"Hollywood star turned nun helps Waterbury group"
By Tracy Simmons
By Tracy Simmons
Mother Dolores Hart speaks during a meeting of the Marie and Pat Ciochetti Foundation at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Waterbury on Friday. (Josalee Thrift / RA)
For the first time in 40 years Mother Dolores Hart spoke publicly about how her life evolved from the silver screen to the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem.
As Mother Hart stood behind the podium, she looked across the crowd with her brilliant blue eyes and in a low, silky voice told the 80 or so people in the crowd, mostly foundation members, about how she entered the acting world as a teenager. A black and white portrait of her landed a meeting with a producer, and with Elvis Presley. Her first film was "Loving You" in 1957.
"From there on it was absolutely amazing," she said. A seven-year contract came next.
"I just fell right into it. The Lord just kept putting things right in front of me," she said. "Right now I look at kids who are 19 and I just wonder how the angel on my shoulder kept me from sliding off." Fervently she spoke about the talented actors she worked with, like Anthony Quinn.
In 1959, Hart was invited to perform on Broadway, where she won the Theatre World Award and a Tony Award nomination.
One evening, walking on Fifth Avenue in New York City, she found herself staring blankly at a flashing stoplight. She went home and a friend pointed out how tired she seemed.
"You look tired," he told her, "I know a place in Connecticut you should go for a little rest." When she learned that Benedictine nuns ran the place he was talking about, she was hesitant. In school, she had already learned about her faith, she said. But she went anyway, and the sisters she met caught her heart and encouraged her to continue to work hard as an actress.
"I went back and threw myself into my work," she said.
She went on to make "Where the Boys Are" in 1960 and "Francis of Assisi" in 1961. When she filmed "Lisa" in 1962, about a Jewish Nazi victim, Hart's life took a turn. She met a woman who survived the Holocaust and was moved by her story.
"This was going to be an offering to the Lord, who is Jewish, and his mother who is Jewish," she said. "I do feel doing that film, and praying through that film, was the seed of my vocation."
She found herself asking what life is about. Hollywood gave her everything she wanted, she said, she was even engaged to Los Angeles businessman Don Robinson. She told him, however, that she wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do and called the wedding off six months after the engagement.
"It would make a heck of a good movie wouldn't it?," she joked.
She told him she had to go to Bethlehem to visit the convent again.
"I walked up to the hill (on the 400-acre property) and I thought to myself this is it. I've got to do this," Hart said.
Six months later she announced that she "had an affair to take care of."
"They thought it was a guy," she laughed.
She arrived at the convent in a limousine. "I arrived at Regina Laudis in style."
But she said the transition wasn't easy.
"It was the hardest thing possible. The first seven years I wanted to quit, to turn around," she said. "But when the seed finally sprouted and I knew God was there and it was the right thing to do, I don't think there was anything in my life that made me happier and I would never, ever change my mind."