New film tells inspiring story of young priest who left a lasting impact

Father Ryan Stawaisz.

A new film titled “Love God’s Will” that recently debuted in various theaters in Houston tells the inspiring story of Father Ryan Stawaisz, a young priest who touched the hearts of many and embraced God’s will after receiving a life-altering diagnosis.

Palomita Films — a Houston-based film production company consisting of Cimela Kidonakis, Jessi Hannapel, and Garret McCall — teamed up with Father Richard McNeillie and the Office of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to produce the film.

The film features Stawaisz’s parents, Ray and Susan Stawaisz, his brother Ross and sister-in-law Gaby, his closest childhood friends, parishioners, other priests from the archdiocese, and several others who knew Stawaisz personally.

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After graduating from Texas A&M with a degree in petroleum engineering, Stawaisz was set to embark on a promising career. However, he felt God calling him to something else — the priesthood. Stawaisz entered seminary, and shortly before his ordination, he received a devastating cancer diagnosis — his second one after successfully beating cancer once before as a junior in college.


Despite his diagnosis, Stawaisz began his priestly ministry as the parochial vicar at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Houston in June 2019. Just two years later, on June 21, 2021, the young priest passed away, but he left a lasting impact on those he ministered to at his parish.

Father Ryan Stawaisz and his brother Ross on the day of Ross' wedding. Credit: Dreamy Elk Photography
Father Ryan Stawaisz and his brother Ross on the day of Ross' wedding. Credit: Dreamy Elk Photography

In an interview with CNA, Ray and Susan Stawaisz said that about six months after Ryan died, they were approached by McNeillie asking if the archdiocese could make a seven-minute film about him to post on the vocations website for the archdiocese. However, the production company quickly realized seven minutes wasn’t nearly enough time.

Hannapel of Palomita Films explained that the team of three started by interviewing the Stawaisz family.

“It was a four-and-a-half-hour interview,” she said in an interview with CNA. “And we left their house with a giant box of old VHS tapes of Ryan growing up.”

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The film team then went to Stawaisz’s parish to collect interviews from parishioners. They were there from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and conducted 31 interviews.

“So already we were like, ‘Okay, we can’t do seven minutes. How can you tell a seven-minute story? This is going to be bigger than what we ever anticipated,’” Hannapel recalled.

The team got to work on what would end up being an hourlong movie sharing Stawaisz’s story. Thanks to the support of McNeillie and financial contributions from crowdfunding, “Love God’s Will” was made and debuted in theaters.

“We have so far done 20 showings and 19 of them have been sold out,” Kidonakis of Palomita Films emphasized. “And every time people come, we get one more person to be like, ‘I want to sponsor a showing’ and they’ll just write the check.”

Kidonakis shared that her “dream” was to have 10 screenings of “Love God’s Will” during Lent. There have been 20 showings and there are 20 more scheduled during April and May. 


Ryan Stawaisz before attending Texas A&M University. Stawaisz family
Ryan Stawaisz before attending Texas A&M University. Stawaisz family

The team is now working on expanding outside of Texas as requests for showings have been flooding in from across the country from states including Florida, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, and more. Not only will they be bringing the film to theaters outside of Texas but also to parishes and schools as well.

“Now we have all these out-of-state people that we had to find another volunteer to help us with the out-of-state [requests] because we can barely manage with the Texas people,” Kidonakis told CNA.

As for the Stawaisz family, they’ve been moved to see the response and hear the stories of all the lives Ryan touched.

“I just find it like an Overton window … you’re looking behind the scenes of something and it just humbles my heart,” Susan Stawaisz shared.

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Gaby Stawaisz added that after showings, people approach her to share their story of Ryan and has realized that by talking with so many people that “everybody had a story” of him.

The Stawaisz family from left to right: Ross, Gaby, Ryan, Susan and Ray. Credit: Courtesy of the Stawaisz Family
The Stawaisz family from left to right: Ross, Gaby, Ryan, Susan and Ray. Credit: Courtesy of the Stawaisz Family

Ross Stawaisz pointed out that he was not aware of what his brother’s day-to-day life truly looked like because they were things that were not shared, but once he saw a glimpse of that, it was “moving.”

“All that time that I was just thinking to myself, ‘He’s probably at church praying or just resting’ he was really at the hospitals ministering to the sick, doing home visits, doing all of these other things,” he said. “And like my mom said, it wasn’t until after he passed [that] we really realized what his day-to-day life looked like and it was very moving to understand how important ministering to the parish was for him and how well he did it.”

The Stawaisz family also reflected on what they themselves learned from Ryan during his time on earth.

“Ryan thought quite deeply and the advice he was able to give was common sense but you just didn’t think of it as quickly as it came out,” Ray Stawaisz shared about his son. “And that was, I think, a gift he had.”

Ross Stawaisz added that as his brother, it was always clear to him that Ryan “went out of his way to some degree to make sure that the people around him felt welcome.”

He recalled that ahead of his wedding, Ryan was able to help put into perspective what he needed to be focusing on as he became a husband and started a family.

“I’m trying to focus on my job and do all this other stuff and he would continually help me to say, ‘Hey, pray about this. What is most important to you? What do you think God wants you to do? How is he trying to bring peace to your life?’ and then do those things.”

The Palomita Films team shared that they were about to stop making movies, but “Father Ryan just took us on such a journey,” Kidonakis shared. “He brought so much peace to my life in a place where I just was kind of burnt out and also confused about what was the next step and he really made me love God’s will in my own life.” 

The team agrees that they have felt Stawaisz’s “presence throughout this whole process” and that “he was guiding this.”

Both the team at Palomita Films and the Stawaisz family emphasized that Ryan never wanted to be in the spotlight — he would not have wanted a movie about his life — but if it was furthering the kingdom of God, he’d be all in. And that’s what they all hope this movie is doing.

“I’m hoping that they [viewers] see the life of a man who tried to follow God, who tried to listen carefully and in his joys and sufferings, joys and sorrows, he still kept seeing light at the end,” Susan Stawaisz expressed. “And somehow to convey to people that we all have that same choice and just try to do it well.”

Father Ryan Stawaisz. Credit: Prince of Peace Catholic Church
Father Ryan Stawaisz. Credit: Prince of Peace Catholic Church

Ross Stawaisz added that he hopes people will see from watching Ryan’s story the “need to stand up for some things. You need to live your life in a way that emulates Christ.”

After sharing that she has heard from several cancer patients on how the movie has touched them, Gaby Stawaisz said: “I feel like anybody who’s gone through any kind of suffering can relate to offering up your suffering and suffering heroically.”

At least one member from the Stawaisz family has attended every screening, if not the entire family. At the end of each showing, Hannapel shared, Susan Stawaisz has gone out before the crowd and asked them to close their eyes and reflect for a moment on this question: “What is God’s will for your life and are you loving it?”