Former Elvis Co-Star Mother Dolores Hart Wins Christopher Life Achievement Award; Former New York Jets Player Marty Lyons Wins James Keller Award for Foundation Which Helps Seriously Ill Children


NEW YORK, April 18, 2012—The Christophers announced today that Mother Dolores Hart – a former actress who became a Benedictine nun, and was recently profiled in the Academy Award-nominated HBO documentary “God is the Bigger Elvis” – will receive the 2012 Christopher Life Achievement Award during its 63rd annual Christopher Awards ceremony on Thursday, May 24th.

As part of the annual Christopher Awards which recognize books, films and TV/Cable programs that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit,” the organization also presents special Awards to worthy individuals and achievements, one of which is the Life Achievement Award.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Dolores Hart enjoyed a successful acting career that led her to co-star in movies with Robert Wagner, Anthony Quinn, and Elvis Presley. She became the first actress to kiss Elvis in a movie, and portrayed St. Clare in the film “Francis of Assisi.” Though she enjoyed her time and work in Hollywood, Hart felt an even stronger spiritual call from God that led her to give up the acting life to become a cloistered Benedictine nun at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn.

Though life at the Abbey focused on prayer, practical duties, and visiting with people who come there for retreats, Mother Dolores never fully left behind her connection to the arts. In 1982, Mother Dolores’s close friend, Academy Award-winning actress Patricia Neal, helped build The Gary-The Olivia Performing Arts Center on the Abbey grounds which would come to host community productions ranging from Love Letters to The Music Man. In an interview with the Hartford Courant, Mother Dolores explained the importance of the theater saying, “The arts are a basic need because [they] open what is holy in people, and teach them how to live together.” She hopes to expand the arts center and create a year-round arts school for young people there some day.

In addition, Mother Dolores remains an active member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, giving her a vote to help determine each year’s Oscar winners. She watches the movies on screener DVDs and invites her fellow nuns to see the good ones.

Along with the blessings of Mother Dolores’s life came challenges, particularly her battle with peripheral neuropathy which she has dealt with since 1997. At first, the condition, which affects a person’s ability to walk, went undiagnosed and left her wheelchair bound, thinking she was going to die. Finally, New York City doctor Norman Latov discovered a treatment that eased her symptoms and has helped restore her ability to walk. That suffering taught Mother Dolores an important lesson. She said, “You have to become dependent on the gift of human beings, and you discover that God is an incarnate reality. In the beginning, God was always a pie-in-the-sky reality. Now I had to realize that Jesus was there through the people who were assisting me, caring for me and doing the things that were bringing me through.”

NEW YORK, April 18, 2012—The Christophers announced today that Marty Lyons – former defensive lineman for the New York Jets, current color analyst for Jets games on ESPN Radio, Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations at The Landtek Group, and founder of The Marty Lyons Foundation which has offered hope and inspiration to some 6,000 seriously ill children and teens over 30 years – will receive the 2012 James Keller Award at the 63rd annual Christopher Awards ceremony in New York City on Thursday, May 24th. Since 1987, the James Keller Award – named after The Christophers’ founder – has recognized adults who are impacting the lives of children, and young people who are changing the world. Previous recipients include hockey Hall-of-Famer and patron of critically ill children Pat LaFontaine, and beloved Sesame Street puppeteer Caroll Spinney.

After attending St. Petersburg Catholic High School in Florida, Lyons learned both football and leadership skills under the guidance of the late Coach “Bear” Bryant during his days as a student-athlete at the University of Alabama. Lyons went on to a successful 12-year professional football career with the New York Jets.

In March 1982, Lyons experienced several life-changing moments over a very short period of time. He said, “In one week, my father, Leo, passed away suddenly; Keith, a little boy to whom I was a Big Brother, passed away from leukemia; and my first son, Rocky, was born. Imagine being on top of the world, and in the period of seven days you are forced to see the frailty, unfairness, and the wonder of life. I decided to use my name and my God-given talent to make a difference in the lives of terminally ill children.”

For three decades, The Marty Lyons Foundation has fulfilled special wishes for children and teens diagnosed with life-threatening or terminal illnesses. The Foundation has grown to include nine chapters covering 12 states: Alabama. Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Massachusetts, Texas and Pennsylvania. Among its many acts of kindness, the Foundation has provided a seizure-alert dog for a teen who suffered seizure disorders; paid for a trip that would allow a dying 13-year-old girl with leukemia to visit her extended family, and sent a Long Island boy with a rare genetic disease to Disney World with his family.

Regarding this aspect of his life, Lyons says, “Seeing kids who are sick and dying is one of the hardest things in the world, especially for a parent like me. Regardless of how tough I was on the football field, the kids we’ve helped are the ones who demonstrate real toughness and resilience. Being able to bring a smile to their faces and a little light into their lives is an honor and a privilege. It means a lot to them, but it gives me a taste of heaven on earth as well.”

Read about the 2012 Christopher Award winners for Books, Films and Television.

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