Lapopessa is the semi-biographical re-imagining of a historical love story between a nun, Sister Pascalina, and a priest, Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII. In this version of history, Sister Pascalina was the most powerful woman in the Catholic church and lived "secretly" in the private Papal apartments with Pope Pius XII for 20 years.
She was fiercely protective of the Pope and worked hard to put him on the Papal throne and protect him from those who did not support his papacy. To do this, she had to endure much criticism and mockery of the title Lapopessa, which means female Pope in Italian. This title was given to her by the disapproving, misogynist male hierarchy.
At times, Sister Pascalina functioned much as a Pope and was responsible for many of the significant decisions made during Pius the XII's papacy. She was directly involved in negotiations with Hitler and Mussolini and met with them both as she helped change history.
Sister Pascalina formed the Pontifical Relief Committee, which issued false Christian identification papers to many Jews and tunneled them to freedom through the Vatican. She oversaw the melting of ancient Vatican gold treasures to pay Nazis ransom to save Jews throughout Europe. She accomplished this and more as the world publicly condemned Pius XII as "the Silent Pope" for not speaking out against the atrocities as they occurred.
Lapopessa is a story that the Catholic Church had always denied. Pascalina was never officially recognized or credited with her significant accomplishments. But references to her are found in several books, newspapers, and magazines. When researching Pascalina Lehnert's life, Allen M. Dion went to Europe to meet with a nun who worked with Pascalina. She gave him an extended interview as well as abundant reference materials. Lapopessa tells the classic story of the strong woman behind the man when women were not supposed to lead or stand out. This musical's storyline tells of a unique love story filled with joy, sorrow, humor, and drama. It is a moving musical theater experience, but most importantly, Lapopessa is the story of a liberated woman who decided to dedicate her life towards making a young, somewhat frail priest into the leader of the influential Catholic church. It was her choice to walk in the shadow of a man she was determined to see become Pope.
Although the world criticized Pius XII's papacy and called it ineffectual, Sister Pascalina secured her place in history by foreseeing the potential in making Eugenio Pacelli Pope Pius XII. Under her guidance and unwavering support, this misunderstood Pope received credit by being posthumously celebrated by Jewish organizations for saving millions of Jews from the atrocities of the Nazi regime.
Perhaps unsung and notably overlooked by official church history, Lapopessa became a title of great honor. This one-word moniker now presents a powerful image of an indomitable woman working tirelessly to achieve an incredible goal against all odds. She willingly took on the role of housekeeper, mother, caregiver, confidant, and loyal friend to help create a thoroughly compelling, dynamic, and historically validated papacy, no small feat for a young girl of Bavarian heritage at the turn of the 20th century.