Because Alfred Hitchcock Died A Catholic

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Given that Alfred Hitchcocks’ life has been in the news of late, what with the film Hitchcock  hitting the theaters, I was happy to learn that he returned to the Catholic faith of his youth (if he strayed), and died in the resting arms of the Church.

This touching story, told by Fr. Mark Henninger, SJ, appeared in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. It’s an eye-opening eyewitness account of Alfred Hitchcock, fellow Catholic.

I remember as a young boy watching the black-and-white “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” on TV and being enthralled from the start by the simple nine-stroke line-drawing caricature of the famed movie director’s rotund profile. The mischievous theme music set the mood as Hitchcock appeared in silhouette from the right edge of the screen, and then walked into the center replacing the caricature. “Good evening.” There followed his droll introductions, so unlike anything else on television.

Such childhood emotions came over me again when in early 1980 I entered his home in Bel Air to see him dozing in a chair in a corner of his living room, dressed in jet-black pajamas.

At the time, I was a graduate student in philosophy at UCLA, and I was (and remain) a Jesuit priest. A fellow priest, Tom Sullivan, who knew Hitchcock, said one Thursday that the next day he was going over to hear Hitchcock’s confession. Tom asked whether on Saturday afternoon I would accompany him to celebrate a Mass in Hitchcock’s house.

I was dumbfounded, but of course said yes. On that Saturday, when we found Hitchcock asleep in the living room, Tom gently shook him. Hitchcock awoke, looked up and kissed Tom’s hand, thanking him.

Tom said, “Hitch, this is Mark Henninger, a young priest from Cleveland.”

“Cleveland?” Hitchcock said. “Disgraceful!”

After we chatted for a while, we all crossed from the living room through a breezeway to his study, and there, with his wife, Alma, we celebrated a quiet Mass. Across from me were the bound volumes of his movie scripts, “The Birds,” “Psycho,” “North by Northwest” and others—a great distraction. Hitchcock had been away from the church for some time, and he answered the responses in Latin the old way. But the most remarkable sight was that after receiving communion, he silently cried, tears rolling down his huge cheeks.

Read the whole, beautiful, story.

It’s always heartening to me to learn of folks who have left the faith and then returned to it like grateful children, reunited with a long lost loved one who is Christ the Lord. Remember Napoleon Bonoparte?

That’s how it feels to me too, anyway, and I’m glad to learn that Alfred Hitchcock may have felt the same way.

I just might splurge and take in a movie after celebrating the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

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(H/T Fr. James Martin, SJ)

  • Gina

    Thanks for the link! But I wasn’t aware that Hitchcock ever left the faith.

    • Frank Weathers

      As a convert, most things are news to me. And this is good news, at that. :)

  • Dan

    Of course I wont for a moment consider going to this ridiculous “biographical” film, one made by the usual coterie of incompetents. But the story you presented was quite nice.

    As far as I know, Hitchcock never left the Faith. In his famous book-length interview with Francois Truffaut in 1966 he made no bones about his Catholicism. Like many of us he may have fallen from time to time but I seriously doubt he ever actually abandoned his Catholic faith.

  • vitto

    having read the WSJ article, well, I am one of those persons who are indeed sceptical about death–bed conversions, even assuming that what the priest tells us is true. I mean, sure, Hitchcock probably wasn’t a convinced atheist, so on his death bed he could have taken out a kind of an insurance policy, in accordance with Pascal’s Wager. I mean, really what do you stand to lose? All the forbidden pleasures, all the occassions for sin, are practically gone anyway. It’s the best time to make peace with God, if any, without risking to lose anythink (there is no atheist/agnostic/sceptic god who will punish you for abandoning disbelief). (True, you can of course still go to hell if you wager on the wrong god, but that’s another matter). What I am saying is that I do not consider death-bed conversion stories, even when not fabricated, to be testimony of real faith. Sure, everyone with brains understands that we can die any day, any moment, of our lives, so if we really seek God we will start searching for Him (and obeying Him) a long time before the end of our roads. That especially should be true for those, who introduced to faith at an early age. I don’t buy all these stories “I was too busy for God all my life, but now that I am dying found him again” BS. If you were too busy for God, you did not really believe him.

    • Frank Weathers

      Hitchcock didn’t have a “death-bed” conversion.Thankfully, regardless of folks personal opinions on the matter, Christ’s merciful Church sees conversions differently than you do.

  • vitto

    I have no problem with conversions, as long as they are genuine. I doubt many of death-bed conversions are. I do not believe one’s mind towards the end of the life, especially in grave ilness, becomes clearer. In most cases, the opposite is true. People are in great distress and unable to think clearly/ But my opinion is of course irrelevant. What matters to people who supposedly convert is whether their conversion convinces God, not me. The term “death-bed” conversion I used here, maybe a little incorrectly, to refer to the situation as a person approaches the end of his life as his health is rapidly deterriorating and he suddenly “remembers” God and tries to make peace with Him – just in case He exists. I did not mean it in the narrow sense of converting while lying on bed hours or minutes before death. For the sake of clarity, let’s call it end-of-life conversion.

  • vitto

    continued … “or end-of-life-return-to-faith”. Although I do not see a real difference.