Memories of a Penitent Heart” is filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo’s attempt to uncover the true story of her uncle Miguel Dieppa’s life and death in New York City where he succumbed to AIDS in the 1980s.

A native Puerto Rican, Miguel moved to New York City in the 1970s, starting a career in theater—and a relationship with Bob that lasted from 1975 to 1987. His New York friends knew him as Michael, a freedom-loving gay thespian, while to his family in Puerto Rico he remained Miguel, the obedient son who downplayed his sexuality.

Miguel began to get sick. Although he refused to get tested, lesions on his legs indicated the worst: AIDS. Miguel’s illness placed Bob on a collision course with Miguel’s mother, Carmen, who feared that her son was not yet “dead to life but dead to grace.” She pressured him to repent for his homosexuality on his deathbed.

Bob and Miguel. Courtesy POV

Twenty-five years later, Aldarondo breaks the silence surrounding her uncle’s death and unlocks long-dormant family secrets. After a two-year search, she locates Miguel’s estranged partner Bob, who disappeared after Miguel’s funeral. When Aldarondo eventually finds him, he is living in Pasadena, California, as Father Aquin, a Franciscan monk.
“Memories of a Penitent Heart” examines the light and dark sides of faith and how we fight over the memories of those we love. It is a brave and honest exhumation of buried resentments that ultimately reveals how reflections on grief, betrayal and love bring us closer to reconciliation.

Watch the trailer:


“Memories of a Penitent Heart,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016, makes its American television debut on Monday, July 31, 2017, on the Emmy-winning PBS documentary series “POV,” a co-presentation with Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB). Check local listings.