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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 July 12, 2020

“Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the...

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July 12

 

“Know you not
that you are the temple of God, and
that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
(1 Corinthians 3:16)

St. Paul the Apostle


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

Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. John Gualbert

Meeting his brother’s murderer in a narrow alley, he was a...

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St. John Gualbert

John Gualbert or Giovanni Gualberto, was a Florentine nobleman who one day, meeting his brother’s murderer in a narrow alley was about to slay him when the culprit, falling to his knees, implored mercy with his arms outstretched in the form of a cross. It was a Good Friday, and Gualbert, suddenly reminded of Jesus Crucified, embraced the man and forgave him.

Going on his way, John entered the monastery of St. Miniato where he knelt before a crucifix. As he prayed, the crucifix miraculously bowed his head in thanks for John’s act of generosity. Struck to the heart, Gualbert sought the abbot, asked to be given the religious habit, and was ultimately accepted.

He later left St. Miniato with a companion, looking for a more perfect way of life and founded, in Vallombrosa near Fiesole, a new order based on the primitive, austere rule of St. Benedict adapted to the particular circumstances of his time.

He was known for his zeal but also for his mildness, and for making the burden of discipline sweet. In his humility he never received even minor orders. He zealously fought simony, which is the sale of ecclesiastical posts.

His order grew and monasteries multiplied, which were a blessing to their regions and especially to the poor, as no beggar was ever turned away empty handed.

Popes sought his wise counsel, and Pope Alexander II testified that the whole country where he lived owed the extinction of simony to his zeal.

John Gualbert died on July 12, 1073 being eighty or more years of age. Pope Celestine III canonized him in 1193.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

John shared with me the story of his conversion from Protest...

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Walk to Conversion

In September, I brought the statue of Our Lady of Fatima to the home of Mr. John Black and his family in Kings City, California.  John shared with me the story of his conversion from Protestantism: about thirteen years ago he was visiting one of the 21 Spanish missions in California (though these are holy sites, they also serve as tourist attractions.)

“Who is this Junipero Serra anyways?”  he asked, as the tour guide shared the history of the mission. “Well,” the guide responded, “you are standing on his grave!”  Surprised, John looked down and read inscription on the stone. Sure enough, Blessed Father Junipero Serra was buried right there. “I became electrified,” John told me, “I had to learn more about this man and about the missions.”  The more he studied Blessed Serra, the founder of the first nine missions, the more impressed he became, and he decided to travel on-foot to all 21 missions. 

With the blessing of his wife, now left at home with their two infant sons, John left for his solo expedition, taking with him a single backpack, the bible and little money.  He told me that every mission he visited he felt the presence of someone receiving him, even if the mission was empty. He felt this ambiance in the missions so serene and uplifting, and began to realize it was the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament that made him feel so at home.

At one point, John collapsed from exhaustion near a mission run by Franciscans, who kindly hosted him for the night. Before he left the next day, one of the friars gave him a first-class relic of Blessed Serra. Since he was Protestant, John did not know what a relic was, but not wanting to appear rude, he accepted it. Not long after he left the Franciscans, John became lost in the wilderness in the middle of the night. Through his exhaustion and fear he heard a voice say, “Let’s help John.” He had the distinct feeling that Blessed Serra was guiding him, and gathered the strength and courage to continue. About six hours later, he stumbled upon the next mission. “It was kind of a miracle,” he said, “I was really lost!”

During his journey, John slowly came to a realization. “I know what you want from me, God,” he thought to himself one day, “you what me to became a Catholic. That is what this is all about!” However, he still had many questions about aspects of Catholicism that have been rejected by his Protestant faith – mainly about the Blessed Mother. Yet, from that point on he received answers to all of his questions, especially his reservations about devotion to Mary: he believed that it was once again Blessed Serra answering him.

With the help of Blessed Serra, one problem after another was resolved in the solitude of his travels. By the time John reached the final mission, he wholly decided to become a Catholic. “I realized that by having devotion to Mary, you love Our Lord even more,” he told me.

John returned home, filled with zeal and enthusiasm for his newfound faith. He shared his astonishing experiences with his wife, and she too converted. “I feel at home in the Catholic church,” John said, “and I have never loved Our Lord Jesus Christ more than I do now.”

by Joseph Ferrara

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John shared with me the story of his conversion from Protestantism: about fourteen years ago he was visiting one of the 21 Spanish missions in California 

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