FAIRBANKS — Once a year on Good Friday, all light is eliminated in Boileau Hall, the gymnasium at Monroe Catholic Junior Senior High School for a special religious performance.
The blackout, which is lit intermittently by a single spotlight, heightens the stark, silent, dramatic reenactment of the Stations of the Cross, which details Jesus Christ’s passion and death.
The living portrayal by eighth graders of Christ’s suffering and death commemorates the infamous events that began in the Garden of Gethsemane and culminated in Jesus’ crucifixion and death more than two millennia ago.
The timing is crucial since students portraying each station must position themselves in total darkness in the center of the gym floor to keep up with the introduction of each station followed by a reflective commentary from unseen speakers.
The main characters in each of the traditional 14 scenes are dressed in flowing robes and supported with voices hidden behind the gym’s velvet stage curtains.
The short interludes between each striking scene is accompanied by taped, often mournful music, befitting the station.
Rev. Normand Pepin, a gifted composer and musician, organized the music on a CD when he first started the Good Friday tradition in 1991, explained Christina Winfree, a religion and English teacher at Monroe.
“It’s the same music as when I was here,” said Winfree, who graduated from Monroe in 2004.
Winfree keeps a close eye on the program’s CD, since it is the only one in existence.
For some unknown reason, she said, the CD cannot be copied.
In 2010, before Pepin retired and moved to the East Coast, he directed the reenactment for the final time with Winfree assisting.
Winfree’s face lights up as she describes the Jesuit’s interactions with the students.
“The man was so patient with the kids,” she said. “He had a true appreciation for the music and he was teaching the students to take the time to fully listen to the music while involved in the stations.”
Winfree has continued the tradition with each eighth grade class since. The only changes made have been in the reflections.
Last year she challenged students to take on the identity of one of the individuals involved in a station and write a reflection. It could be Veronica, who wiped sweat and blood from Christ’s face, or Joseph of Arimathea, who removed His body from the cross.
Winfree was pleased with the students’ work and incorporated the reflections into the program, since the object of the Stations of the Cross is to follow and meditate on each of the 14 traditional main scenes of Christ’s suffering and death.
And like Pepin, she kept the 15th station, the Resurrection of Jesus, instituted by Pope John Paul II.
Winfree said the annual service is “a big deal” for each eighth grade class. “They’ve been asking and talking about it since school started,” she said, and each of the 41 students take part. Students vie for some characters which is solved by drawing names from a hat.
Jesus is portrayed this year by Garrett Grahek who has witnessed the dramatization since he started kindergarten at the adjoining Immaculate Conception Elementary School.
“Ever since kindergarten, I thought it would be cool to be in a big part,” Grahek said.
“I wanted to be Jesus in the first place and get to be in all the stations.”
The only drawback — “It’s kind of hard to stay still, especially not breathing,” he said.
And since he took on the sacred part, Grahek said, he is watching his behavior at school.
“I can’t act crazy or anything, or Miss Winfree would be after me.”
Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.