by Ed Wilkinson
Even though she hasn’t made a new movie in more than 50 years, this star of the screen and stage still knows how to take a bow and play to an SRO crowd.
Mother Dolores Hart, O.S.B., an actress who co-starred twice with Elvis Presley before she entered cloistered religious life as a Sister of St. Benedict, was the guest speaker at a sold out Communion-breakfast at Corpus Christi Church, Woodside, on Sunday, March 18.
Mother Dolores recently regained national notoriety when an HBO documentary about her vocation as a sister was nominated for an Academy Award. Although the film did not win, Mother Dolores, who is still a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, was in attendance at the ceremonies in Hollywood, thanks to special permission from her abbess.
“It was like waking into the belly of the Roman Coliseum,” she said about her return to Tinseltown and walking onto the red carpet before entering Hollywood’s Kodak Theater.
The documentary, “God Is the Bigger Elvis,” will be shown on HBO several times beginning the first week of April.
While her talk at last weekend’s breakfast was a spiritual message about incarnational theology, she liberally spiced it with stories about Elvis, Myrna Loy, Montgomery Clift and Patricia McNeil.
Of Elvis, she says, he was “a very courteous and very lovely young man. He could not have been more of a gentleman.”
And of course, she adds that everywhere she goes she is asked about the distinction she holds of having given Presley his first on-screen kiss in the film “Loving You.”
“I always say to them ‘How would you feel kissing someone with 40 technicians looking on,’” she said, admitting that it took about 12 takes before getting it just right. Most of the delay was for make-up adjustments because both stars were blushing, she claims.
She later appeared with Elvis in “King Creole,” and with George Hamilton and Connie Francis in “Where the Boys Are.” But it was while appearing on Broadway in “The Pleasure of His Company” that she went on retreat at Regina Laudis Abbey in Bethlehem, Conn.
The attraction was unmistakeable and she began thinking about life as a contemplative nun.
“When I entered the abbey, I thought I was losing the theater forever,” she admits.
“But the cloistered monastery is not the place you go to run away from the world. It’s the place you go to realize your potential as an actress. My vocation as an actress only reached its fullest expression in monastic life.”
Mother Dolores sees acting as a relationship, about listening and submitting to a relationship with another. She thus views all humans as actors in relationship with one another.
“In Christ, God enters the world as an actor,” she says.
“As Christ, God moves into the world as a dramatic actor and He makes things happen through interactions with other people.”
“The great strength of the theater is that it always poses the existential truth that we are all called to be actors.
“The great gift of acting is that it is always the presentation of one body to another just as God enters the world and expresses Himself in the Body of Jesus.”
For so many actors, the play is the first experience of community life. So, it should not be surprising that one of the main ministries at Regina Laudis Monastery, where Mother Dolores lives, is theater. It’s home to an open-air stage and theater group that offers summer productions, which this year will include “South Pacific” and “The Gold Cadillac.”
A goal for the abbey in the near future is building an indoors theater and sponsoring year-round theatrical training. Improvements also are being made to the sisters’ retreat center which is available to religious and lay people alike.
“How we’re going to do all this, I haven’t a clue,” said Mother Dolores.
“Our theater is a reflection of our spirituality. Something of our Benedictine spirit goes out from the actions of our actors,” she adds.
“We incline our hearts to what God is asking us to do. It seems impossible what we are asked to do. We ask the Lord to be supported by His Grace.
“You can’t see who you are called to become until you give yourself over to what God is calling you to do.
“If you have a large heart, your capacity to receive and give love will exceed what you can imagine,” she said.
The event at Corpus Christi attracted 295 people while requests for an additional 200 tickets had to be turned away, according to Paul Canestro, pastoral assistant at the parish.