Master storyteller Mike Leonard ’70 creates a centennial film about Providence College
Mike Leonard ’70 & ’00Hon., who spent more than 30 years reporting stories around the world as a correspondent for NBC’s Today show, has focused his camera on Providence College to create a 45-minute film commemorating the College’s first 100 years.
The Promise of Providence, co-produced by Leonard and Mary Kay Wall, who are pictured above, premiered during PC’s Celebration of the Century on Saturday, Oct. 1, during St. Dominic Weekend, an annual event honoring the College’s most generous benefactors. Reviews were promising: the audience of 800 rewarded the film with a standing ovation.
Leonard, who directed and narrated the movie, explained in his introduction that it was not intended to be a “linear history,” but rather a series of stories about lives transformed. The film uses footage from athletic events as a metaphor for all achievement, including academic success, because “there were no cameras in classrooms when spirituality was strengthened or when wisdom was gained,” he said. “I wish we had it, but we don’t.”
The film examines moments when the College overcame adversity. Adversity was part of PC’s history from the start, Leonard said. The College’s original acts of acceptance, signed in Rome in 1915, went down with the sinking of the USS Ancona during World War I.
The film also shows the impact of the Vietnam War on the campus and the tragedy of the residence hall fire on Dec. 13, 1977, that killed 10 undergraduate women.
Leonard was invited to create the movie during the summer of 2015. Accompanied by Wall, he made countless trips to campus from his home near Chicago, filming hours of interviews with dozens of people, using a hand-held Canon XA 25 camera.
In remarks at the premiere, Leonard discussed his own transformation. He played hockey at PC and arrived on academic probation — “eternal and everlasting probation,” he jokingly called it — and wasn’t expected to succeed.
“I was afraid,” Leonard said. “This is the truth: I could not raise my hand in class. I was afraid of saying the wrong answer. And I did learn how to speak. And now I get to raise my voice in praise of this remarkable place that changed me forever.”
Leonard and his wife, Cathy, are the parents of four PC alumni: Matthew Leonard ’93, Megan Leonard Fleischer ’95, Kerry Leonard Trotter ’00, and Brendan Leonard ’07. Wall is the mother of two alums — Catherine Latz ’13, who is assistant director of corporation and foundation relations in the Office of Institutional Advancement, and Leo Latz ’15 — and two current students — Janeen Latz ’18 andBridget Latz ’20. Wall’s children are “double Friars,” graduates of Fenwick High School near Chicago, the only high school run by Dominican friars.
“You don’t have to be from PC to watch this film and benefit from the wisdom and inspirational true stories offered so generously,” Wall said. “But I urge everyone who has any connection to this college to watch, and feel humbly, deeply proud of this one-of-a-kind school.”
Wall quoted Rev. John S. Peterson, O.P. ’57, the national alumni chaplain, who says during the film, “Nothing on earth happens by chance. It’s all part of God’s divine Providence.”
“That’s what this film is about: Life, and what happens when people believe in God’s dream for their lives,” said Wall. “It doesn’t mean life will be without struggle, failure, hard work — in fact, that’s how you discover your distinctive role in life.
“And I especially hope the Dominicans, who bet their lives on the Providence of God, will see in this film how they fulfill its truth, and know they’ve gifted us with its promise for the next 100 years and beyond,” Wall said.
Leonard and Wall also collaborate on a television series, inCommon with Mike Leonard, for WTTW, a public television station in Chicago. One episode in 2015 was titled Providence — referring to both the College and the concept of divine guidance — and was partly filmed on campus. Their first collaboration was a 60-minute documentary, Old St. Patrick’s Church: A Chicago Renaissance Story, for the same station.
Since retirement, Leonard also has worked for his sons’ company, Picture Show Films. Both Matthew and Brendan helped edit The Promise of Providence. In 2011, Leonard accompanied Matthew on travels around the world to film the TV series Catholicism, which starred Rev. Robert Barron ’13Hon., now the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles.