A look inside making of social justice documentary ‘Room for Peace’



Megan Kuharich

The Social Justice Documentary courses offered at the University have given students the opportunity to obtain film production experience, and give a voice to the lives their documentaries highlight. On Friday, InHabit Productions will screen their documentary Room for Peace in the Connelly Cinema at 7:30 p.m. 

This semester’s film tells the story of St. Francis de Sales School, a K-8 school in Southwest Philadelphia founded over 200 years ago to educate immigrant children. Professor John O’Leary said he found out about the school via Facebook, adding that the school is a multicultural learning community with students representing 43 different countries around the world, as well as the Philadelphia area. 

“Many of these students are refugees fleeing from volatile countries and dangerous circumstances,” Director Nick Carney shared. “Others may be from a block away, but face their own obstacles in life. Regardless of where they come from, the school works to create a community that fosters education, peace and understanding.”

As the film follows students, parents and hostile home environments, “Room for Peace” illustrates how St. Francis de Sales allows them to flourish in a world not far beyond the University’s campus. 

“It’s an amazing, welcoming place for people coming from other countries like Eritrea and Sierra Leone,” O’Leary says. “The school has this great record of celebrating the cultures of these people from these different places and helping them to be successful in the United States.”

By screening this project, the production company hopes to raise awareness about the school and its great accomplishments in the Philadelphia community. 

“We want to create awareness for what some of these individuals face, but more importantly, we want to give St. Francis de Sales a tool to display the incredible things they are doing in order to allow them to receive the support they need to continue to make a difference,” Carney says. 

Many of the students involved with the production of this documentary said that working with the school and its students was rewarding for a number of reasons.

“Just getting to know the stories of the people involved with the film was the most rewarding moment for me,” Carney says. “From the staff, who dedicate their entire lives to these kids, to the students themselves, I have learned so much from them throughout this process. When you see the film, you will understand why we have enjoyed making this movie so much.”

O’Leary added, “My favorite memory or moment would be watching the two nuns that run the school at work and thinking, ‘Wow, these are two of the most impressive people I’ve ever met.’”

The students from the documentary course have been working hard to bring the stories from St. Francis to light.  

“The fact that we were able to come together and create this product is a testament to our wonderful professors, John O’Leary, Steve McWilliams and Matt Marencik,” Carney shares. “Producing a 30+ minute documentary in just 15 weeks is a monumental task for anyone, let alone students, so we are proud of what we have accomplished this semester and this has truly been a team effort.”