind most as of late is Catholics, another entry in the “Catholic and general human problems large and small in the context of priests in remote, seaside Ireland” subcategory. Based on a Brian Moore novel, Catholics may seem kind of silly and outdated but give it a try. It may haunt you.

The Exorcist

The Exorcist isn’t about the last fifteen minutes of stupid gore. It’s about Damien Karras, SJ, and his crisis of faith, so exquisitely rendered by Jason Miller. Miller’s is one of the best performances I’ve seen on film; I sometimes think that he was so great as Fr. Karras he doomed his own acting career in an uncanny real-life sacrifice to art and possibly God. The Exorcist also has some of the best medical horror sequences I’ve ever seen, and a fantastic supporting turn by real-life Jesuit William O’Malley.


Richard Burton brings it in this oddly thrilling tale of strange events in an all-boys Catholic boarding school. Such torments as an odd hippy-ish transient and an unnerving confession cause Burton’s law-and-order Fr. Goddard to unravel. Burton, like Gleeson in Calvary, wears the full cassock and even accessorizes with a biretta. Look for Fr. Goddard confiscating a bottle of Old Pagan cologne from one would-be “manly” smelling pupil.


This “face to face” business has certain drawbacks

Black Robe

Here’s another one based on a Brian Moore novel. In the 1630s, a Jesuit makes an expedition to reestablish contact with a remote mission in the Huron territory in New France. Things don’t go especially well. For some reason, I think this is holiday viewing and watch it every December 23. “Forget about the ugly Frenchman!”


Writer and KtB editor Kaya Oakes (Superstar) can tell you all about her love of Rev here.

Nothing Sacred

This was suggested by luminaries Elizabeth Castelli and Paddy Gilger, SJ. New to me, this one-season late-90s show was written by Jesuit Bill Cain. It aired on ABC. I’m only one episode in and think I’m going to save the rest of the season for November, because I will surely need to laugh/feel bad/ponder Catholic issues even more than usual during that gray month. Sister Mo: we’re going to be BFFs.

Bonus question: what is the other Catholic prime-time show that aired on American TV?

Answer: There are many other titles, including Father Ted (the biggest vote-getter), The Cardinal, Adam’s Apples, The Mission, Stigmata, Diary of a Country Priest, Au Revoir, Les Enfants, Nazarin, Of Gods and Men, Andrei Rublev, The Mission, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Mass Appeal, Doubt, The Vicar of Dibley, and On the Waterfront (“not exactly about a priest but has one”).

Obviously there are more, but my unscientific sample perhaps suggests that these are the films that are currently exploring priesthood and its contents and discontents in people’s heads right now.

Surely, a Cinematic Priests film festival is in order.

Mary Valle lives in Baltimore and is the author of Cancer Doesn't Give a Shit About Your Stupid Attitude: Reflections on Cancer and Catholicism. She blogs on KtB as The Communicant. For more Mary, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.