It started with a simple idea. The documentary, "Where Heaven Meets Earth", investigates the efforts of a young priest on his first assignment as pastor, Father Damien Cook, renovating one of the cities oldest churches and promoting the restoration of the sacred in the process.
Set in the park east corner of downtown Omaha Nebraska, the film chronicles Father Damien Cook’s efforts to humbly follow God’s will, as he works to fill the lackluster pews (despite the church's secluded residence in a troubled neighborhood) and restore the dilapidated building to a grand testament to the Catholic Faith.
After only a few years of drawing on the beauty of sacred Catholic tradition and infusing Latin with vernacular liturgy, Saint Peter Catholic Church begins to take a dramatic turn.
It started with a simple idea.
ON ASSIGNMENT investigates how a poor Catholic parish became a thriving and vibrant church again after more than 40 years of steady decline.
Originally built in 1886, Saint Peter Catholic Church grew to become one of the biggest and busiest parishes in the diocese of Omaha, Nebraska. But in the 1960s, huge chunks of the neighborhoods north and south of the church were razed to make way for the construction of interstate 480, forcing hundreds of parishioners to move away from St. Peters.
In the years that followed, more and more parishioners moved west to the suburbs, St. Peter’s school closed, and the resulting lack of donations led to years of deferred building maintenance causing the church to fall into disrepair.
By the time a young priest on his first assignment as pastor arrived in 2004, no one would believe this place would survive let alone thrive, but Father Damien Cook was inspired with an idea that would prove God had other plans for Saint Peter Catholic Church.
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About Saint Peter Catholic Church
Meant for Greatness
From the moment one steps foot into St. Peter Catholic Church, it is clear that this place was meant for greatness. With its Greco-Roman façade, five-aisled, “no-pillar” nave, and stunning stained glass windows, this impressive structure was built in 1926 to seat 800—a place for parishioners to grow closer to God by evoking awe and wonder.
But that spirit within the building had grown quiet and still. St. Peters had fallen into disrepair and was left with only a small if dedicated remnant of past parishioners, a result of a steady decline in attendance that started in the 1960s when highway construction razed the surrounding neighborhood and forced parishioners to move away. When St. Peter’s pastor Rev. Damien Cook arrived in 2004 the church teetered on its last legs.
Growth and Adaptation
The attendance at St. Peters when Father Cook first arrived in 2004 was low. The English community had reduced greatly. A lot of people had moved west. It was a downtown situation that had left the church surrounded by poverty, addiction—and some might even say violence. Though the church had recently started Spanish-speaking masses to adapt to the needs of a changing neighborhood, attendance to those masses had not yet become established.
But just a few years later, the church is now experiencing an amazing transformation and the numbers of people coming to masses through mostly word-of-mouth is astonishing. The congregations have grown and flourished to the point that, at some of the masses, the church is completely full with standing room only, which amounts to over 800 people. For the neighborhood, the situation, and in just six years’ time, this is radical growth.
A Glimpse of Heaven
Father Cook quickly set out on a mission to restore the sacred at St. Peters. He began celebrating parts of the mass in Latin, which he included in both Spanish and English masses. In all that he did, he sought to reestablish the mystery, awe and wonder of God, and did so by bringing reverence and sacred music to the ceremonies, traditions and liturgy of the Catholic Faith both in the sanctuary and in the community as well. So the masses, the sacred music, and traditions like the Corpus Christi procession demonstrate what the Cook is trying to do is to give people, in his own words, “A glimpse of heaven.”
Making of Where Heaven Meets Earth
Behind every film that StoryTel Foundation produces, there is another story—the story of how the project began, how it unfolded, and sometimes, how it managed to surprise us along the way. This is one of those stories…
StoryTel is Inspired by Father Cook
Don Carney, president of StoryTel Foundation and “Where Heaven Meets Earth” director, is among those to witness the inspiring physical and spiritual restoration of the parish, which is due to the vision of Father Damien Cook.
When Father Cook approached Don for help with a video to highlight the parish's rebirth, he knew that StoryTel was the perfect fit. StoryTel’s mission is to restore the sacred, and that is exactly what Father Cook was—and is—working so diligently to do at St. Peters.
It all began with our interest in St. Peter's Corpus Christi procession. Then one day, while driving up to St. Peter’s, Don Carney noticed workers repairing the church roof and thought it had great production value. The day we interviewed Father Cook, we spent what turned into a whole day filming the roof. What we didn't plan was getting all the footage, but it was just so interesting that we kept going. The roof repair footage was followed by much, much more and it became apparent that a full 30-minute documentary was emerging.
The rooftop footage now, ironically, serves as the backdrop for the beautiful opening of the On Assignment documentary. It not only didn’t end up on the cutting room floor, it actually becomes the catalyst for Father Cook’s opening statements about his efforts to restore the sacred spiritually being very much like the restoration of the church itself.
Like a Ripple in a Pond
StoryTel Foundation very much looked forward to the opportunity to work with Father Cook, but it turned out that he was familiar with StoryTel’s work as well. While interviewing Cook for the documentary, StoryTel learned that, interestingly enough, it was a DVD of the documentary, “St. John Cantius, Restoring the Sacred,” that actually inspired Father Cook to visit St. John Cantius Church, while on a trip to Chicago, and moved him towards his effort to renew the aging St. Peter Church building. In this way StoryTel’s work seems to have a ripple effect that extends far beyond the boundaries of a single film or fundraising project alone.
We not only want our film projects to further the mission of the organizations we work with, but we also want to help people connect and collaborate with God to further His work. We have found, time and time again, that while a film can help solve an immediate need, like raising funds, it can also motivate a person to restore the sacred in their own life, and then inspire others do the same—and so on, and so on. There is no telling how far the message will travel and how many lives it will impact along the way.
ON ASSIGNMENT is a made-for-TV investigative documentary series produced by StoryTel for broadcast on EWTN, CatholicTV, and public television. ON ASSIGNMENT captures the dramatic, transformative and true stories of God at work in the world through the humble men and women of our time and throughout history.
StoryTel, is a private non-profit media foundation dedicated to inspiring people to restore the sacred by sharing transformative stories with over 200 million homes throughout the world by way of EWTN Global Catholic Television Network and millions more homes on TV other networks. Learn more about StoryTel Foundation.
Available on DVD
Where Heaven Meets Earth DVD
Donate to StoryTel (a 501c3 non-profit) and receive a DVD as a gift.
You can request Where Heaven Meets Earth on DVD in the "Notes to Seller" section of the donation process. Proceeds from DVD requests will go toward adapting the program into Spanish.
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10506 Burt Circle
Omaha, NE 68114
Donate to Restore the Sacred!
Restore Saint Peter Church
Contact the Parish Office: (402) 341-4560
To date, a total of $3.2 million has been given and/or pledged to St. Peter Church for this restoration that will be furnished by the renowned firm of Conrad Schmitt Studios Inc.
Of course, Saint Peter's still needs the help of some very exceptional people and some very exceptional gifts to achieve the minimum goal of $3.32 million.
To learn more: visit St Peter's Website.
Inspire others to Restore the Sacred, through StoryTel
StoryTel, a 501c3 non-profit, media foundation produces documentaries like "Where Heaven Meets Earth" to inspire people to restore the sacred.
We work on a wide variety of projects that are in some cases donated entirely to the organizations we work with, thanks to our wonderful donors who impact an audience of millions. Learn more.
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To learn more: visit storytel.org.
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