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New film tells story of Michelle Duppong, campus missionary and possible saint

Documentary recounts life of campus missionary, possible saint Michelle Duppong

The life of Michelle Duppong, a devout Colorado-born Catholic who is under consideration to be declared a saint, is the focus of a new documentary entitled Radiating Joy: The Michelle Duppong Story.

The movie was screened in Lakewood Feb. 7, with about 270 people in attendance. The documentary interviews her family, her friends and others affected by her life, her missionary work, and her witness while dying of cancer.

Among those friends at the screening was Stephany Anderson. She met Duppong as a freshman at South Dakota State University when Duppong was a campus missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).

“Michelle was a good friend and a friend who had an intention behind that,” Anderson told the Denver Catholic. “It’s all about having a relationship with Jesus.

“She modeled that and she invited me into it,” continued Anderson, who is now on the FOCUS alumni team. “She encouraged me to share that with others. It was a deep and meaningful and authentic friendship that is still lasting now.”

Michelle was born in Colorado on Jan. 25, 1984 and baptized at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Parish in Arvada the following Feb. 5. Her family soon moved to a rural farm near Haymarsh, N.D. As a young adult, she served as a FOCUS missionary at several college campuses. She then worked at the Diocese of Bismarck as the director of adult faith formation.

Duppong became known for her friendliness, her joy and her ability to invite people to pursue the Christian life.

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“The one thing that I would want others to know is she would want to be your friend,” Anderson said. “She would want to be the one who is reaching out to you and to be in a relationship with you.”

In 2014, Michelle was diagnosed with a serious form of cancer. One priest compared her sufferings to “Holy Week extended to 12 months.”

However, she continued an intense life of prayer and inspirational joy that deeply affected her family, friends and hospital staff. She died surrounded by family at her childhood home on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2015, aged 31.

Bishop David D. Kagan of Bismarck, N.D., opened Michelle Duppong’s canonization cause on Nov. 1, 2022, citing her “true and widespread reputation of sanctity” and “ample evidence of graces and favors by God through her intercession.” The diocese will investigate her life and any reported miracles and present the case for the Vatican to consider.

FOCUS, which produced the documentary, is a petitioner for Duppong’s cause. The movie was directed by Danny Anderson with music composed by Brian Lambert.

After the Lakewood movie screening, multiple FOCUS staff and the filmmakers responded to audience questions about Michelle, the movie, and her cause for canonization.

“She could be your next door neighbor,” said Mark Bartek, Duppong’s former supervisor at FOCUS. “She’s the most accessible holy person you could ever imagine. I think that she really desires to introduce all of you to Jesus in a profound way.”

Hillary Draftz, now the west area director for FOCUS, supervises the campuses where Duppong once served.

“When I look at the way that the Lord is impacting lives, every campus that Michelle touched are among the absolutely most fruitful campuses in in all of the 50 campuses that I have to work with,” she said. “It’s a really beautiful testimony to her and the example that she lived. I think perhaps her prayers are impacting evangelization on those campuses.”

To a question about the effects of Michelle’s intercessory prayer, Jessica Navin said a friend prayed a novena to Michelle after experiencing infertility, and she became pregnant. When this friend passed this prayer on to her infertility group, two women repeated this and also became pregnant.

“I’m sure all of us here today are in need of a miracle for ourselves or for our family members. I’d encourage you ask Michelle to intercede for you, for a miracle,” she said.

The broader release for Radiating Joy is still in the planning stage. FOCUS is exploring opportunities for a full theatrical release and internet streaming. More information is available at focus.org/michelleduppong.

Kevin J. Jones
Kevin J. Jones
Kevin J. Jones is a Catholic freelance journalist from Denver, Colorado.

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