A Hollywood star who became a nun is the subject of a documentary film up for an Oscar at the Academy Awards this week. Dolores Hart was the first film star to kiss Elvis Presley and the envy of millions. She went on to perform in several more films in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including Where the Boys Are and Come Fly with Me.
In 1961 she played St. Clare in Francis of Assisi. That year she met Pope John XXIII, telling him, "I'm Dolores Hart, the actress playing Clare." The Pope said to the young actress, "No, you are Clare!" Surprising her friends and family, including her fiance, it was just a few years later that she entered the Regina Laudis Benedictine Abbey in Connecticut, taking her final vows there in 1970.
As a Benedictine Sister she has lived a very quiet, structured life, praying the Divine Office every day and laboring in the fields and workshops. The community is very self-sufficient and has its own 400 acre farm, pottery and foundry. Through the years, Mother Dolores has been instrumental in developing the abbey's connection with the community through the arts. Actor Paul Newman helped her with funding for a electric grid, when she decided to start a year-round arts school and a better-equipped stage.
Another friend, the Academy Award winning actress Patricia Neal, the wife of author Roald Dahl, also helped support the abbey's open-air theatre and arts program. Every summer, the abbey's 38 nuns help the community stage a musical - shows have included West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, The Music Man and My Fair Lady.
In 2006, Mother Dolores visited Hollywood again after 43 years in the convent, to raise awareness for peripheral idiopathic neuropathy disorder, a neurological disorder which she now suffers from. In April 2006, she testified at a Washington congressional hearing on the need for research on the painful and crippling disease.
Mother Dolores Hart became Prioress of the Abbey in 2001, but she remains a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, having in recent years become the only nun to be an Oscar-voting member. She will attend this year's Oscars herself, because she is the subject of the short documentary: God is Bigger Than Elvis, which is up for an Academy Award.
To see a short film about Mother Dolores - go here.