The nun who kissed Elvis

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Friday 25, January 2008 | Category:   Consecrated Life

Mother Dolores Hart, O.S.B.

Mother Dolores Hart, prioress of the Abbey of Regina Laudis, a Benedictine monastic community in Bethlehem, Connecticut, has helped bring about an arts and crafts renaissance of sorts at the monastery. The community has released its fourth CD of chant. It hosts a 200-seat open-air theater. Steel sculpture created by Mother Praxedes Baxter—a former printmaker who also helped designed the abbey’s church—adorns the grounds.

But then Regina Laudis is not Hart’s first foray into the arts. She gave Elvis Presley his first onscreen kiss.

Before entering monastic life in 1963 at age 24, Hart had appeared in 10 films, including Loving You—in which she kissed Elvis— King Creole, and Where the Boys Are. She had begun visiting Regina Laudis while performing on Broadway in The Pleasure of His Company, for which she received a Tony nomination.

“Acting was what I thought I always wanted to do, and there was nothing about it I didn’t like,” Hart said in a December 30, 2007 New York Times story by Cynthia Wolfe Boynton. “I loved the idea of playing different parts, of learning about other people’s lives. But then I came to visit the abbey and realized I belonged here. Like the theater, the monastery gives people a different view of life and inspires them to come alive, to fully live their story.”

The monastery combines contemplative life not only with the arts but also with with making products from the animals the sisters keep on the grounds: raw-milk cheese, ice cream, honey, jellies, leather, and other things that help support the community. Cheese-making is supervised by Mother Noella Marcellino, who has a doctorate in microbiology. “As an enclosed community, we have the time to contemplate, create and nurture our crafts, and then send the results out into the world,” she said. “That’s our gift to people.”

“She encourages us,” Marcellino said of Hart, “to tap into our emotions and to find a positive way to express them. Mother Dolores taught us that emotions are universal—that everyone experiences happiness, sadness, anger, joy, and passion—and that we can use them to better connect with people outside the abbey through our art, whether it be in the plays we host, in the songs we sing, or in the ways we celebrate God as we chant and read prayers during worship.”

“Music and the arts help people come alive,” Hart said. “They lift people’s minds and spirits, and in that enlightened state help people find God. God isn’t a whiskered old man. He’s alive and can be experienced in things that move us to feel love or beauty. That’s why we use the arts as a form of prayer, and then try to share those prayers with other people.” The sisters have also recorded several "Women in Chant" CDs (see their website).

Despite 45 years of religious life, however, Hart is still a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and, according to the rules, keeps her Oscar votes a secret.

“I went from a lead role to a supporting role,” she said, describing her transition from actor to religious sister, “but it’s where I belong.”

How would the arts help you express your faith?


Reprinted with permission from PrepareTheWord.com. ©TrueQuest Communications.

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