Actress and winner of the Movieguide® Grace Award Roma Downey said that her on-screen portrayal of an angel named Monica in TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL did not reflect her real life in the way that fans assumed.
“When you play an angel on television you’re often mistaken for one. I should know. For nine years and some 212 episodes, I was Monica on Touched by an Angel. Again and again, people would stop me on the street and say, ‘You’re that angel!'” she wrote in an article from 2012.
“I wanted to correct them, ‘I’m an actress who plays an angel.’ I loved the role of Monica, but I didn’t want anyone to be confused about who I really was, an Irish girl from Derry,” she added.
Downey, who has since starred in and produced faith-filled projects such as, RESURRECTION, SON OF GOD and THE BIBLE, said her father encouraged her to pursue her passion for art and storytelling.
“I was the youngest of six. My mother died when I was only 10 and our father raised us. He was a schoolmaster, a reader and lover of poetry. Small and white-haired, he looked older than he was,” she explained. “Dad led us in prayers every night around the dinner table. He always stressed that it was how we showed our faith that mattered. ‘Kindness is everything,’ he said.”
“We were expected to reach out to others, whether it was reading to someone with failing eyesight, helping an elderly friend with errands or bringing soup to an ailing neighbor,” she continued. “We didn’t own a car and certainly didn’t have luxuries like a dryer. Yet we were rich—and certainly richly blessed—as long as we could give.”
The Movieguide® Award-winning actress and producer, said that amid the riots and bombings in Northern Ireland, her father protected her and the family.
“Several times we had to evacuate my school. Once we had to duck behind cars to avoid flying bullets. (It was years before I could hear a loud noise like a slamming door without diving for cover.) Dad made our home a refuge, a place of peace and protection,” she said. “I dreaded leaving home. I wouldn’t see my father for months at a time. I didn’t know if I could accept that. Dad was all I had.”
Before Downey left for school, she recalled a conversation she had with her father:
One night I came to him teary-eyed. ‘Dad, I’m going to miss you so much,’ I sobbed.
He took my hand and led me outside to our garden. A full moon bathed the grass and bushes in silver.
‘Look to the moon,’ he said. ‘Wherever you go, this same moon will be shining on you and on me. I will leave a message for you there. When you miss me, just look at the moon and you will see how much I love you.’
Downey left for England and recalled how the backfiring of a car reminded her of the fighting in Ireland.
“You’re far from the troubles, I told myself, but my spirit was unsettled. I longed for the sea and the sky of Ireland and the reassuring sound of Dad’s prayers,” she said.
But Downey realized that art school was not for her and shifted her attention to acting school. However, her father would never see accomplishments on-screen after suffering a fatal heart attack.
“It seemed so cruel and impossible,” Downey confessed. “Lord, how could this happen? I demanded. I flew home in a daze. I trudged up our front steps. One of my sisters greeted me at the door. My father was laid out in the sitting room, as was our Irish custom, but I wasn’t ready to go in there.
“My father would not have wanted me to give up on my dreams, and certainly not because of him. I returned to London, finished my studies and then threw myself into acting,” she added. “My work took me from England to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, to New York’s Broadway and eventually Los Angeles. Far-flung places where I could still look to the moon and feel my father’s love with me, and hear him say that we must always be kind.”
While in Hollywood, Downey was offered the role of Monica on TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL, where she would go on to star in over 200 episodes over nine years.
“My father would have loved Touched by an Angel. All those acts of kindness, all those answered prayers. The people on the show were wonderful, especially my costar and fellow angel Della Reese, whose wisdom I came to rely on,” Downey reflected. “We were flooded with letters from viewers and I got invitations to visit hospitals, nursing homes, schools. I got to put my faith in action, just as Dad had taught. More and more it felt like he was still with me.”
Downey insisted that she was not an angel, but she said that she learned to trust that God could use her to show other people His love.
“God could do anything. God could send me places and give me roles I never expected. I had to step aside and let his grace flow through me,” she said. “I’m not an angel. I’m just a human being. But if the moon can hold a message of love for a homesick daughter, then anybody can be an angel delivering comfort in a time of need. Kindness is everything, just as my father had said all along.”
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