It’s the question that echoes between the lines of mainstream news features about the life and work of Mother Dolores Hart, the cloistered nun (yes, she gave Elvis his first on-screen kiss) who walked away from her promising future in Hollywood.
The question, stated simply, is this: Why did she do it?
The answer? I’m not really clear on that, but based on reading a number of mainstream press reports on this subject I can say that her decision — if the mainstream media is to be believed — had very little to do with her love for Jesus or his church.
Let’s set this question up, via some material from a new Religion News Service piece (it’s much better than the norm) about Hart:
As if to test her resolve in those weeks before she left Hollywood, Universal Studios offered her a role opposite Marlon Brando, a role she turned down shortly after she broke off her engagement to Don Robinson, a kind and handsome businessman who loved her intensely.
“Even my best friend, who was a priest, Father Doody, said, ‘You’re crazy. This is absolutely insane to do this,’” Mother Delores Hart remembered in a recent interview, conducted 50 years after she entered the Order of St. Benedict. To try to explain her decision to a world that’s perhaps even more enamored of celebrity than it was a half century ago, Hart, 74, has written “The Ear of the Heart,” a memoir of her life on screen and behind the convent walls.
Even though she wasn’t raised Catholic, 9-year-old Dolores decided to convert when she found meaning and comfort in the rituals of her Catholic school. At 24, she quit Hollywood to answer a call she heard from God. “I left the world I knew in order to reenter it on a more profound level,” she writes.
So, a “call from God” and that is that.
Now, the story dedicates all kinds of space to her life before that decision and to her connections to Hollywood. All well and good.
But, again, what was the nature of the life-changing spiritual tug that led her to spend decades working in an abbey laundry room, or roughing up her hands in a wood shop making coffins? She took the divine call. What did Hart hear on the line?