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From Stardom To Sisterhood

Mar 25, 2001
In the late 1950s, Hart was a starlet, making thousands of dollars per week and billed as the next Grace Kelly.

She was the first actress to kiss Elvis Presley on the silver screen and in a six-year period, she starred in films with Anthony Quinn, Robert Wagner, Jeff Chandler, and Montgomery Clift. She was the top-billed actress in MGM's highest grossing move of 1962: Where the Boys Are.

Today she is Mother Dolores. She lives at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in rural Connecticut, where she has been a cloistered nun for 37 years.

Through a special dispensation from the Abbey, ABCNEWS' Bob Brown was able to talk with her without being separated by a grill and walk with her outside the fences of the cloistered grounds.

Destined for Greatness
Hart was a child of the silver screen — both of her parents were actors. Though neither of them became a star, she was baptized in the glow of Hollywood. Early on, she thought she too would have a career in the movies. "I grew up on Mulholland Drive, watching the klieg lights, just enamored at the lights from Sunset Boulevard," she says. "You can imagine what that meant to me, as a 6-year-old, to suddenly find myself wandering around 20th Century Fox movie lots, thinking that was going to be my future."

Though her parents were not religious, they sent her to a parochial school in Chicago where she lived with her grandparents. Leaving Hollywood, however, was a brief diversion from her path to the silver screen.

Hart grew into a striking beauty and in 1957, at the age of 18, she signed a contract with famed movie producer Hal Wallis. And in her first picture, Loving You, she starred opposite Elvis Presley. Hart recalls that when she and Elvis were supposed to kiss, the teens blushed. "My ears start getting purple, and even his ears started getting purple," she recalls. "They brought everybody over to brush our ears down with, um, paint or whatever it is."

She has fond memories of working with Elvis: "If there is one thing that I am most grateful for, it's the privilege of being one of the few persons left to acknowledge his innocence."

Finding Peace in the Country

Despite her success and celebrity, however, Hart remembers her time in show business as filled with heartache. She found it emotionally difficult to separate from her colleagues after bonding with them while shooting a movie. "You work intensely for maybe eight to 10 weeks. And then you break," she says. "And you never see the person again. It's terrible… I think that's one of the most anguishing parts of Hollywood."

During a period in which she worked in New York, starring in a Broadway play, Hart would often retreat to the country on her days off. On the suggestion of a friend, she took refuge in the guest house of a Connecticut convent, Abbey of Regina Laudis.

Hart was initially hesitant about the abbey, thinking back on her experience as a Catholic schoolgirl in Chicago. But unlike Hollywood, it offered community and continuity. Its members worked hard and stayed together.

Hart was hooked: "I felt that I was going to be back here sometime."

More than three years after the first of several visits to the convent, Hart was engaged to be married. But instead of becoming a wife, she says she had a spiritual calling and dedicated herself to the Church and life at Regina Laudis.

For California businessman Don Robinson — Delores Hart's fiancé at the time - the news was devastating. "I actually broke down and cried," he recalls. "I couldn't believe it."

New Role, New Life

The day Hart entered Regina Laudise, her limousine dropped her off following a publicity event for her latest movie Come Fly with Me. She was 24 years old. She found the transition into the sisterhood difficult. Trained as a movie star, Hart was ill prepared for the daily, disciplined ebb and flow of cloistered life. Seven years passed, she says, before she felt completely comfortable with her decision to join the order.

Decades later, Robinson still lives in Los Angeles and has never married. He continues to visit the woman he now knows as Mother Dolores each year. He says their love has sustained itself — albeit in ways very different from what he'd imagined as a younger man. "We have grown together. Like we would have in our marriage," he says, "She's my life."

In recent years, Mother Dolores's health has declined. She suffers from a nerve condition that sometimes leaves her in extreme pain. And even though she clearly made a choice to become a nun, she says it was not a choice to abandon who she was.

"I have struggled with this call to vocation all my life," she says. "I can understand why people have doubts, because who understands God? I don't. When you are dealing with something at this level, you are dealing with mystery."

Mother Dolores and the Oscars

Mother Dolores, formerly Delores Hart, is still a member of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. But she has not been able to vote for the Oscar winners since joining the Abbey of Regina Laudis — she cannot leave the abbey to see the films. Recently, however, she has asked the Academy to reinstate her as a voting member. She plans to watch the films on home video.
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