What would induce a beautiful young woman with an acting career moving into high gear in Hollywood to chuck it away, turn her back on the camera and enter a monastery?
And what might a young woman do today if she felt drawn to religious life but wasn’t sure whether it was right for her?
Two women discussed those topics recently at The Sheen Center for Thought and Culture in Manhattan. One of them, Rachael Marie Collins, has written a book for young people considering a religious vocation. The other woman is the former actress, now 80 years old and a deeply joyful contemplative nun.
Movie buffs remember her name: Dolores Hart. She gave Elvis Presley his first on-screen kiss in “Loving You” in 1957, and she starred in the 1960 film “Where the Boys Are.” She had wanted to be an actress since she was 7 years old, and by the time she was in her 20s, people were calling her “the new Grace Kelly.” Besides making films, she acted in plays on Broadway. She also became engaged.
But a visit to Regina Laudis Abbey in Bethlehem, Conn., set her on a different path. Dolores Hart had converted to Catholicism in elementary school, and she had a strong spiritual inclination. She went to the abbey seeking a respite for meditation and prayer.
When we spoke at the Sheen Center, Mother Dolores told me that she had “a real experience of truth” when she came to the abbey.
“I saw and felt that this was home,” she said. Less than five years later, in 1963, she entered the abbey to pursue her vocation as a Benedictine nun.
“I am amazed at the choreography of God, how he put everything that was appropriate for me in front of me, and led me from one thing to the next,” she said.
Mother Dolores wore the traditional long black habit, white wimple and black veil of a Benedictine nun, topped with a black beret. Her light blue eyes are large, luminous and expressive, and her face is animated by a kind of spiritual radiance. It is as though the image of her youthful beauty shines through the overlay of old age, deepened by years of prayer and holy work.
Rachael Marie Collins spoke at the Sheen Center about her book “Called by God: Discernment and Preparation for Religious Life” (Emmaus Road Publishing, 2017). In an interview, she said that she explored religious life for 10 years before deciding that it was not her vocation. She is married, and she and her husband have four children, ages 7, 5, 2 and 1, all of whom are adopted.
Mrs. Collins wrote the book to encourage young people to consider religious life.
“Young people overestimate how hard religious life is going to be, and they underestimate how hard marriage is,” she said. “I can tell you that marriage and being a parent, being a mom—when it’s done well, it’s hard work. There’s a lot of death to self.”
She wrote the book in the form of letters to her children’s nanny, who was considering a religious vocation. The many topics she presents include prayer, the sacraments, spiritual direction, the importance of having virtuous friends, and how to handle opposition. There are extensive suggestions for further reading.
Mrs. Collins stressed that religious life, contrary to what many think, is not dark and depressing. She has friends who are Sisters of Life, and “they are the most joyful women I’ve ever met,” she said.
“You can’t fake that. It’s a beautiful life.”
Mother Dolores, who ditched fame and riches for another kind of wealth, bears that out. She announced to the audience that in two days’ time she would turn 80. Then she put two fingers into her mouth and gave a whistle that would have done a referee proud, and she waved to a friend in the audience.
Obviously, the cloister holds joys that Hollywood cannot imagine. So does the active religious life. Spread the word, especially to the young.