New documentary chronicles faith and miracles in the Illinois heartland

God is Alive 1 Father Michael Trummer, left, and Andrew Hansen produced a documentary, "God is Alive," using two cameras and their cell phones. | Andrew Hansen

Central Illinois doesn’t get a whole lot of love. It’s flat, sparse, and windy — the hackneyed phrase “flyover country” comes to mind. But it’s also a land of miracles. 

So say Andrew Hansen and Father Michael Trummer, who spent a week road-tripping around the region to bring incredible stories of faith and miracles to the masses via an original documentary film, which premiered last month.

The hourlong film, “God Is Alive,” documents five “miracle” stories, told by Illinois Catholics, interspersed with cinematic b-roll and shots of the two hosts driving and conversing. The film is available to watch online for free.

Hansen, who serves as communications director for the Springfield Diocese, produced the documentary with Trummer using one professional-style camera, a couple of lapel microphones, and two smartphone cameras. The film represented about a year of work overall, only seven total days of which were actually devoted to filming.

“I’ll credit the Holy Spirit, because it was a thing that literally just popped in my head. I’d never done a project like this,” Hansen, who has a background in TV news production, told CNA.

More than 300 people attended the premiere of "God is Alive" at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield on July 8, 2023. Andrew Hansen
More than 300 people attended the premiere of "God is Alive" at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield on July 8, 2023. Andrew Hansen

Hansen said in the course of his work as communications director, he had the opportunity a few years ago to interview Father Marty Smith of Jerseyville, Illinois. Smith had serious doubts about becoming a priest until he says God answered his prayers in a miraculous way. Hansen wasn’t familiar with this side of Smith’s story before beginning the interview, which was for a podcast. 

“He’s telling me the story, and while I’m recording it, my jaw dropped. So I think in that moment, what happened is a seed was planted where, okay, we have this amazing story, and I want to tell Father Marty’s story in a unique way. And what would be a unique way to tell that?” Hansen said. 

“I mean, of course, we could write an article about it in our diocesan magazine, and that’s good. Or I could shoot, like, a little three-minute [video] about it. But what would be maybe a different way to go about this? And then this idea of, what if we did, like, a documentary?”

Hansen knew he would need more stories in order to flesh out a full-length documentary. He also realized he would need a co-host, preferably a priest who could provide spiritual insights. Father Trummer, who serves as parochial vicar of St. Boniface Parish in Edwardsville and chaplain at Father McGivney Catholic High School in Glen Carbon, seemed like a perfect fit, though he and Hansen had “never hung out together” before their epic road trip. 

“Our personalities kind of [complemented] each other well, instead of having the same two personalities. And I think he’s a profound priest for understanding Scripture and breaking it down and understanding our faith and making it relatable, and giving good spiritual advice in an authentic but relatable way,” Hansen said.

Over the course of the film, Hansen and Trummer visit five different Illinois towns in search of inspiring faith stories. After first detailing the vocation story of Father Smith, the hosts visited Springfield to talk to Betty Parquette, a Catholic woman who fell away from her faith as a young woman and ended up having two abortions. Today, Parquette is a practicing Catholic and an enthusiastic pro-life activist.

Hansen said it was a powerful moment for him, as a father, to ask Parquette: “Do you think about your [aborted] children, and when you meet them in heaven, what are you going to say and what do you think they’d say to you?” Hansen said Parquette’s answer was thoughtful and profound. 

“These two little tiny, tiny babies who were aborted — she enthusiastically awaits meeting them in heaven someday, and is leaning on them for their prayers today. It was a very profound, very powerful moment to hear her articulate that,” he said. 

One of the miracle stories covered in the documentary is likely known to many U.S. Catholics — the healing of James Fulton Engstrom, which the Vatican has acknowledged as taking place through the intercession of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen. Sheen, a famous evangelist and archbishop, was born in the Peoria, Illinois, Diocese in 1895 and is on the path to sainthood. 

Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Dumont Network
Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Dumont Network

Hansen and Trummer interviewed James’ mother, Bonnie Engstrom, who faced a new parent’s worst nightmare when James was born with no signs of life. Needing a miracle, she prayed fervently for Sheen’s intercession. James is today a healthy young man despite being without a pulse for 61 minutes.

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Other stories include that of Sara Reichert of rural Adams County near Quincy, who spoke about caring for her mentally challenged daughter, Hope, and how God taught her not to equate intelligence with worth. And finally, Grant Wilson spoke about his miraculous healing from constant back pain due to having different leg lengths. 

Hansen said that he and a priest being “out in the world” creating the documentary provided an evangelizing witness for the Catholic faith. 

“[We could] sense some people looking at us, and maybe hopefully it’s in a good way, or at least it’s in an intriguing way. But the bottom line, it shows that, hey, we are the Catholic Church. We’re going out in the world. And that’s kind of what we did with this documentary, too. It’s like, let’s go out and find these stories, and tell them,” Hansen said. 

He noted that they have received a lot of positive feedback on the documentary since the premiere on July 8, including a text message from a nonpracticing Catholic who attended the premiere and was touched and edified, saying “it was nice to see Catholicism in a positive and refreshing light.”

“Most importantly, [the film] teaches the faith, promotes the faith in a positive way, and we just need more of promoting our faith in a positive way. Ultimately, we’re in the business of inspiring others and helping people in their faith journey. And you never know how a story could help someone in their faith life,” Hansen said.

The film was made on a shoestring budget of just a few hundred dollars. The unpolished, guerilla style of filmmaking actually added to the film’s “intimacy” and ultimately its success, Hansen said. He said he thinks it’s the kind of project that other Catholic dioceses could copy. 

“I’m all for if another diocese wants to copy this idea. Go for it … every diocese has compelling stories to tell. And [our job] as content creators, if you want to use that phrase, is finding unique ways to tell those stories. And we thought this was a unique way, and it certainly seems people are enjoying it.”

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