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Header-Hollywood Star joins the Convent

 

Amidst the serene Latin chants of the Divine Office from Matins to Compline, an unsuspecting visitor to the rustic environs of the 400 acre Abbey of Regina Laudis (Queen of Praise) in Bethlehem, Connecticut would have never guessed that among these select daughters of St. Benedict is one Dolores Hart, a former film and stage actress who once basked in the glitter and glamour of the Hollywood limelight of the late 50’s and early 60’s.

Mother Dolores as she is now known turned her back on a promising movie career, broke off her engagement to an up-and-coming Los Angeles businessman Don Robinson, and entered the cloister to answer the call of the contemplative monastic life.

Since 1963, she has lived an austere life following the Rule of St. Benedict in the spirit and time-tested tradition of ora et labora (prayer and work.) Mother Dolores became prioress there in May 2001.

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Early years

Born an only child from actor parents (Bert and Harriett Hicks) who were bit or studio contract players, little Dolores found herself moving from Chicago to Beverly Hills in California where she often accompanied her father to Hollywood studio lots. The early exposure to the allures of the movie world spurred her desire to be an actress. "From the age of 7, I never in my life wanted to be anything but an actress," Hart said.

Domestic affairs turned sour as her parents engaged in troublesome bickering which disrupted their family life. Shortly thereafter she was on her way alone to the Windy City where her grandparents lived, train ticket tucked in her coat pocket. She stayed there while her parents tried to pursue their respective careers in Hollywood. She would shuttle back and forth either by train or plane between Los Angeles and Chicago spending summers in California and winters in the Windy City.


A little girl’s conversion

Her grandparents chose to send her to St. Gregory Catholic School for practical and safety reasons since it was closest to their home and less exposed to street traffic. Her studies there turned out for the better as she decided to become a Catholic at age 10.

One day at school when she was alone with the Blessed Sacrament waiting for the nuns to have their breakfast, she approached a sister and told her she wanted “to take bread with the children.”

She went back home and told her grandparents about it and they said it was okay. Soon she was baptized and her mother was thrilled to hear the news.


Back in Los Angeles

Years later Hart, at age 11and after her parents divorced, moved back to Beverly Hills to be reunited with her mother now remarried to restaurant owner Al Gordon.  While in high school she played St. Joan of Arc which opened the doors for her to get a scholarship to Marymount College (currently Loyola Marymount University) for drama. It was at that time when she became obsessed with the idea of becoming an actress often times praying for the chance to get her foot in the front door of big time movie studios like MGM and Paramount just twenty minutes away from her school.

While a freshman at Marymount College she got the lead role (again) in the school’s production of “St. Joan.” A male friend from Loyola University took notice of her remarkable thespian abilities and promptly informed the Southern California studios. Hal Wallis, an independent producer at Paramount, sought to check her out through a scout who eventually gave her the nod and a screen test and contract soon followed.


Hollywood career
Dolores Hart

She adopted the stage name Dolores Hart, keeping her name Dolores at the insistence of her mother. Otherwise she would have been known as Susan Hart.

The precocious little girl had now grown to become a stunningly beautiful young lady and fared much better in Hollywood than her parents. Groomed as the next Grace Kelly, the demand for her grew likewise.


The influence of good friends

Hart credits her circle of friends, which she described as wonderful and sound, for helping her maintain her faith in Hollywood.

She made particular mention of Maria Cooper, the actor Gary’s daughter, who had a wholesome and positive influence on her. She has only but the highest praise for her best friend who she commends for being clear and true to her faith and not giving in to the pressures of the ritzy and glitzy Hollywood lifestyle. She owed it to her for having met fine persons and setting high standards for her to follow.

The first knocks of the vocation

In 1959, Hart debuted on Broadway with the play, The Pleasure of His Company earning her a World Theater Award and a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress for that year.

The grueling schedule took its toll on her and she pined for a weekend retreat. At a friend’s coaxing, she reluctantly agreed to visit a Connecticut monastery with her, the Abbey of Regina Laudis. Her kneejerk reaction was, “Ooh! I don’t want to see more nuns!"

But all that changed once she stepped on the grounds of the abbey. There she found calm and serenity. She felt very much at home. The tranquility and sense of stability she felt were in stark contrast to the fast-paced and superficial life in the movie industry where she worked with co-stars and crew for some 8-10 weeks after which they would disband never to see each other again.

The remarkable experience led her to return in between shows even to the point of asking the Reverend Mother if she had a vocation. She was curtly dismissed and told she was too young and that she better go back to “her movie thing.” But that didn’t stop her from coming back to the monastery twice a year.


The final call

However, Hart credits the movie Lisa (1962) as the one that made her ponder seriously to become a nun. Something in that movie drew her to the abbey like magnet. She was never the same after that. Deep down, she felt ready to make a commitment to God but kept it quiet for the meantime.

After Lisa, she made her last film, Come Fly With Me with Hugh O’Brian. While on a promotional stop in New York for the movie, she surprised many when she took the studio limo to Bethlehem to discuss joining the order.


Breaking an engagement

Back in Hollywood, Hart still has an important and unfinished business to take care of – breaking her wedding engagement to Los Angeles businessman Don Robinson.

One night she and Don met at a crowded restaurant for dinner. He perceived what was going on with Dolores. He saw her reading her spiritual exercises that she performed at the abbey. Besides, she wasn’t wearing her engagement ring.

When she broke the news to him, he never felt an iota of rejection. With a heart full of understanding and support, Don said, "I know; I've known it. This is what you've got to do and I've got to do this with you. We've got to do this together."

He adds later, "Every love doesn't have to wind up at the altar."

Thus, the engagement was canceled, and in December 1962, she flew to Connecticut, never to return. Upon embracing the Benedictine monastic life, she acquired the name Sister Judith but changed it to Mother Dolores when she took her final vows in 1970. Currently, she is Prioress of the Abbey and the only nun to be an Oscar-voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Meanwhile, Don Robinson remained single but comes every year at Christmas and Easter to visit the abbey to lend his support.

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Coming out of the cloister

After 51 years of a secluded and cloistered life inside the Abbey of Regina Laudis , Mother Dolores left its austere and tranquil environs briefly out of necessity in 2006 to spread awareness about a mysterious neurological disorder that afflicted her and countless more Americans called peripheral idiopathic neuropathy. She went to Washington to testify at a congressional hearing to drum up support for more research grants to find a cure for the debilitating disease.

In October 2008, she was honored at a breakfast event held at Rochester, Michigan’s Royal Park Hotel which was sponsored by the The Holy Trinity Apostolate of founder Rev. John Hardon, S.J.


The meaning of ones vocation

In this vale of tears, God sets out a path for each of one of us to pursue and follow so we can best know, love and serve Him. Each one of us has an overriding purpose whose ultimate end is God’s glory.

Whether ones vocation is to be single, married, nun or priest, God endows each one a particular mission in life. As we mature and tackle the daily grind of our earthly lives, God reveals his will to us, more often through subtle or indirect means, not by imposition but rather more by invitation. And by following His will, we open the door to our salvation and the eternal life.

And if one is TRUE to his or her calling, ones vocation ultimately triumphs over career should a conflict arises.  Mother Dolores’ life journey makes this evident to us. Endowed with striking physical beauty, fame and money, who would ever think she would shun the glow of Hollywood and end up being nun? Indeed, God’s grace works in mysterious ways!

In her own words Mother Dolores sums it all up:

“I can only go back to my own experience, which was a long and severe test, and it was not easy.
I would say you can never allow anyone to take you out of a vocation. The fact is there is a promise
given in a vocation that is beyond anything in your wildest dreams.

"There's a gift the Lord offers and He is a gentleman.

“I have not been profoundly missed by any means [in the outside world]. My vocation has been
totally gratifying and I wouldn't want anyone thinking that in leaving Hollywood I was disappointed.”

 


References:
1. “Actress turned nun revisits Hollywood,” Associated Press, (April 11, 2006,) MNBC.com 
2. "Mother Delores Hart". Interview by Barbara Middleton, National Catholic Register. https://www.vocation.com/DiscernmentLibraryItem.aspx?id=217&tid=102
3. Middleton, Barbara (Sept. 27, 2008.) "An Interview with Mother Dolores Hart." https://catholicexchange.com/2008/09/27/113998/
4. "Dolores Hart: How a movie actress left Hollywood for a contract with God". Post Gazette. (April 08, 1998).

5. Rizzo, Frank (Oct. 24, 2008.) "Nun using film fame for abbey". The Columbus Dispatch (The Hartford Courant).
6. Montefiore, Simon Sebag (Nov. 01, 1993). “A Cloistered Life”, Psychology Today.
7. Barillas, Martin (Oct. 04, 2008.) “From Hollywood to an Abbey: A Life in Full,” SperoNews, speroforum.com
8. The Abbey of Regina Laudis
9. Young Beautiful Actress left Hollywood to Become a Cloistered Nun, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKGmDifYq60&feature=related

 

 

 

Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for January 24, 2020

Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, not ev...

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January 24

 

Do not lose your inner peace
for anything whatsoever,
not even if your whole world seems upset.
If you find that you have wandered away from
the shelter of God,
lead your heart back to Him quietly and simply.

St. Francis de Sales


My Mother, I will stand with you on OCTOBER 10, 2020

Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Francis de Sales

Francis suffered a terrible temptation to despair of being s...

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St. Francis de Sales

Francis de Sales was born in the Duchy of Savoy, in present-day France, in the Château de Sales. His father was Francis, Lord of Boisy, Sales and Novel and his mother Frances de Sionnz, the daughter of a prominent magistrate.

Born prematurely, Francis was delicate but slowly strengthened, though his health was never robust.

Being the oldest son of six, his father destined him for a secular career, despite Francis’ early leanings to the religious life. He attended the Jesuit college of Clermont in Paris where he excelled in rhetoric, philosophy and theology. During this period, Francis suffered a terrible temptation to despair of being saved. He was miraculously delivered before an image of Our Lady and there and then made a vow of chastity.

At twenty-four he received his law degree in Padua. With a brilliant career ahead of him, and a noble prospect of marriage, Francis declared his intention of following an ecclesiastical career. A sharp struggle ensued between him and his father who only relented in his opposition when Bishop Granier of Geneva offered Francis the post of Provost of the Chapter of Geneva in the patronage of the Pope.

Francis was ordained in 1593. The next year he volunteered to evangelize the region of Le Chablais, recently returned to the Duchy of Savoy from Calvinist Geneva and on which the Genevans had imposed their creed. With enormous tact, charity and zeal the young provost confuted the preachers sent to debate him, converted several prominent Calvinists and at great personal risk and traveling extensively brought back to the Church tens of thousands of the people of Chablais.

He was consecrated Bishop of Geneva in 1602, ruling his diocese from Annecy in France where he immediately established regular catechetical lessons for young and old. He himself taught the children of  whom he was beloved. He visited the parishes throughout his rugged diocese, made provisions for the clergy, reformed religious orders, and preached incessantly, everywhere known for his kindness and patient zeal. Those who flocked to hear the holy bishop said, “Never have such holy, apostolic sermons been preached.”

With St. Jeanne Frances de Chantal he founded the Order of the Visitation for girls and widows who had not the health or inclination for the austerities of the great orders.

In the midst of all his activities he found time to write numerous letters and works, among the most famous being his Introduction to the Devout Life.

Francis de Sales died in 1622 at age fifty-six and crowds thronged to venerate him. He was canonized in 1665 and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1877.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

One night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him h...

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Mary and the Muslim

Don Octavio del Monaco was a wealthy citizen of 17th century Naples. Like many of his class, Don Octavius had several Muslim slaves in his household. These children of Islam were amazed at the kindness of their “master.” He fed and clothed them better than they received in their native land. In return, his slaves attended to their tasks with diligence, as Don Octavius did not over work them, but assigned them duties in keeping with their dignity as children of God.

If these Muslim slaves had any reason for complaint, it was the gentle persistence with which their master and his wife exhorted them to give up their false religion and become Catholics. Don Octavius even went so far as to invite the slaves to join his family in the chapel to worship the one true God with them!

Our story today is about one young slave in particular. His name was Abel, like the slain son of Adam and Eve. He felt drawn in a peculiar way to a lamp that burned in front of a shrine to Holy Mary. Abel would purchase the oil needed to keep the lamp lit from his own meager stipend. As he continued to practice this humble devotion, he would say, “I hope that this Lady will grant me some great favor.”

One night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him he must become a Christian. At first the Turk resisted. But she placed her hand upon his shoulder, and said to him: “Now no longer resist, Abel, but be baptized and called Joseph,” conferring on him a name that was very dear to her Immaculate Heart indeed.

On August the 10th, 1648, there was much rejoicing in Heaven, for on that day “Joseph” and eleven other Muslims converted to the Christian faith and were baptized. Their conversion was brought about by the kindness shown by Don Octavius and the special intercession of the Mother of God.

Our story does not end here. Even once this son of hers was safely baptized, Mother Mary delighted in visiting him. Once, after having appeared to him, she was about to depart. But the Moor seized her mantle, saying, “Oh, Lady, when I find myself afflicted, I pray you to let me see you.” In fact, she one day promised him this and when Joseph found himself afflicted he invoked her, and Mary appeared to him again saying, “Have patience", and he was consoled.

From the Glories of Mary, by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori.

One night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and told him he must become a Christian.

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