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From Hollywood to an Abbey: A life in full

Former Hollywood starlet Dolores Hart - who once appeared opposite Elvis Presley - speaks of the call that took her to the Regina Laudis Abbey and a life of prayer.

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The Holy Trinity Apostolate, founded by Rev. John Hardon SJ is sponsoring on October 4 “Breakfast with Mother Dolores Hart” in honor of the former Hollywood starlet who has since become the prioress of Regina Laudis – a Benedictine abbey located in Connecticut. The prioress will tell her story “He Led Me Out into an Open Space; He Saved Me Because He Loved Me: The Journey of Mother Dolores Hart to Regina Laudis” for the first time. She once appeared in movies alongside Elvis Presley and was frequently compared favorably to Grace Kelly.

Best known for her key role in “Where the Boys”, Hart left Hollywood at the age of 25 to join the monastery in Bethlehem CT where she has remained ever since 1963. She has spent the remaining years under the rule of St. Benedict, which requires keeping the medieval rhythm of prayer and hard physical work on the abbey’s farm. She emerged in 2006, after 43 years, to visit Hollywood to raise awareness for peripheral idiopathic neuropathy, a neurological disorder that afflicts herself and many other Americans. Today, she is Prioress of the Abbey and also the only nun to be an Oscar-voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

At the October 4 breakfast, award-winning actress Patricia Neal also spoke. Having once undergone an abortion, before marrying beloved author Roald Dahl and bearing several children, she has since become a firm advocate of the pro-life movement in addition to her work as an actress. She is best known for her films that include “The Subject was Roses”, “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, and “Fountainhead”. Also speaking is Maria Cooper Janis, the daughter of Hollywood leading man Gary Cooper.

In an interview preceding the event, Barbara Middleton – President of Holy Trinity Apostolate – Hart spoke of her family and how she decided to try her luck in Hollywood as teenager.

Middleton: Were there any signs early on that Mother Dolores Hart would give up EVERYTHING for the one who is responsible for EVERYTHING?

Prioress Dolores Hart:  “I continued to live with my grandparents while my mother and dad went to Hollywood. I began to think very much that I wanted to join them in Hollywood. My grandfather was a projectionist and I would go with him to the theatre. We would go in the booth and he would sleep on a cot. Every twenty-five minutes, I would ring a bell to wake him to start the movie. I saw these movies over and over again. They had no sound. It was an amazing experience. I was being trained to be something, that would be somewhere down the line, very efficacious.

My Daddy was in Hollywood and I was always wondering when I was going to see him on the big screen. My grandmother would put me on a train in Chicago, my mother would pick me up in California. It was a wonderful experience - - seeing the waving palm trees and knowing I was getting closer to Los Angeles- - I can still hear the wheels of the train coming in to San Bernardino, and knew I would be seeing my mom soon.

I was ten years old and that was ‘the way I got my growing up.’ Finally, we got into ‘airplane time.’ My mother put me on an airplane in care of a Chinese magician. We were supposed to land in Chicago, but the plane had to go to Kansas City because of a storm. My grandmother, thinking of this kid getting off in Kansas City alone, (she must have lost her mind with worry) got a taxi driver to take her to Kansas City. She didn't drive. I got off the plane with this magician and we were having a great time. If I remember, we were just about coming to the plane waiting area, and there was my grandmother waving at me. I was holding onto this man's hand. I told my grandmother that he's ‘been just like a daddy to me.’ The poor man was changing fourteen shades of red. My grandmother said, ‘Don't say that.’ You could never do that today. For many years, I spent summers in California and winters in Chicago.

When I was eleven years old I lived with my mother. In due course, my mother and dad divorced.

In high school, I was really aiming my sights and thinking about living close to Hollywood. The idea of becoming an actress did not seem to be a ‘pie in the sky’ thing. I dreamt about it day and night. You could be that close and yet that far. I lived twenty minutes from MGM and Paramount. How do you get an agent? When it gets down to it, how do you get yourself in the front door? I thought I would go to school and pray to God that this would happen and then these questions would be resolved. In high school I played St. Joan. That part allowed me to get a scholarship to Marymount College for drama.”

Mother Dolores discusses discerning a vocation

“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 talk 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. My vocation has been totally gratifying and I wouldn’t want any one thinking that in leaving Hollywood I was disappointed. For every generation, the call of a vocation is different because the needs of the Church are different. Young men and women, today, who are seeking God in this new era really have to listen to their heart. This age must have it’s own witness. I would hope, I would have the courage to do it again. My vocation has been most fulfilling and gratifying.”…

The Holy Trinity Apostolate describes itself as a “lay organization faithful to Holy Mother Church and obedient to the magisterium is dedicated to bringing the ‘splendor of truth’ of the Roman Catholic Church to the faithful through the media of radio, television, conferences and other means of public communication as directed by Vatican Council II. The Holy Trinity Apostolate is dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

Info:      Abbey of Regina Laudis  

             Holy Trinity Apostolate



Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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