5 People It’s Easy to Forget Are Catholic

1. Jack Kerouac

The gentleman we can blame for hipsters and a prolific collection of beautiful, anti-establishment prose was a Catholic. He was no angel, and certainly not a practicing Catholic (he stopped attending Mass at 14), but it has been rightly pointed out that Jack Kerouac never left his Catholicism. The beat revolution — which later seemed to think Kerouac was advocating moral relativism and playing crap music in coffee houses (which led to the hippies, who led to the hipsters) — largely misunderstood Kerouac’s writing and philosophy, which was informed by a rich, pre-Vatican II Catholicism. From a biography by Dennis McNally, Desolate Angel:

“He was obsessed, enraged, with a sense of America being debauched by the clanking, alienating horror called the new industrial state. Secondly, his rage was cut with a sense of Dostoyevskian suffering and guilt, for he felt that the American citizen’s complicity in the exploiting modern state went far too deep to be ‘solved’. Racism and violence were not issues — “Issues” he’d say with a curling sneer, “F*ck issues” – but sins, and for that only penance was possible.”

Deposition by Jack Kerouac and Franco Angeli, depicting Jesus being taken down from the cross.

His coining of the term “the beat generation” comes from “the beatific generation”, for — despite all the sin, desperation, existential displacement, and drug abuse — Kerouac believed that his generation would see God. “Beatific generation” was inspired by a vision Kerouac had of a statue of the Virgin Mary turning her head toward him. He said:

“It is because I am Beat, that is, I believe in beatitude and that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son to it… Who knows, but that the universe is not one vast sea of compassion actually, the veritable holy honey, beneath all this show of personality and cruelty?”

I found an excellent article, “The Conservative Kerouac”, that summed up the depth of his Catholic roots quite well:

“The Catholic Church is a weird church,” Jack later wrote to his friend and muse Neal Cassady. “Much mysticism is sown broadspread from its ritual mysteries till it extends into the very lives of its constituents and parishoners.” It is impossible to overstate the influence of Catholicism on all of Kerouac’s work[...]The influence is so obvious and so pervasive, in fact, that Kerouac became justifiably incensed when Ted Berrigan of the Paris Review asked during a 1968 interview, “How come you never write about Jesus?” Kerouac’s reply: “I’ve never written about Jesus? … You’re an insane phony … All I write about is Jesus.”

But wasn’t Jack Kerouac, author of “Dharma Bums”, a Buddhist? He spent a long time flirting with Buddhism, in a similar way that Thomas Merton — who Kerouac loved — thought there was much common ground between Buddhism and orthodox Catholicism. But Buddhism ultimately held no sway on the man. Experiencing a nervous break down, he realized that “was the night of the end of Nirvana…I realized all my (years of studying) Buddhism had been words, comforting words, indeed, but when I saw those masses of devils racing for me.”

Now don’t get me wrong, we should be praying for the man’s soul. His life was an unhappy one. But he carried on a beautiful, Franciscan-like search to see the face of God, overwhelmed by the sense that all things are holy. There are few writers who have so clearly pointed out — to me, at least — man’s longing for the divine.

2. Chief Sitting Bull

This one made my 5 Things No One Knows Are Ridiculously Catholic list a little while ago, but I believe it worth the repost:

Somewhere in the bowels of a Grateful Dead apparel store, on the clothing rack next to the incense sticks, you’re bound to find a shirt with this guy on it…

…usually plastered along with a great quote like “The white man knows how to make everything, but he does not know how to distribute it.” And thus Chief Sitting Bull is claimed as a free-thinking, proto-liberal, tolerating sort of fellow who surely would’ve been down with abortion and all the rest. But it’s a conveniently cropped picture. Here’s the real deal:

Can you spot the difference? It’s the rocking of Jesus Christ dying on a cross around his neck. The best evidence points to Chief Sitting Bull as a baptized Catholic, though he was never fully received into the Church on account of having two wives and being unable to choose between the two. (You know how it is.)

3. Salvador Dali

Now Salvador Dali, by all rights, shouldn’t have ended up a Catholic. His father — atheist extraordinaire — put him in a state-sponsored school to help him avoid the idiotic teaching of priests. For most of his life, Dali looked like he was going to live up to his father’s expectations. This painting…

…is entitled “Sometimes I Spit With Pleasure on the Portrait of my Mother (The Sacred Heart)”. He often blamed the Church for his attitude towards sex — one of near-celibacy and really-weird voyeurism — making him the ideal liberated Catholic. He tried to kill himself at least twice. He held orgies, and was otherwise awkwardly fascinated with just about every orifice the human bodies around him had the misfortune to contain.

But against all odds, by the 1940′s, Dali became convinced that there must be a God. He expressed it paradoxically: “I believe in God but I have no faith. Mathematics and Science tell me that God must exist but I don’t believe it.” He lacked faith, but he could not deny that science, and especially quantum mechanics, was rendering materialism — the idea that the material world is all that exists — bunk. In 1947 he asked a Franciscan friar to exorcise him of a demon, and made him a crucifix as a gift for doing so. In 1949 he had an audience with Pope Pius X11, showing him this:

The Madonna of Port Lligat

The Pope, recognizing it was really cool, blessed it.

In 1951 he wrote the excellent, prideful-to-the-point-of-hilarity, Mystical Manifesto, renouncing his surrealist contemporaries for creating art “directly from the tube of their biology without mixing in it even a bit of their heart or soul” and instead taking up the mysticism of the holy Saints, claiming that “the decadence of modern painting was a consequence of skepticism and lack of faith, the result of mechanistic materialism…”  From the Manifesto:

A brilliant inspiration shows me that I have an unusual weapon at my disposal to help me penetrate to the core ofreality: mysticism -that is to say, the profound intuitive knowledge of what is, direct communication with the all, absolute vision by the grace of Truth, by the grace of God. More powerful than cyclotrons and cybernetic calculators, I can penetrate to the mysteries of the real in a moment… Mine the ecstasy! I cry.

The ecstasy of God and Man. Mine the perfection, the beauty, that I might gaze into its eyes! Death to academicism, to the bureaucratic rules of art, to decorative plagiarism, to the witless incoherence of African art! Mine, St. Teresa of Avila!… In this state of intense prophecy it became clear to me that means ofpictorial expression achieved their greatest perfection and effectiveness in the Renaissance, and that the decadence of modern painting was a consequence of scepticism and lack of faith, the result of mechanistic materialism. By reviving Spanish mysticism I, Dali, shall use my work to demonstrate the unity of the universe, by showing the spirituality of all substance.”

And you know what? He really did. His work got pretty awesome. He didn’t become a Saint overnight though, and his conversion was messy, so don’t forget to pray for his salvation.

4. John Wayne

The Duke was raised Presbyterian, married thrice — each time to a Catholic — and converted to Catholicism, obtaining the state of grace a few days before his death. One of his grandsons is now a priest.

5. Nancy Pelosi

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  • MrFlam

    Andy Warhol

  • http://www.facebook.com/laurie.schalliol.1 Laurie Schalliol

    In Dharma Bums, Mr. Kerouac also reveals a devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux. He writes that he always kept a picture of her on him. Etc.

  • Visitor

    Joe Biden

    • http://www.facebook.com/sam.shovel.3 Sam Shovel

      This is a conspiracy. Joe is something else. Please God let him be something else.

      • Sophias_Favorite

        Nope. Catholic.

  • Courtney

    Great article as usual, Marc. I did know that Pelosi was a “Catholic” but now the photo confirms she’s also a human. Or is she…?

  • Dan Li

    … You’ve got an excellent sense of humour Marc; the last one had me laughing like a hyena!

  • Lauren RSA

    “The Pope, recognizing it was really cool, blessed it.”

    Love it! :D

  • Tony

    Alec Guinness, Loretta Young, Alfred Hitchcock, Danny Thomas, John Ford, Frank Capra, Patricia Neal, Wallace Stevens (deathbed) …

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gail-White/1371034289 Gail White

      Speaking of deathbed conversions, I love thinking of Oscar Wilde as a Catholic author…

  • C R Nugent

    All that to set up #5. Love it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000909947326 Nick Corrado

    This blog is so cool sometimes I forget you’re Catholic, Marc.

    Oh who am I kidding. All the cool kids these days are Catholic. :)

  • Anna

    “…prideful to the point of hilarity” – that’s what makes Dali’s writing so fun to read; it’s like reading a 4-y-o’s mind. Totally egocentric, but with a Peter Pam-ish delight that makes the ego tolerable. And I love the end of his autobiography: “…trying to love my wife, Gala, as Holy Mother Church commands.”

    • Anna

      “Pan-ish.” oops.

  • Patterrssonn

    John Lydon

    ” When you’re brought up Catholic, you are really put through the wringer, right. And then later you realize how absurd all that stuff is.You can stay trapped in that, or you can free yourself. And once you are out of it and you’re seeing things correctly – with an open mind – well, then you can go into any area you like. So, it’s a good thing, really, to be brought up with such nonsense and to then surpass it.”

    • Amused

      That “surpassing” sure worked out well for him, didn’t it? Made one half way decent album, killed his spouse in a blackout and died at 27. If this is what “surpassing” Catholicism looks like I hope I never get free.

      • Patterrssonn

        I think you’ve mistaken him for someone else.

        • Thomas R

          He may have. Do you mean the member of “The Sex Pistols” who’s still alive?

          Sure there are plenty of notable ex-Catholics too. George Carlin, Julia Sweeney, etc. There are also several former agnostics and atheists who became Catholic. Historian Eugene D. Genovese, writer Anna Haycraft, existentialist Gabriel Marcel, gothic metal musician Peter Steele, philosopher Edith Stein, Nobel Laureate Sigrid Undset, and SF writer John C. Wright. Of those Haycraft, Marcel, Undset, and I think Wright were basically raised irreligious or atheist from what I can tell. (Haycraft was raised in the Positivist Church, which is an atheistic religion) Stein was not raised Christian. Steele was a revert.

          • Patterrssonn

            “He may have. Do you mean the member of “The Sex Pistols” who’s still alive?”

            One of them anyway, the one named John Lydon (his names at the top of my post). I love his idea that if you can free yourself of Catholicism you can free yourself of anything.

          • DeGaulle

            The member of that horrible, and totally unmusical band that committed the aforementioned crimes was Sid Vicious. Your list of those who became Catholic is impressive and heartening, and these people would seem slightly better judges of the issues involved than Mr Lydon.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1125166276 John C. Wright

            Don’t guess, ask. I was raised Lutheran. At age seven, I talked my father out of going to church any more, and realizing he no longer believed, he, and the family, stopped going.

          • Thomas R

            Hey I didn’t know if you stopped here. Funny I’ve been on SF forums for years, but this might be the first discussion I’ve seen you. Anyway Hello and Thanks.

          • WSquared

            Genovese was a revert, too.

      • http://www.facebook.com/sam.shovel.3 Sam Shovel

        I hope that you are not referring to John Lydon. I saw him a few weeks ago. Gooosh! from reading this blog and these posts you folks are pretty much ignorant about everything. You guys might consider pulling your heads out of that dark warm place. No wonder Jesus chose to hang out with the bad guys. You all would bore him to death.

        • Thomas R

          Well in my case I don’t think I have any strong opinions on John Lydon one way or other. I rarely or never think of him seeing as I’m an American born in 1977. (I guess he’s still a big deal in the UK) So I don’t really care, but I also don’t see why quoting Lydon should impress anyone too much. It’s not like he’s an authority in logic, philosophy, or comparative religion unless I’m missing something. He’s a musician.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.d.mcpherson Michael Duncan McPherson

    Hey Marc, you probably know this already but Mark Wallburg is a die hard Catholic, and by die hard I mean he goes to mass… every day!

    • GoodCatholicGirl

      Jim Caveziel- very devout

  • Daria

    Gary Cooper

  • Keely

    Did we forget Joe Biden? ;)

    • http://www.facebook.com/sam.shovel.3 Sam Shovel

      Now why would you go and bring him up? You need help, or we need help. Who let the dog in?

  • Jason

    What a great article…fantastic ending too!

  • Arizona Mike

    Johnny Ramone! Squanto! Dean Koontz! Kelly Ripa! Patrick McGoohan! Babe Ruth! Aaron Neville! Yogi Berra! Martin Short! Bob Newhart! John Candy! Vincent Price! Ricardo Montlban! Chloe Sevigny! Scott Weiland! Peter Weller! Doc Holliday! John Ford Cary Elwes! Gary Sinise! Kevin James! Jerry Mathers! LeVar Burton! Steve Carrell!

    • Jack Gordon

      And Babe Ruth was discovered by a Catholic brother, Brother Gilbert, at St John’s Prep in MA. He also discovered several other good but lesser known ball players.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=706222463 Carmen Rosa Hill

      I saw LeVar Burton and my hands went up with a shout of “LeVar Burton!” Awesome. I am surprised. I didn’t know a lot of these people were Catholic. Yay for Vincent Price and Cary Elwes! And all of them! LeVar Burton!!

  • Tom

    Oscar Wilde!

    • DeGaulle

      Yes, repented near the end, and became a Catholic, although certain people don’t like that fact, the most important one, to be known.

  • Casey

    Hahahaha Pelosi, ah!

  • http://www.facebook.com/tom.clarke.96 Tom Clarke

    The difference between Chief Sitting Bull and Nancy Pelosi? Sitting Bull knew the Churches teaching on abortion.

    • bobthechef

      Oh, she knows. How could she not. She just doesn’t care.

      Then again, I frequently commit the error of overestimating the intelligence of some people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anna.dawson.9 Anna Dawson

    Leslie Nielsen.

    Did we ever decide if Bob Marley counts?

    • http://twitter.com/torch621 Justin Jurek

      Bob was Ethiopian Orthodox, which is sorta close enough.

  • Montague

    Some people don’t Know TOLKIEN is Catholic either. Shame.

    • Zach

      I like when people try to explain LOTR as some kind of treatise on 20th century Europe or just another fairytale.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gail-White/1371034289 Gail White

      And he was rather ticked off when, after he had convinced C.S. Lewis of the truth of Christianity, Lewis remained in the Church of England.

  • Thomas R

    Some interesting converts (That some may still not know were converts) include Black Elk, Gary Cooper, Faye Dunaway, Alec Guinness, Alice B Toklas, and Oscar Wilde. People raised Catholic, who people may not know were ever Catholic, include: Usain Bolt, Levar Burton (once studied to be a priest, don’t know if he stayed Catholic), Roger Corman, Cary Elwes (I believe of an old recusant family), Alfred Hitchcock, and John Slattery of “Mad Men.”

  • http://therecusanthousemate.blogspot.com/ Chatto

    I knew the link at the top would take us to Glove & Boots, of which I am a huge fan. Well done for having excellent taste in video blogs.

  • KyPerson

    Black Elk was not only a Catholic, but he was a catechist as well. Liam Neeson is a Catholic, so is Mickey Rourke, Jon Voight and Sylvester Stallone.

    • Karen

      Don’t forget Mark Wahlberg!

  • Kyle S.

    Jay Mohr’s a Catholic, but I guess he’s just easy to forget in general. Does a killer Keitel, though.

  • Catherine

    Well, unfortunately everyone knows Pelosi is catholic. And Joe Biden. And a number of other ‘important’ figureheads. This is mainly the problem.

  • Luke Arredondo

    I thought we might see John Kerry or someone like that for number five. Nice one.

  • Renee

    Living in Lowell as Catholic, Kerouac has little influence other then tourists who are disappointed in the city.

  • Rob B.

    Dali also did some illustrations for the Divine Comedy. His surrealistic style is toned down a bit, but I think it works really well for the imagery in that most Catholic of poems:


    As for the final image, we should definitely pray for Ms. Pelosi…

  • GP

    Your #5 “selection” was the “icing on the cake”!!! HA! HA!!!

  • ponerology

    If Jack Kerouac was searching for God he had a weird way of demonstrating it and was among the useful idiots at best or at worst, hand picked to help bring in the new. Besides, I thought the CIA and those who fled Germany (Frankfurt School) and later the Soviet Union were the ones who are the culture creators and who gave us the new beat generation—you know; destroy all that was before to bring in all that is to be the new normal. I’m not going to bow to Kerouac because he wrote unintelligible but oh so avante-garde prose and was a “catholic”.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sam.shovel.3 Sam Shovel

      You are a silly boy. And you should have stayed away from that community collage (heheh). Keep moving. Do not respond.

  • Stephen

    And let’s not forget John Petrucci.

  • Erik

    Definitely can’t forget Warhol!

  • Salmantica

    Dalí was a traitor to his nation much like José María Pemán. He played along with Franco, kissing his ass both politically and religiously in order to live comfortably in Spain with the dictator’s endorsement when most of his fellow artists had been killed by the regime or had had to flee for their lives to other countries.

    Curse his corpse.

    • DeGaulle

      It was the communists who were the traitors, and had far more blood on their hands, including thousands of priests and nuns whose only crime was to be what they were. Franco hadn’t much choice but to be ruthless, lest there be another Communist insurrection. And your last comment is most uncharitable, though I doubt it bothers Dali too much now.

      • Salmantica

        Happy to meet yet another catholic who endorses Franco’s 40 years long military dictatorship.

        • RainingAgain

          Greatly preferable to 40 years of communist totalitarianism.

          • Salmantica

            Keep adding to the sympathizer count! The bigger the sample, the better.

          • Sophias_Favorite

            Keep spouting your unjustifiable self-righteousness, little boy, the more ignorance you spew, the funnier it is.

          • http://www.facebook.com/sam.shovel.3 Sam Shovel

            Don’t forget we need to keep our eyes out for those insurgents. Remember to “Kill a Commie for Mommy”. Hey Andy! Where did you learn to troll?

        • Thomas R

          Well I think there were Catholics who became disillusioned with Franco, see Georges Bernanos “A Diary of My Times”, or just never supported him in the case of Dorothy Day. (I think) But the Anti-Franco side did contain strong Communist and Anti-clerical elements which killed many Catholic priests in harsh ways. This is largely ignored in the popular narrative of the Spanish Civil War that goes “Freedom v Fascism.” The reality was a bit different and perhaps neither side was all that worth supporting. (Maybe the Basques, but even then it seems like the Basque Nationalists were a tad racist and maybe opportunistic)

      • Thomas R

        The Basques were not Communists and were also against Franco. I understand maybe the Church felt it was Franco or Communism, but it’s still lamentable as options.

    • JohnE_o

      Uh, guys, “Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead!”

  • Amy Wagner

    Buffalo Bill (William Cody) died a Catholic, but was buried by Freemasons.
    Very cool that someone remembered Squanto

    • Arizona Mike

      Squanto – rescued from slavery and baptized by the Franciscans!

  • http://www.facebook.com/theandypants Andrew Parker

    Catholic, and therefore: not a christian. (Or at least not one who reads their bible.)

    • http://twitter.com/torch621 Justin Jurek

      You know you’re going to get downvoted for that bit of lunacy right?

  • Lisa Ann Homic

    There is a Salvation Army ad on your page. Darn this Patheos all inclusive website.

  • Catholic in Brooklyn

    On Kerouac: “He was no angel, and certainly not a practicing Catholic (he stopped attending Mass at 14), but it has been rightly pointed out that Jack Kerouac never left his Catholicism. ”

    Are you kidding?!! Not going to Mass his entire adult life puts him on the wrong side of salvation, and certainly no one that any Catholic should look up to. Kerouac may have been a gifted writer, but his life was a complete disaster.

    I guess I’m just not “hip” enough to get this post.

    • Thomas R

      It does seem iffy in a way, but I think it’s more than just that he didn’t formally renounce it. He did a painting of Pope Paul VI, etc. I think part of the blogger’s point is, perhaps, to intentionally not pick ideal Catholics. (Although some famous Catholics who appeared ideal, like Loretta Young, had plenty of problems too. Her life had a better image, but she had plenty of sin and scandal when you look into it) To pick people who’s life was maybe problematic, but who were trying in their way. Granted I think he might be a bit overgenerous or too charitable at times too, but it’s not the worst fault to have.

    • GoodCatholicGirl

      Same about Andy Warhol. Hardly a model Catholic!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gail-White/1371034289 Gail White

    If nonpracticing and nonbelieving baptized Catholics still count, you can add Scott Fitzgerald to the list.

  • Michellelemon

    This is bizarre and maybe a little off topic, but the story of John Wayne’s conversion reminded of how I once met Mel Gibson’s cousin Jane (went to church and friends with my sister in Chicago) and she told me that she was involved in visiting John Wayne in his last days at the hospital and helping bring about his conversion! Had forgotten that story until I read this… celebrity Catholic stuff

  • http://twitter.com/Rick_MK Rick Kephart

    The story I had seen about Salvador Dali was that he became Catholic after doing his painting based on the vision of Hell at Fatima.
    That is a most unusual painting, in which the most important part is just a tiny, seemingly insignificant figure off to the side: the one person whose prayers would have saved that soul from Hell (“”Many souls go to hell because they have no one to pray for them and make sacrifices for them.”)
    I always thought that painting of his was what convinced him to become a Catholic.

  • http://twitter.com/miramar86lb L. Schultz

    Nancy? She’s not a Catholic. But adding her was for humor? ok…BUAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! :) Interesting insight on the first 3 :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/pat.t.reilly.7 Pat Temple Reilly

    Hey… Kerouac was into hard bop. That is NOT “crap music”.

  • FranRossiSzpylczyn

    Oh how funny. Not. Perhaps this story will help us all when we feel such disdain, acrimony, and/or hatred of someone… http://peopleforothers.loyolapress.com/2013/06/07/wisdom-story-155/

    • linda daily

      Thank you, Fran. Always voice of compassion.

  • alexandra cortes

    You should look into Arthur Rimbaud, his poetry, his life, his endless and exhausting struggle with God and his Catholicism, especially look into “Un Saison en Enfer” (“A Season in Hell”). He is the poster-child for punk rock (though living in Industrial Revolution era in Paris) and one of the most important poets in the literary world. Above all, he is *Catholic* for all that he struggles and rages and cries out for Christ to save him from sin and depravity. My favorite poet by far :) You got to have a strong stomach for him, though, his subject matters are dark as dark can get

  • flyingtiger

    William T. Sherman, The general who marched to the sea and won the Civil War. His son became a Jesuit.

  • pen1

    weird – 3 different browsers and the uncropped pic of Sitting Bull is the only photo that will not load!