IT’S not every day you meet a Beverley Cains.
When the centenary of the apparitions of Our Lady to three children in Portugal was approaching in 2017, the teacher and matriarch set about to “retell this story in a play”.
Born and educated in Cairns, the Marian devotee known as “Bev” was enthused by the lasting impact of the 1950s slogan, “The family that prays together, stays together” within a campaign to encourage the recitation of this traditional Catholic devotion.
In the ’40s and ’50s she’d participated in a college production about the apparitions at Fatima, in the form of a play written by the Sisters of Mercy at Mount St Bernard College, Herberton, North Queensland.
“This Fatima play didn’t have the trappings of a modern, sophisticated theatre,” Bev said.
“The theatre could have been called a bush theatre (but) the story itself was the wonder, great devotion and praise for the Mother of God.
“The fervor of the actors gave their audience something to remember and all my contemporaries have wonderful memories of the experience and the whole school’s involvement in various ways.”
Bev recalled considering then, the possibility of “another Fatima play coming out of Australia for the centenary” (of the apparitions).
Time went on and she married Kevin in 1968, living briefly in Sydney and then Canberra, eventually welcoming five children and, today, a healthy collection of two more generations of faith-filled others.
All the while the question of another play remained and Bev set about to continue to enliven devotion, spurred by “wonderful children” at Holy Trinity School, Curtin, ACT, who were “so excited” when offered the opportunity to “workshop” her play in June 2016.
“My attempt at writing a play was to involve many of the children in the middle school to help arouse their awareness of Marian devotion,” Bev said of the four-month writing endeavour.
“The students’ enthusiasm convinced me that the interest was there to attempt to take this project a step further.
“(This was) in order to reveal some of the treasures of the Blessed Virgin Mary … (and) some new approaches to prayer and suffering for this young and willing generation, and to whoever would see their performance.”
Bev remains convinced that younger generations particularly have much to gain from knowledge of how, when and why the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared three times to the three children of Portugal – Lucia dos Santos and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto.
“Catholic spirituality has considerable involvement with Mary, the Mother of God,” she said.
“(And) through them, the Virgin Mary came to speak to all of us, at Fatima.
“Her first announcements were to Lucia, 10 years, Francisco nine years and Jacinta, seven years old.
“They were shepherds, poorly educated in our terms but richly educated in their Catholic faith.
“They said the Rosary and the Angelus as they minded their sheep.
“They attended Mass each Sunday and longed for the day they would receive their First Holy Communion.
“They worked, played games, danced and sang as they celebrated liturgical and family occasions.
“(And) in 1916, the year my mother was born, the Angel of Portugal came to them to deepen their faith, heighten their awareness of spiritual things, encourage them to pray, offer reparation to God and to sacrifice for sinners.”
Bev is animated sharing her certainty of “touching the hearts and minds of children today” through the power of the apparitions.
“Children today love dressing up and acting-out,” she said. “In the play, we see the village square filled with dancing, a religious procession and crowning of the Virgin Mary’s statue near the small market place.
“We meet the families of the children and some of their siblings.
“The local, anti-Catholic, mayor kidnaps the children (and) we observe the pilgrims arriving and hushed at the Cova da Iria (where Mary appeared in Portugal).”
The 90-minute work is narrated for ease of understanding, allowing greater involvement of all ages with “a modest number of performers” including a priestly figure, Fr Joseph.
“With the influx of pilgrims and a choir, there’s the potential for a large number of performers to be involved,” Bev said.
“The present-day Father Joseph accompanies a local child to answer questions which are those of the modern-day audience.”
One of the questions is, “Is she (Mary) a visitor from outer space?”
Bev’s many years as a primary school teacher in Cairns, the Atherton Tableland and Innisfail were invaluable for this project.
She also lived and worked in England for a year, attending “many theatrical productions” and visiting sacred spaces.
“During my time overseas, I visited many of the Marian Shrines – Lourdes, Fatima, the Rue du Bac for Saint Catherine Labouré and the Miraculous Medal,” Bev said.
Her repertoire has extended to preparing students for eisteddfods, concerts and plays, also performing the role of Ruth in the Atherton Choral Society production of Pirates of Penzance.
Bev said there was a place for “mums and dads” in the play as well and had seen the benefits.
“Why not give the technical mums, dads and teenagers a chance to dress up?” she asked.
“(They can) fire up their computers to light up the stage with the Angel of Portugal, the visits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and then to demonstrate the final Miracle of the Sun, dancing in the heavens and plunging towards earth, before resuming its natural pathway.
“Over 70,000 people witnessed this wonderful sight on October 13, 1917. Why not challenge our youngsters with the technical aspects and the more important, spiritual aspects of a real episode of Catholic tradition?
“(It’s) a moving and touching performance to win the hearts and souls of audiences. Drama has been proven to be a very successful tool for communicating with young people; it has the ability to engage.”
Always with an active voice on issues relating to the family, Bev has lobbied governments on various moral issues.
“I’ve been involved with the Australian Family Association and ACT Right to Life Association since the inception of these groups in the seventies,” she said. “I see the role of motherhood to be overlooked by too many legislators.”
Nowadays Bev and Kevin continue to enjoy a bustling family life in Canberra, gathering with as many of their nearby children, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren on Monday nights, in what she described as “theatre in the home”.
“Of course not everyone can make every Monday night but the attendance is very good with 25-plus nearly every week,” she said.
Ellen, one of their granddaughters was the inspiration for the cover of the play, as Our Lady.
“I’ve lived a busy life as a mother,” Bev, who also enjoys tennis and golf, said. “My devotion to Our Lady came from my feeble attempts to attend daily Mass and recitation of the Rosary.”
In the course of writing this story, Bev celebrated a healthy 82 years and was “hurried with a run of family birthdays”, not the least of which was her own.
With a brother and extended family in Cairns, she said “a good part” of her “belongs in North Queensland”.
“My maternal grandmother was born in Cooktown in 1876 and my mother was born in Irvinebank (near Herberton) in 1916,” Bev said. “Most of my 1955 class of six are still alive and scattered but we all have good memories of that original Fatima play.”
To order a $24.95 copy of Fatima: The Play visit www.connorcourtpublishing.com.au