It’s 2:00 in the morning— and warm. Inside an old barn in rural Virginia in the middle of July, the space is musty and, strangely, packed with people. Joe, Michael, and Daniel Duca are all watching their sister, Elisa, act out a crucial scene from Joe’s first movie, Her Name Was Jo. Standing off to the side, along with members of the crew, are Pamela Duca, the mother of the family, and friends and classmates of Joe. Each is there with a similar purpose: to support the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
At one point, for Joe at least, fulfilling this dream was a solo endeavor. But after four years at Christendom, that desire was transformed into something more fulfilling, more honest, and more restorative than he—or the rest of the Duca brothers—could have anticipated.
Growing up, the Duca brothers each quickly developed a desire to pursue art. On their property in Marshall, Virginia, they made their own movies and their own music, and began to discover their own creative voices through their projects. Early on, Joe, a graduate of the class of 2014, became the one obsessed with moviemaking. No matter the genre, Joe grew interested in joining the business himself and making the movies he was dreaming about day after day.
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Initially, that dream was plotted along the same lines as other Hollywood directors: leave home for a fresh start and find oneself by making movies. These directors went to places like the University of Southern California or UCLA. So, how did Joe eventually find himself enrolling at Christendom?
“Ever since I wanted to be anything at all, I wanted to make movies,” recalls Joe. “But as much as I wanted to learn the craft, that’s only one part of being an artist. I wanted to have something to say, a voice, a perspective on the world—to have a vision. Going to the University of Southern California would’ve really helped with networking and camera placement, sure—but to really have a sense of the world, its history, and my place in it? Why am I putting a camera there? Why am I even picking up a camera? That’s what I wanted to find. Philosophy begins in wonder, and so does art. And to cultivate that joy in creation, that honesty in discovery—I don’t think I would have found that anywhere else but at Christendom.”
Over the course of the next four years, Joe began to discover truths about himself and his potential that he had pushed aside over time. The Catholic community life at Christendom, coupled with what he was studying in the classroom, resulted in an emotional and intellectual actualization of his potential. After years of study and Catholic cultural experiences, Joe left believing he could follow his dreams but do so in an even more fulfilling way: by eventually building a community of Catholic artists in Hollywood.
In the seven years since graduating from college, Joe has now made two feature films—both with his family. Evergreen is currently available to rent on all major platforms, while his other film, Her Name Was Jo, was recently picked up for international distribution, with a local premiere being held in the Front Royal area—where the movie was shot.
Her Name Was Jo and Evergreen gave him the opportunity to grapple with the messiness of human nature outside of the abstract concepts of philosophy class, to see it play out in experience, and to offer that to an audience. Even more so, both gave him the ability to make films with his family and fellow Christendom alumni, replicating the experience he had on Christendom’s campus in a broader way in the world.
That emotional through line—of discovering which values mean the most, especially community—were heavily influential on Michael’s career choices as well. Michael, a graduate of the class of 2019, has been writing and performing songs for years now, starting in a shed outside his family’s house before graduating to high school talent shows and eventually coffee shops in Los Angeles, California, while living with Joe soon after his 2014 graduation. Once he arrived at Christendom in 2015, Michael started pouring even more time into his work.
Two years into college, Michael released his first EP: Best Face Forward, inspired by personal stories. A year later, Michael released his second EP, Eat Local, and another four singles were released in the following years. He released two of those singles—”Myself from Me” and “Sway”—during the tumult of 2020.
Throughout this artistic process, Michael realized the value of collaboration and community. The relationships he formed with professors and classmates at Christendom helped him grow in his relationships with his family. The time spent talking with roommates late at night gave him the confidence to pursue his dreams of going into music. And in his class, he ultimately met his greatest collaborator: his now-wife, Mary Katherine (Mooney) Duca, who has designed every one of his album covers to date.
“As a musician and songwriter, I was uniquely affected by my time at Christendom,” says Michael. “I’ve always been very convicted about the things I believe to be true, but prior to Christendom, I lacked the skills to express those things well. Christendom reinforced and further developed my understanding of the human experience, and also gave me the ability to express this understanding confidently. Through conversations with teachers and students at Christendom, I came to better understand myself and what I wanted to say to the world through songwriting. Since art is a reflection of the artist, my time at Christendom has forever changed the way I create.”
Today, Michael and Mary Katherine, along with Joe, reside in Los Angeles. Joe is in the midst of developing several projects, including a sequel to Evergreen and another smaller-budget picture. Michael’s next single, “Midnight Comeback,” was released on March 26, with more singles planned for release throughout 2021, all leading into the writing, production, marketing, and release of his first full-length debut album.
All the while, Daniel, the third brother, is in the midst of his third year at Christendom. During the summers in between academic years, Daniel has spent time in both Los Angeles and Virginia, developing his skills and learning more about the film and music industries. He’s helped both Joe and Michael with their projects and is now currently applying for internships to work in music management over the coming summer. His ultimate goal is to land a position at a prominent management firm and begin his journey in establishing himself as a personal music manager. Christendom, for him, is the best place to begin preparing for his future career.
“The education at Christendom has given me the confidence to go out into the world and believe that I can help people,” says Daniel. “The college has helped me identify my talents and the good that I have to offer through the curriculum. Studying the liberal arts, especially philosophy, allows me to honestly assess who I am, and, through that, what I want to do. Not only that, it has also helped me to look at the world and see what is lacking so that I can use the gifts that God has given me to play my part in evangelization.”
Over the past decade, the Ducas have taken major risks in pursuing their dreams. Film and music are notoriously difficult career fields to get into, but each feels they have been given the tools to pursue their dreams—in a community—because of their time at Christendom. The college’s culture and community gave each an emotional confidence, but also a further desire to build out such a community in places like Hollywood.
“To every Catholic that wants to pursue a career in art: don’t be afraid,” encourages Michael. “In Los Angeles, my wife and I have found a thriving community of young Catholic creatives who desire to bring the Faith to the arts. Yes, it is a daily test of your faith [in Hollywood]. As Matthew McConaughey says, ‘Hollywood is not a place to go find yourself.’ That’s what a Christendom education is for. With that education, we should be inspired to challenge the entertainment industry by creating honest, compelling, and moral art that explores all truths of human life. So, when I say, ‘Don’t be afraid,’ I mean trust your conscience, believe in yourself, and have faith that God will guide you. Then, create art for the culture and people that are starving for something honest and beautiful.”
When Warren Carroll founded Christendom, he did so with the explicit desire that the college form lay men and women to go out and impact every level of society. The Ducas heard that mission and took it to heart. For them, their dreams and the mission of the college are linked.
“Daring to be great implies an individual doing the daring,” says Joe, “an individual with their own personality, their own wants and needs and longing. There’s a person there with their own unrepeatable response to God’s calling to fulfill creation in their own heart and their own way. So that’s the corollary to me: you must also dare to be authentic. To be courageous as only you can, to offer the world your unique image and likeness. You must cultivate your own identity, your own path to eternity. We owe it to the world. To restore all things in Christ, I think we must first restore ourselves in Him.”
“Christendom affords a space and resources to do that,” he concludes. “There’s a lived-in quality—a messiness—to growth. And to be able to do it in an environment of friends, professors, a community who want to accompany you in that growth—it’s priceless. It’s one thing to know the truth, but to live it out, you can’t do that alone.”
The Ducas have already accomplished so much with their talents, but for them, they are only just getting started. Their hope is that their story will inspire other students and alumni to take risks to pursue their passions, using what they learned at Christendom to truly fulfill Warren Carroll’s dream.