Dolores Hart is an unusual and in many ways remarkable woman. Born in 1938, in a few short years she went from a Hollywood star, young and beautiful and with a bright future ahead of her, to a cloistered nun. Her most famous film was the 1960’s classic, Where the Boys Are, which tells the tale of a group of college students during spring break in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. This film, made in 1960, is actually fairly good, and not just a cheezy display of stupid college students drinking, dancing, singing and enjoying themselves on a sunny, hedonistic beach. Rather, in many ways it presaged the sexual changes about to be unleashed in the 1960’s. The frank talk about sex during the movie, initiated by Hart’s character in the beginning of the film when she proclaims in front of her college classmates that there is nothing wrong with premarital sex, was highly unusual at the time. There is even one point in the movie where her character discusses the pleasures of reading erotic fiction. The movie denouement is the loss of virginity by one of the girls in the group and the consequences of that for her and the others. In short, the movie deals in a honest way with the issues of sex and eroticism as experienced by the youth at the time.
Hart was quite lovely. I find her eyes particularly alluring. Her career was short, however, lasting only from 1957 to 1963. In her ten films she played opposite some of the leading men at the time, such as Elvis Presley, Montgomery Cliff, Steven Boyd and Robert Wagner. The turning point of her life seems to have been when she made the film St. Francis of Assisi, playing the role of St. Clare, the religious sister who was quite close to Francis. While making the film in Italy she met Pope John XXIII and said to him, “I am Dolores Hart, the actress playing Clare.” The Pope responded, “No, you are Clare!”. Apparently this had quite an impact on her decision to become a nun and a few years later, at age 24, she made a one way journey to a Benedictine monastery in CT. where she still remains. In 2001 she was elected the prioress of the community. Amazingly, despite her life as a cloistered nun, she is also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and she still studies movies and votes in the Academy for Oscar awards. She was even honored by members of Hollywood a few years ago. As a former actress, she has spent much of her time as nun promoting the benefits of the arts in the world. Certain great Hollywood names, such as Paul Newman, often help her in this endeavor.
Her life is a wonderful example of how we can all experience such sudden shifts and turns when it comes to faith. To go from the glamor of Hollywood, to the Spartan existence of religious life is quite a shift, but her belief in God was clearly the most important thing in her life, and she gave everything up to follow that, including the man she was engaged to at the time. It was not easy for her, as she says on becoming a nun: “It was not a lifelong dream. I did not grow up wanting to be a nun. I wanted to be an actress. If it had ever been suggested I would one day be a nun, it would have been the last thing on my mind. It was a million to one shot I would ever be a nun.” She has discussed her struggles with her faith and vocation, after her entry into the monastery: “I have struggled with this call to vocation all my life. I can understand why people have doubts, because who understands God? I don’t. When you are dealing with something at this level, you are dealing with mystery.” Clearly, this was not an easy and simply thing for her to do, and to live out. But she has.
She is an example of all the things that are interesting, fascinating, contradictory, mysterious, and good about faith and religion. Despite my own present conflicts and concerns with certain elements of Catholicism and Christianity as practiced and proclaimed today, despite my struggles and questions, my weakness and personal failings, faith, religion, spirituality and God remain for me a never ending source of mystery and fascination. I believe faith is a constant journey and exploration of the ultimate and divine truth. Dolores Hart represents the unexpected paths that true and humble devotion to God can create.
And finally, even as a nun she shows that eroticism still exists. When asked how she could go from kissing Elvis to becoming a nun she said: “How much closer to Heaven can you get?”
So here is a show of thanks to Dolores Hart for a remarkable life.