Filmmaker shares story of Sr. Maria Marciano’s mission

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | February 22, 2022

‘Seeds of Life’ documentary on Haiti premiered in Green Bay

Filmmaker Paige Grube shoots footage of Dominican Sr. Maria Marciano and Haitian men working at a fish farm in February of 2020. Grube’s documentary about Sr. Maria’s mission, “Seeds of Life,” premiered on Jan. 13 in Green Bay. (Submitted Photo | For The Compass)

GREEN BAY — Filmmaker Paige Grube describes the moment as a “random kismet thing.” A leap of faith would also be an accurate description. In 2017, she received an invitation to make a mission trip to Haiti, but would have to leave in two weeks and would be gone for two weeks. Grube was working as a video producer at a large company at the time. She quit her job to make the trip.

Grube’s interest in Haiti began years earlier when she heard Jim Fitzgerald a member of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, Newton, give a presentation about his mission experiences. Following the talk, Grube gave Fitzgerald her number in hopes of going someday. 

“I met with Jim and Sandie (his wife) at their house (in 2017). They told me what to expect,” said Grube. “When I met Sister (Maria Marciano), I thought, ‘This woman is a modern-day Mother Teresa.’ Her presence is unexplainable. She is this strong, passionate woman.”

Sr. Maria, a Dominican sister from Brazil, has worked in the Dominican Republic and Haiti for 30 years, building roads, houses, schools, community centers and water systems, and developing agriculture projects.

Sr. Maria Marciano has served the impoverished in the Dominican Republic and Haiti for 30 years. Her building projects have included constructing roads, water systems, homes, schools, community centers, agricultural and farming projects. (Submitted Photo | For The Compass)

“I didn’t bring a camera. I just wanted to experience it all; not go there for any particular reason other than to help,” said Grube. “It’s a lot of physical work, building stuff. I could help, but I didn’t have a lot of knowledge. I thought about how I could contribute. My specialty is filmmaking. I could do a film. I brought it up to Jim. He said, ‘That’s a great idea. We have to get Sister on board.’”

Sr. Maria agreed to the film. Julie Vargas, a member of St. Joseph Parish, Wautoma, who has served as an interpreter on mission trips, helped Grube develop a plan. Cindi Brawner, senior relationship manager with the Office of Planned Giving for the Diocese of Green Bay, assisted with fundraising.

“(Brawner) helped me so much on the journey,” said Grube. “She had a lot of great ideas. I did a GoFundMe (an online fundraiser). I received a lot of private donations from people who have been to Sr. Maria’s place and know about the mission.”

Grube rented camera equipment for the two-week filmmaking trip in February of 2020, before COVID-19 shutdowns began. She recruited Peter Olsen, a drone operator from Madison, and Josh Kufahl, a cinematographer from Green Bay, to join her on the project, each for a week.

“I wanted to capture (Sr. Maria’s) determination and her story, but not entirely focus on her,” said Grube. “I wanted to tell her story through the work that she is doing, the successes. I wanted to be as respectful as I could about her mission.”

“I hope the film helps spread the word to younger people. … I hope it makes people aware of (Sr. Maria’s) work and helps get more funding for her projects. She has already done so much.”

Paige Grube

A central focus of the film is the work on the property of Okne, a Haitian farmer. Sr. Maria led the bulldozing of cacti to plant crops on the land. Grube also shared other Haitian stories including an unfinished school.

“Sr. Maria’s M.O. (modus operandi) is not to just give people stuff,” said Grube. “She got the community on board to help build the school, but then it just stopped because the people stopped working. She said, ‘I’m not going to build this school. Do my kids go to school? No, yours do. Why should I build you something when you are not going to help.’

“It’s what people everywhere should be doing,” said Grube. “You have to teach them to be self-sufficient. Teach them lifelong and generational-long life practices. That’s what I love about (Sr. Maria) and her mission. She doesn’t just give handouts. The patience level she has is amazing. It’s so easy to get frustrated with people. Everything takes forever to do.”

Paige Grube made an initial mission trip to Haiti in 2017. She is pictured above during her return filmmaking trip in February of 2020. (Submitted Photo | For The Compass)

Grube stayed at Sr. Maria’s home in Pedro Santana, a city in the province of Elías Piña (where the Diocese of Green Bay has operated a mission since 1963) in the Dominican Republic. They crossed the border into Haiti each day.

“We would drive five miles, but it took 45 minutes because the roads were so bad,” said Grube.

The language barrier posed challenges and required a great deal of trust for Grube. Nene, the Haitian guide on the trip, who speaks Spanish, served as the interviewer. Grube wrote the questions. Vargas translated them from English to Spanish. Nene translated from Spanish to French Creole.

“That kept me up at night,” said Grube. “We just did an interview and I don’t know what they said. ‘Did we get everything? Did my questions translate correctly?’ It was so stressful.”

One day was especially challenging physically and emotionally for Grube. She rode four hours one way on the back of a motor bike with Nene to Tilory, a mountain village.

“I didn’t know this guy. I had just met him and I couldn’t speak to him,” she said. “That was very difficult. I had to trust, to let go through a lot of this process, which was very hard for me. It all came together better than I could have ever imagined.”

Grube shot 25 hours of footage. A Haitian woman in Florida translated interviews, and a woman in San Diego did the Spanish translation.

“After reading the transcriptions, I thought to myself, ‘Yes, I got this,’” said Grube.

The title of the 80-minute feature film is “Seeds of Life.” It premiered on Jan. 13, 2022, at Backstage at the Meyer Theatre in Green Bay. Grube is entering the film in festivals, which prevents her from currently showing it online. She will be releasing it on DVD and is considering another local showing in the summer. Grube has not taken any proceeds from the film. She recently sent an $1,800 check to Sr. Maria to share with the Haitian people who appeared in the film. Unfortunately, Okne, the farmer featured in the film, died last spring.

Three missionaries on the trip were interviewed for the film — Fitzgerald, Vargas and Pat Carey, a retired professor from Marquette University in Milwaukee.

Grube, a graduate of St. Gregory School in St. Nazianz and Roncalli High School in Manitowoc (2010), said she knew she wanted to work in film by age 7. She once aspired to be an actress, but discovered her passion is to work behind the camera. Grube earned a degree in producing/directing from John Paul University in San Diego, a film and business school. She is currently employed at Shift Visuals, a commercial photography and video production company in Green Bay, as well as owns her own flower business and works at a local restaurant. 

She is searching for her next film project.

“I would like to do some local stories,” she said. “If anyone has any humanitarian projects, I’m interested. I just love to tell people’s stories. I like interviewing people and to be able to do it in English would be great.”

Sr. Maria loved “Seeds of Life,” said Grube.

“She said, ‘Many blessings to me for undertaking the project.’ I’m very proud of how the film shows the culture through the eyes of the Haitians,” said Grube.

“I hope the film helps spread the word to younger people,” she added. “(Sr. Maria) needs young people from the United States to go and help; maybe young people to help fundraise. I hope it makes people aware of her work and helps get more funding for her projects. She has already done so much.”

For more information or to help support the film, visit facebook.com/seedsoflifedocumentary.

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