August 30, 2007

Someone has asked me for help in getting information on St. Odilo, an obscure Benedictine

"Odilo" is accented on the first syllable.

The following two URLs provide more information than some other online sources.

An actress who kissed Elvis on screen and went on to become a cloistered Benedictine nun

A new interview with Mother Dolores Hart, then a re-posting of two articles I posted last year about her.

From, August 30, 2007.

Interview With the Prioress of Regina Laudis Abbey

BETHLEHEM, Connecticut, AUG. 30, 2007 ( Adherence to the Benedictine tradition of work and prayer is the key to the success of the Abbey of Regina Laudis, according to its prioress, Mother Dolores Hart.

The Abbey of Regina Laudis is the topic of the recently released book "Mother Benedict," written by Antoinette Bosco and published by Ignatius Press.

Mother Benedict Duss founded the Benedictine monastery 60 years ago, after the Second World War. She died in 2005.

In this interview with ZENIT, Mother Dolores discusses the history of the monastery, her own personal journey from Hollywood film star to Benedictine nun, and the personality of the abbey's founder.

Q: Mother Benedict, the founder of the first contemplative Benedictine Abbey for women, is described in the book as strong and determined, but also a gardener, both of flowers and of souls. What was she able to accomplish through this unique set of personality traits?

Mother Dolores: Mother Benedict loved to garden. She said her ideal monastic life was gardening and studying.

God had other ideas, however, and she was driven to establish a foundation because she could see that is was what God wanted.

Mother Benedict was also a very creative, intelligent woman who cultivated many friendships and who always had time for a crisis.

Q: Can you explain the connections between General George Patton and the Abbey of Regina Laudis at the end of World War II?

Mother Dolores: General George Patton, Sr., liberated France as the commanding general of the Third Army. His was the army that liberated Jouarre, the abbey where Mother Benedict was in hiding.

Years later his granddaughter, the daughter of General George Patton, Jr., Mother Margaret Georgina Patton, found her way to the Abbey of Regina Laudis, and that began the conscious connection between the liberator and Mother Benedict.

This connection continues through the whole Patton family to this day.

Q: Many convents, during the turbulent time after the Second Vatican Council, were forced to close for one reason or another. What do you think kept Regina Laudis not only stable, but flourishing during that time?

Mother Dolores: Regina Laudis suffered its own turmoil during those years. What kept Mother Benedict going was her adherence to Benedictine tradition in work and prayer and a dedicated program of renewal, engaged in by the whole community.

For Mother Benedict this did not mean throwing everything out, but taking on perennial values with a new dedication.

Q: Your own life could be a story, going from a movie star, in roles opposite Elvis Presley and George Hamilton, to a cloistered Benedictine nun. In what way were you drawn from your Hollywood lifestyle, to the quiet, contemplative life at Regina Laudis?

Mother Dolores: My life will soon become a story by the good grace of my long time friend and collaborator, Dick DeNeut, who headed Globe photos in Hollywood for many years.

My good fortune was to have him as a professional contact who made certain that my reputation in the press never went the way of becoming a "starlet." I learned very early in my career that good complements held your life intact, and I was indeed graced.

Hal Wallis signed me to a seven-year contract when I was only 17. In those seven years to follow, I was the leading lady for Elvis Presley, Montgomery Clift and Stephen Boyd, and I learned my trade from such greats as Karl Malden, Anthony Quinn and Cyril Richard.

To experience the fullness of my profession through the gifts of these artists and many more who came my way in the short years of my time in Hollywood was a gift from God that I never had dreamed possible. Yet it was one I had prayed for since I was a small girl, watching the films on Saturday afternoons in my grandfather's movie projection booth.

I was watching for my Daddy who was an actor and had been whisked off to Hollywood by a talent scout because he looked like Clark Gable. I vowed that I would do this too.

But God had other plans for me. I had to acknowledge the vocation I had been trying to run from for years. I knew this the first time I came to Regina Laudis. I was finally home.

Q: In the preface of the book, you discuss Mother Benedict's wisdom on living out one's sexuality even under the vow of virginity. Can you describe her thoughts on this?

Mother Dolores: There is no contradiction between virginity and sexuality. To be truly virginal is to be fully oneself. To be fully a woman, one's sexuality must be integrated and expressed in all that one does.

This integration should lead to the ability to collaborate with men or women, lay or religious, in creative movements within the community or with laity, according to one's mission.

Sexuality is not limited to genital expression but pervades all we do. In a life dedicated to virginity the genital expression is sacrificed, but not the total giving of oneself to the mission.

Q: The book ends shortly after the death of Mother Benedict. Now, after nearly 60 years since the abbey's founding, how do things look today at the Abbey of Regina Laudis?

Mother Dolores: Today, the Abbey of Regina Laudis is blessed in a number of ways.

On July 11, the feast of St. Benedict, we were privileged to receive the archbishop of Hartford, His Excellency Henry Mansell, for an unprecedented ceremony of monastic consecration in which the archbishop consecrated five members of our community who had been married before they entered religious life. This was an enormous blessing for all of us.

We are also planning for the November release of our new CD, "The Announcement of Christmas," that celebrates our work in chant covering the season of Christmas from the beginning of Advent through the close of the season at Epiphany.

This will allow listeners to enjoy the musical treasures of the church's liturgy that are often hidden from the ears of everyday churchgoers. These time-honored chant melodies for centuries have so beautifully expressed the glory of Christ's continual coming through the ages in the Flesh of Humanity.

There is also our own birth, in August, as the community celebrates the ceremony of "clothing," which welcomes the entrance of a postulant into the novitiate, reminding us that Our Lady's gift of fecundity is ever-present in the growth of our own community.

And Regina Laudis remains hopeful for continuity as a new postulant has arrived to fill the new novice's place in the ranks.

We are reminded in Romans 5 that it is through faith that we are in grace and so we pray for this gift continually, that we may be worthy of him to whom we have pledged our lives.

Elvis the King of Rock and Roll does not play so much as second fiddle to the King of Kings

Dolores Hicks was born in 1938.
She took the name “Dolores Hart”, playing a role in “Loving You” with Elvis Presley in 1957.
She acted in two other movies before starring again with Presley in the 1958 movie “King Creole”.
Miss Hart was never in a romantic relationship with him offscreen.
In 1959, after a debut on Broadway, she received a Theatre World Award, and also a nomination for the Best Featured Actress Tony Award after she acted in the movie “The Pleasure of His Company”.
From 1960 to 1963, she starred in five other movies, including “Where the Boys Are”, “Francis of Assisi” and “Come Fly with Me”.
Then, at age twenty-five, she entered the cloistered Benedictine monastery of Regina Laudis Abbey in Bethlehem, Connecticut.
She is the only nun who is a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Mother Dolores Hart, O.S.B., is presently the Prioress (assistant to the superior) of her monastery.

More on the movie star who became a cloistered Benedictine nun

I received a copy of the following story. My guess is that the original author was some sort of reporter

While in search of Dolores Hart, he discovered his own heart

I have two images of a monastery: one is a sinister place of dank corridors, icy cells, and cold stone; the other a kind of medieval, Monty-Pythonesque farce. The Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut, where I stayed for several days as a guest of the Benedictine order, is neither. Entering this world is like stepping back into a quaint, rustic paradise that existed long ago—in the age of oxen-yoked plows and horse-drawn carriages.

[In 1993] I visited the abbey—working with the nuns as they brought in their harvest—because it was the home of a … true story of Hollywood, God, and Elvis that has mystified America for 30 years. In 1962, Dolores Hart was a 24-year-old movie star with Grace Kelly looks and 11 films already to her credit, including “Where the Boys Are”, “Loving You” and “King Creole”. In the latter two she costarred with Elvis Presley.

Then, in 1963, she gave it all up to become a nun—joining a cloistered monastery and disappearing from celebrityhood forever.

In a society that regards Hollywood fame as Heaven, we presume that someone who gives it all up must be either crazy, ungrateful, or tainted by some terrible scandal.

… Mother Dolores (as she is now known)…. What kind of life does she lead today and does she ever regret giving up her star's crown for a nun's halo? More generally, why give up the routines of the rat race for the rigors of the monastery?

…. I began a personal quest to speak with her that was … ultimately as satisfying as Hart's own spiritual journey.

A combination of talent and looks—that cherubic innocence mixed with feline sensuality—made Hart a star almost overnight. She survived her turbulent family (her parents were alcoholics) by converting to Catholicism at the age of 10. At 18, in 1956, Paramount signed her to a seven-year contract.

Thirty-seven years later [1993] I called the abbey for the first time and asked to speak to her. The nun at the gate took a message but warned me that Mother Dolores was unlikely to return the call. Minutes later, my phone rang. It was a woman named Barbara Simon, who said she was calling "on behalf of the abbey" to say that Dolores Hart would not speak…. When I asked her where she was calling from, the phone went dead.

Now fully intrigued, I set out to enlist the help of another classic character of the silver screen: Patricia Neal, the stunning, Oscar-winning star of “Hud” and “Breakfast at Tiffany's”. Once Roald Dahl's wife, once Gary Cooper's lover, she had been felled in her prime by a near-fatal stroke. She recovered, I knew, with the help of ... the Abbey of Regina Laudis.

The formidable Miss Neal—charming, gravelly, and outrageous, met me in a New York City diner and told me that it was Maria Cooper, daughter of Gary Cooper, who introduced both her and Dolores Hart to Regina Laudis. She and Dolores spoke often and perhaps, if I was a good boy, she purred, she would mention me to Mother Dolores. "If you're lucky," the old screen siren added raffishly.

Days passed without a word. Just when it seemed my quest was over, the phone call came. I recognized the voice on the telephone the moment I picked it up. Even if I did not remember its distinctive trill from all those films, it was possibly the softest and most graceful voice I had ever heard:

"My name is Mother Dolores. I know that you called for me."

At once I asked if we could meet, but she reminded me that they were a closed order at the abbey: "The only reason I am talking to you is out of courtesy to your relationship with Patricia." Afraid that our conversation might end as abruptly as the mysterious Ms. Simon's, I wasted no time….

I asked her what kind of life she led there? Did she work or just pray?

"I do all sorts of work here. In fact, I would like to invite you to visit and stay at the abbey because you have certainly been gracious and kind to me. I would like to extend our hospitality. Monastic life is very simple. You'd have to come up and see. But I cannot promise you we would ever meet. Would you like to stay?"

The following weekend the crotchety, bespectacled Sister Mary Elisabeth picked me up at the bus station in a big, scarred station wagon and drove me toward the aptly named Bethlehem. Only seven of the 47 nuns ever leave the estate to do chores—such as collecting me. The rest spend the remainder of their lives there.

"I hope your cell's not too hot," said the sister. "We have no air-conditioning, and it's almost 100 degrees today. Hot for haymaking."

I stayed at a cottage for male visitors. My cell was tiny, hot, austere: exactly like the nuns' cells in their quarters. As I stood peering at the "enclosure"—a wall surrounding the sisters' living area—I heard the roar of a tractor as it whizzed by, just missing me by a hair—a determined and somewhat ancient nun at the wheel, driving at top speed.

Later, I heard bells ringing and saw a nun driving a chariot pulled by two oxen—my introduction to the bucolic pleasures of Mother Dolores' life after Hollywood.

Wandering around the 400 acres, I found the most active nuns I could have imagined: Mother Stephen, head of the farm (she bears one of the abbey's splendid array of medieval titles: Land Master), was feeding cows, supervising strawberry picking, haymaking, and milking. She called each cow by its nickname and fed it by hand. When I asked her about Mother Dolores, she shrugged as she poured out the hay: "Everyone here is blessed with some special gift."

In between all this muscular activity, the nuns have a praying routine that fills up most of their days. They must also rise at 1:15 A.M. to sing Matins for an hour and then again at 6:15 A.M. for Lauds. Bells ring to summon them to prayer.

At 8 the next morning I attended Mass. The nuns were huddled on the other side of the altar, behind a wooden grille, singing like celestial canaries in incomprehensible Latin. I could not see whether Mother Dolores was there or not—the grille was too dense, the curtain too opaque.

By a rather bizarre coincidence that Mother Dolores would most likely call the "Will of God," Father Abbot Matthew Stark's "early morning homily" … began: "in a time when the word 'awesome' is used to describe a slice of pizza and it is said that Elvis lives while God is dead, it is easy to see how out of touch we are with the glory of the Lord."

After Mass I was summoned by the Guest Master (another medieval title), Mother Placid, who has been at the abbey since 1949. I walked to the edge of the enclosure wall and around the back of it to a little door. I knocked. A voice said "Enter.” There was another door on which a sign read SAINT PLACID. I knocked again and entered. The jolly and energetic nun sat on the other side of a wooden grill to enlighten me about the lives of the saints. It was so hot that both Mother Placid, who was 66 and of course wearing her full habit, and I were sweating profusely in the little parlor of Saint Placid.

She asked if I would like to work that day, and I told her I would like to help with the harvest. "Mother Stephen will be delighted," she smiled.

"And will I able to meet Mother Dolores?" I asked.

Mother Placid shrugged gaily. "She's very busy, but maybe you'll be lucky...."

The sun was beating down on the rich, golden fields. It was the hottest day of a record-breaking heat wave. Mother Stephen was driving a bale-making machine behind her tractor while I worked with some nuns and volunteers piling up the bales, throwing them onto trucks, and then unloading them into bales near the dairy cows. It was hard work. Mother Stephen insisted we drink every five minutes, and the nuns prepared huge vats of iced lemon juice to prevent us from getting heat stroke.

The scene was surreal if idyllic—something from another century. But the strangest part was that the nuns were harvesting in their black habits as if they were in chapel. Yet they worked very hard, sweating and laboring in the dust and heat as if they were farmers.

But there was still no sign of Mother Dolores.

I must admit that I had expected long, cold, stone corridors and nuns lamenting in Latin behind iron grilles—not this sort of rural paradise. These nuns were so muscular that they could throw bales of hay 10 feet in the air, to the very top of the stack. When I tried the same feat, I almost dislocated my arm. The nuns, their habits covered in hay stubble and earth, hooted with laughter at my lack of strength.

When I was summoned by Mother Placid a second time, it was the end of the day. I was tanned and aching from the work, and I was becoming anxious: Would I ever meet the enigmatic Mother Dolores? I knew it was unlikely but still, I hoped....

The celibate life of the nuns is the source of the most misunderstandings and humor about monastic life. I asked Mother Placid about the Benedictine Order's attitude toward female sexuality.

"Is that your favorite subject?" she chuckled. I blushed. It was the third time I had asked her about it.

"For us in the outside world, the celibacy is the most inexplicable part of your life. I mean, what's wrong with pleasure?"

"Outsiders think we're shocked by sex," she said. "We're not opposed to sexuality here, except when it is soulless and empty. Don't you ever feel empty inside if you have sex without the community of love and creation?"

Strangely enough, I admitted this had sometimes happened to me.

"There you are," she answered.

"But I'm not about to give it up. Don't you ever feel sexual desire here?"

"Of course. We are human. We also see the animals on the farm. We know temptation and sometimes it is a good test. But we have given up all selfish personal appetites. We have no property of our own. We don't say anyone else should live this life. Just that we have been selected to do so. Our vocation is to serve the Lord and devote all our energy to Him."

"What happens if you join and then feel you're missing out on sex?"

"That has happened. We've had nuns leave. Of course, it is hurtful and difficult. It is a great challenge and discipline. That is why we prefer our recruits to be at least 25, because we like them to know enough about life to make the decision to join us."

"Do you want them to be virgins? Can they know about love?" I was only partly thinking about Dolores.

"Of course they can. I was in love several times as a young girl. Why not? Besides, a couple of the nuns here are widows who joined when their husbands died. That's fine, too."

Then she smiled and asked: "Have you ever been in love?"

Since she had been honest, I saw no reason to lie. "No. I thought I was a couple of times, but when I look back, I'm not so sure I ever was."

Now she was asking the questions.

"You are an intelligent young man and I feel you have a lot of love to give. Do you have a girlfriend?"

"Not exactly a girlfriend. She's more like a lover," I answered.

"Never been in love," she muttered, almost to herself.


Then there was a knock at the door on her side of the grille. Was it Dolores Hart at last? Was this the end of the quest? The door opened....

Mother Dolores’s full-lipped face with its high cheekbones and retrousse nose is unchanged by her 54 years. She also possesses an extraordinary calmness in her cherubic expression and that most lilting of voices. Certainly the face was redder than it bad been 30 years ago—she has worked out on the farm, haying and baling as I had that afternoon—but it is still a face of undeniable beauty. Her hair is covered by her wimple, but other nuns told me later that it is still a luscious blonde. Thirty years on, this is still undeniably the face to launch a thousand ships.

We shook hands through the old wooden grille as Mother Placid looked on beneficently.

"Welcome," Dolores said angelically, her face close to the grille. "I hope you are enjoying your stay and seeing how we live."

Dolores said she was sorry we could not meet … for longer. She is busy. It is harvest.

She had only stayed a minute or two. But it reminded me of our earlier phone conversation, when I asked if she had enjoyed her fame.

"Oh, by all means," she'd replied without any hint of regret.

"But how and why did you decide to leave Hollywood?"

"Only soul-searching brings a knowledge of what your life will be. It only sounds sudden when you announce it because people don't know what has gone on before."

"Don't you ever want to go back to being an actress?"

"There's always continuity. In the dimension of monastic life, there is a role in prayer that certainly keeps me very much a part of it. You see for me being a nun is being an actress."

That was when I understood that the answer to the riddle of Mother Dolores is as simple as this: You only have to experience the richness of the austere life at the abbey to understand how Dolores Hart gave up Hollywood to come here.

That night was my last at the abbey. I felt absolutely rejuvenated and sorry to leave after so short a stay. I retired to bed early after dinner as is the way there. My prickly, driven tension had been massaged into a generous goodwill towards the world that surprised me more than any one. I felt an intense calm.

Mother Dolores had neither said much nor stayed long, yet the riddle of why she left Hollywood was suddenly self-evident: The happiness of the nuns speaks for itself.

Like many others, I could not imagine how anyone could give up the pleasures of being a movie star to live and work in a monastery. Yet when Mother Placid talked to me about love, which she said she felt all around her, I could see that she experienced it in its most austere yet warmest sense. And she could see that while I was bathed in sensualism, I had quite forgotten about love.

I had gone to the abbey to search for Dolores Hart. But I did not discover any … secret about Hollywood…. Instead, I discovered a warm and neglected part of myself.

I did not become religious. No one tried to convert me to anything. Looking back, I realized that when I left I took something with me and left something behind. Somewhere amongst the golden fields and the flying bales, the giggling nuns and the relentless embrace of the sun, I had left a bit of myself that will always be there. And when the reservoir of that simplest of happiness gets low again, I might go back and visit them.

If I ever do return, I am sure I will find it there again, untouched, just where I left it.

It is late at night. My tiny cell in the cottage called "Saint Joseph's" is stiflingly hot. I cannot sleep. I wait for the bell to ring for Matins.

The old-fashioned telephone begins to ring in the very still night. It makes an archaic "dring-dring" sound like a phone in an old Dolores Hart film from the Fifties.

I pick it up.

It is Mother Placid.

"You touched my heart when you said you had never been in love," she says. "Please could you tell me what is the name of the girl who is your lover. I know your name already. All I need is her first name."

"Her name is Nicola. Why do you ask?"

"So I can pray for you both," she says. "Good night."

- - - -
Visit the website of the Abbey of Regina Laudis.
Click HERE for it.

August 29, 2007

Did you know that King Herod got married to his own brother?

Yes, that's what the U.S. translators did with the first sentence of today's Gospel reading, Mark 6:17-29.
Herod was the one who had John the Baptist arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married.

It would have been better to have used the following word order.
Herod was the one who had John the Baptist arrested and bound in prison on account of the wife of his brother Philip, Herodias, whom he had married.

August 26, 2007

The Twenty-First Ordinary Sunday of the Church Year

I have posted a homily.
Click HERE for it.