The Ear of the Heart: An Actress’ Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows is the new biography written by Mother Dolores Hart and Richard DeNeut.
Much has been made of the actress who was Elvis’ first kiss in a film that went on to enter a Benedicine monastery. Yet the Elvis aspect is probably the least interesting part of her story.
The format of this biography is a bit different in that her lifelong friend and Hollywood writer Richard DeNeut mostly tells the story along with her own comments and remembrances interjected throughout (especially in the second half of the book). Included are also direct stories from those who know her. These multiple contributors give this book more depth, but also at times leaves you confused about who is writing at the time.
The first half of the book looks back at her childhood and family life including her acting career. The term dysfunctional family is often over used, but this is quite accurate here. Her parents troubled mariage, divorces, and remarriages was a backdrop to her life. Often I was reminded of Mother Angelica’s story, although while different in many aspects, had a common thread. Her family was non-religious and yet her path led her to join the Catholic Church at a young age while she was attending a Catholic school for the education.
While she had a difficult relationship with her mother and often vacant father, there is frustration but not bitterness concerning these parts of the biography. Her parents are painted warts and all without being a one-dimensional portrait. The stories of her grandmother, who was quite a character, are also rather fun. She spent time shifting between living with mother and her grandparents.
It was rather amazing that despite these problems her entrance into Hollywood and also Broadway did not go down the paths that are so familiar. She describes Elvis as a total gentleman and this is mostly true regarding most of the men she worked with. The exception being Peter Sellers and the story she tells regarding him is worth the price of the book in how she handled this situation.
I quite enjoyed her reflections on this time of her life in Hollywood and Broadway and the people she got to work with who she so admired. Many of these friendships continued on after she entered the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut. There is much of interest in this period of her life and her friends and acquaintances including the period where she was engaged to be married.As interesting as this period of her life was, what really draws you in is how she first learned of Regina Laudis and what kept drawing her back there despite here career being in full swing. The period of discernment and the acceptance of her vocation to the religious life was not a straight path, but a path we often hear of regarding such discernment. It is easy to imagine the reaction by those her knew her who could not understand this choice.
The second half of the book deals with her life in Regina Laudis. Parts of it could seem to come right out of a novel or screenplay. The young nun who adjusts to life in a strict monastery and the communication clashes they entail could seem like a setup. Yet this was a case where under obedience she learned and responded and was able to contribute with her own gifts regarding these communication clashes. I’ve read enough about religious life to have no idealized vision of religious life and the difficulites are certainly shown.
Mother Dorcas Roselund, in describing the pitfalls of monastic life, summed it up another way. A gastroenterologist before she entered Regina Laudis, she is now the Community’s baker. Life in a monastery is “the new martyrdom”, she said. “they used to throw Christians to the lions. Now they make us live together.”
An aspect of the second half of the book that I really liked was the portraits of the other nuns and their widely varied experiences and contributions they made to the monastery. They were encouraged to take what professional skills they had into community. I also found it fascinating that in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and the turbulence in so many religious orders, that there were smaller ripples at Regina Laudis. This was a monastery that did not just throw everything away, but also did not stagnate. There was an openness to new ideas, but evaluated in context of their Benedictine tradition. Their obedience provided an anchor that so many other orders had cast off.
This book just engaged me on many levels beyond the straight biographical storyline. There is a gentle humor throughout and an obvious attempt by Mother Deloris Hart to not airbrush out her own difficulties. I would have liked to have more details on Mother Deloris Hart spiritual life, but it is an area touched on at times and you do see the fruits of it. There are just so many stories packed in this book and while close to 500 pages there are not wasted pages.