“Stop and consider!, said John Keats, “Life is but a day; a fragile dew-drop on its perilous way from a tree’s summit.” We stop and consider the dangers to and the brevity of life. This consideration takes on even sharper focus in an age of abortion.
On October 15, 2016 Mother Dolores Hart spoke at the 17th annual Respect for Life Conference in Meriden, Connecticut. She told her audience of 200 people that because of financial difficulties, her own mother considered aborting her. The aborted, she explained, are people “whose lives will be unmet.” They are doomed never to be known by others and never to know anyone. From her own perspective, having been known by so many people and knowing so many herself, made her allusion to the tragedy of abortion all the more powerful. The potential good that one can do, but can never do because of abortion, leaves an unmeasurable void in the world.
Dolores Hart came into the world on October 20, 1938 in Chicago, Illinois. She was the daughter of actor Bert Hicks and a niece of Mario Lanza. Important interconnections between those who were destined to know her and those whom she was destined to know may be a signature characteristic of her life. She was not born a Catholic, but chose to enter the Church at the age of 10. After high school she studied at Marymount College in California. Using the stage name Dolores Hart, she was given the role of Elvis Presley’s love interest in the 1957 release, Loving You.
As an actress, she was in frequent demand and starred in ten films. She had a multi-year contract with Metro Goldwyn Mayer and was earning $5,000 per week. But the relationship with Elvis Presley continued to be a top story with both the public and the Press. Decades later, even when Mother Dolores was ensconced in a cloistered monastery, the question persisted: “What is it like to kiss Elvis Presley?” Not bereft of a sense of humor, she once replied, “I think the limit for a screen kiss back then was something like 15 seconds. That one has lasted forty years.”
Hollywood gossip can be both tasteless and merciless. One interviewer asked her if she had heard the rumors that Elvis left her pregnant and Col. Tom Parker forced her to get an abortion. In response, she said, while laughing, “It was preposterous because of all the men I ever worked with, Elvis and my relationship was the most fraternal.” “I’d done two movies with Elvis Presley,” she told the Press. I’d been around Hollywood for a while – – and saw how needlessly competitive and negative it could be. It never held my interest.”
At age 25, Dolores Hart broke off her engagement, left Hollywood and became a Roman Catholic nun in the Benedictine Abbey, Regina Laudis, in Bethlehem, Connecticut. Her fiancé, an architect by the name of Don Robinson, never married, but visited her at the abbey every Christmas and Easter until his death in 2011. She declared her love for him, but, as Don said, “Every love doesn’t have to wind up at the altar.”
Mother Dolores Hart saw all the incidents of her life as “a tapestry that God has designed.” Part of this tapestry involved the well-known actress Patricia Neal. After her divorce, and out of desperation, Patricia went to France. There, by happenstance, she met Maria Cooper Janis, a devout Catholic and close friend of Mother Dolores. Patricia spilled her troubles to Maria who said to her, “I am going to send you somewhere where I know you are going to be helped.” The “somewhere” was Regina Laudis. Through a long recovery at the abbey, and through the guidance of Mother Dolores, Patricia Neal wrote her autobiography, As I Am. Neal, who for some time expressed the desire to enter the Church finally obtained her wish shortly before she died. She is buried on the grounds of the abbey.
Maria Cooper Janis, is the wife of the world renowned concert pianist, Byron Janis, and the daughter of Gary Cooper. The latter, a friend of Mother Dolores, was baptized a Catholic in 1959. He died of cancer a year later at age 60 on May 13 the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. His last public words, spoken 9 days before he passed away reflected the noble characters he portrayed on the screen, especially that of Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees: “I know that what is happening is God’s will. I am not afraid of the future.” This particular segment of the tapestry also involves Pope Pius XII, with regard to Gary Cooper and his wife, and Pope John XXIII with regard to Dolores Hart.
In 2006, after 43 years in the monastery Mother Dolores Hart traveled to Hollywood to raise awareness for idiopathic peripheral neuropathy, a neurological disorder that afflicts her as well as many Americans. In that same year, despite her condition, she testified at a Washington congressional hearing on the need for more research on this painful and crippling disease.
In 2013, Ignatius Press published Mother Hart’s biography, The Ear of the Heart. Raymond Arroyo, EWTN’s news director, reviewed the book and was impressed by “how listening with the ‘ear of the heart’ she [Mother Dolores] heard God’s call and dared to respond. Her journey powerfully demonstrates that we must be willing to lose our lives and forfeit our plans to discover our true purpose.”
Mother Dolores Hart celebrated her Jubilee Year in 2016, 50 years of vowed life at Regina Laudis. As Prioress, Dean of Education, together with sundry other hats she was pleased to wear, she served as the still-point in a moving world. A dew-drop may be small and fleeting, yet it can also be seen as forming a prism through which the lives of countless individuals are refracted and perhaps reformed. Her life’s journey has not be perilous as much as it has been Providential.