It's perhaps no small accident that when you go to Julia Sweeney's web site, you find a picture of Sweeney in her first communion get-up, complete with a miniature bride-of-God veil and Virgin Mary figure in hand. Typical of Sweeney's ability to see the hilarious in everything from an old family photo to Catholic doctrine, she explains on the site that this is "a picture of me on the day of my first communion. Which, as you Catholics know, is at the age of 7 when a person becomes capable of committing any and all sins against man or God."
Sweeney, as most readers know, hails from a loving Catholic family in Spokane, and it's to Spokane she returns next Thursday as guest speaker for the annual Catholic Charities' "Caring for Kids" luncheon.
"She does poke a little fun at being Catholic," says her mother, Jeri Sweeney. "She's very irreverent." When asked if her daughter still practices, the elder Sweeney laughs and says, "Well, she goes whenever we're around. She belongs to St. Monica's in Santa Monica, and my husband will ask her what time is mass, and she'll kind of go, 'Um... I don't know, I think they changed the times or something.' "
We weren't able to reach Julia for this interview, but it turns out that's for good reason. She's been busy taping episodes of her new series Maybe It's Me. Co-starring Fred Willard (Best in Show), the new show was supposed to debut last Friday night, but was pre-empted by the tragedies in New York and Washington, D.C. The show will premiere this Sunday on KSKN-22, right after Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
"She's been working 60-70 hours a week taping the show," says Sweeney. "She plays the mother of five children."
In her own life, Julia has become a new mother herself, adopting a 15-month-old Chinese girl last March.
"Julie hired a Mandarin/English-speaking nanny for Tara MuLan, but she's a little left out now," says Sweeney. "The babysitter and the baby talk to each other all the time and Julie thought they were speaking gibberish, but it turns out she's counting now and can say a few words."
After having long ago retired the "Pat" fat suit and slobbery exclamations from her famous Saturday Night Live character, Sweeney has since written the hilarious and moving God Said "Ha!", which later became a successful Broadway show and film. When we last checked in with her, she'd just completed a short film for the Seattle International Film Festival. With a new show, a new baby and two new movies, Beethoven's Fourth and Clockstoppers, finishing up production, Sweeney has been busy. But she's not too busy to come back to her hometown for a good cause.
The "Caring for Kids" luncheon benefits two of Catholic Charities' most noteworthy programs, the Morning Star Boys' Ranch and St. Anne's Children and Family Center. St. Anne's, in particular, has four far-reaching and necessary branches in their Child Development Program, which helps serve the needs of working parents affected by welfare reform. Families That Work provides participants with GED certification, job preparation and life-skills training, while the Spokane Works Mentoring Project pairs up advisors with those making the transition from welfare to the work force. There's also the Childbirth and Parenting Alone (CAPA) program.
"The CAPA program works with young, unmarried mothers," says Debbie Patterson, communications coordinator for the Catholic Charities of Spokane. "We have what we call 'doulas' [a Greek word, for a mother/mentor figure], which are women who serve a sort of mentor function. They're experienced parents themselves, and they stay with the young mothers and guide them through the whole childbirth experience."
Patterson says that the program serves primarily low-income young women and that one of the most important elements of the CAPA program is how it provides a social bond at such an important time. "The program supplies things like diapers and maternity clothes, but one of the biggest benefits of the program is that they have the companionship of other young women going through the same thing," she says. "In some of these cases, these girls have no support from their families. It's hard to imagine, in this day and age, but it's true."
The Caring for Kids Luncheon is at 11:30 am, Thursday, Sept. 27, at the WestCoast Grand Hotel. Tickets: $100 ($80 tax deductible).
Call: 358-4253. Maybe It's Me debuts on KSKN, Ch. 22, at 5:30 pm, Sunday, Sept. 23.