Busted Halo

Fr. Jake Martin, SJ, looks at the Academy Award nominees and this year’s best films and performances through a spiritual lens — and makes a prediction or two along the way.

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February 23rd, 2012

A Life Lived With Integrity and Faith: Dolores Hart and God Is the Bigger Elvis


“Mr. Martin, why would you wanna be a priest when you could be a comedian, and have all that money and be famous?” asks Ricky. (Ricky is one of the freshmen in my sixth period theology class. He likes to cause diversions. He also makes some strong assumptions about my talent.) In my first post I wrote about how the Oscars were my Super Bowl growing up. I was in awe of the movies and everything related to them and I couldn’t wait to grow up, go to Hollywood, and be a part of that glistening world.

Dolores Hart was a part of that world. In the late 50s and early 60s she was an up and coming starlet, sort of the Selena Gomez or Amanda Seyfried of the Eisenhower era. She co-starred alongside the Justin Bieber of her time, Elvis Presley, in not one but two movies. Her star was ascending and she seemed to have it all. And just like that, she gave it all up and became a nun. Hart’s story is the subject of the film God Is the Bigger Elvis, which is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.

I’ve known the generalities of Hart’s life for years — with my family’s inordinate fascination with show business outdone only by their piety, Hart was sort of an unofficial patroness for our household. So when I became a Jesuit after toiling away in the world of comedy for the better part of a decade, the comparisons with Hart were inevitable, despite the fact that she was a legit film star and I was a hack comic plugging away at small, smoky nightclubs. In my family we like our delusions full of grandeur.

God Is the Bigger Elvis and its message — that is, to live according to your principles and convictions regardless of the cost — is especially relevant in this age of Kardashianism, where money, prestige and fame trump everything else.

All joking aside, Hart’s story is an incredibly challenging one for any true believer. Hart stands before us all and insists upon a life lived with integrity and faith. The film and its message — that is, to live according to your principles and convictions regardless of the cost — is especially relevant in this age of Kardashianism, where money, prestige and fame trump everything else. Here is this woman who had everything we, as a culture, hold dear, and she gave it all up to live the life of a cloistered female religious.

Hart says about entering religious life, “I never felt I was leaving anything.” For her there were no regrets, as there was no loss, only gain. She might have been departing Hollywood, but she was entering the Kingdom of God. Her sentiment goes hand in hand with an authentic vocation: there is a sense of purpose and rightness in an authentic, honestly lived life, without a sense of remorse.

What I was created for

For myself, one day when writing it occurred to me that my dream, which at any given moment was to win an Oscar, appear on Saturday Night Live, or star in my own sitcom, would always just be one more thing. One more “to do” checked off an infinite “to do” list. There would always be something else and it occurred to me that the fulfillment I was searching for, that I thought I would find once I won the Oscar, got cast on Saturday Night Live, or made that network deal wasn’t going to happen. I was confusing happiness with a dangling carrot.

It was only when I cleared away our culture’s deceptions that I began to recognize what I was created for and what I honestly wanted to do. It was only when I put aside my aspirations for power, prestige and wealth and looked at what I valued and what I believed that I was able to recognize who I really was and who I could become.

When speaking of her own vocation Hart states that it is “to help people to discover you can always find hope.” And while there are no golden statues given out for that, in the end (and come to think of it, in the beginning and middle, too) the reward is infinitely greater.

The Author : Jake Martin, SJ
Jake Martin, SJ, is a comedian and writer. He is a regular contributor to America Magazine and is currently studying theology in Berkeley, California.
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  • Joan

    Chris, I suggest you discuss this matter with a compassionate and understanding priest, who will be able to advise you.

  • Chris Levi

    My husband and I have been married for 34 years. I am a Catholic and at the time my husband was not (methodist) and he was divorced. We were married by a methodist minister and there was a Catholic Priest in attendance. My husband converted to Catholicism and we raised his two children and had two of our own. My question is….where do I stand with the Church? Am I married in the eyes of the church? Should I not be going to communion? Can I go to confession? I’ve been listening to The Catholic Guy for the past 2 years and I want to go to confession!

  • Rey

    Joan – very well said!!! Tara – I pray you think about Joan’s words and act accordingly. God bless you!!!!!

  • Joan

    Alexis, you are correct, but even you must admit that you are the exception rather than the norm on this issue. Congratulations on remaining faithful to your principles. (Do not be concerned about the photo. You are very pretty, inside and out. :-)

  • Alexis C.

    Nice. I was not really planning on putting my picture along side that, but there it is!

  • Alexis C.

    Joan, just because she moves in with her fiance doesn’t mean they have to be intimate.

    Several months before our marriage, I realized I wanted to start living my faith more fully. I — with much trepidation — told my nonreligious fiance I wanted to remain celibate till our wedding (we’d been living together for months, and moving was not financially an option for either of us). He wasn’t particularly wild about the idea, but he agreed, and we were, until our wedding night :) Nine years and three kids later, and we’re still tremendously happy :)

  • Dave

    Fantastic article. Incredibly moving.

  • Joan

    Tara, I would submit that, if you are young, and in reasonably good health, your loss of health insurance for a year and half is a small risk, against the damage done to your mind and soul by moving in with your fiance before marriage. Why do you want the priest to witness your marriage? Does it have anything to do with your faith? If faith isn’t strong enough to choose a clear conscience and a pure spirit over worldly contrivances, to trust God to care for you in the interim, you might as well get married in front of a Justice of the Peace. You are already planning to deceive the priest in order to do something you know is wrong, and still receive the Sacrament of Marriage. Get your priorities straight: Matthew 16:26. Life is long, and things don’t always work out the way we expect them to. What you decide now could have a big impact on your future, something you might not even realize for another 30 or 40 years. Trust me, I know.

  • Tara

    I’m getting married in about a year and a half. I am Catholic and my fiance is Jewish. We’ve met with the priest who will be doing our wedding ceremony once, but he says we aren’t going to meet again until the wedding gets much closer. The priest took down some of our basic information, including addresses. I’m concerned because I anticipate losing my health insurance in a few months, and my fiance & I have been discussing moving in together & becoming domestic partners so that I can go on his health insurance. We are both comfortable with this, but I am afraid of telling the priest the next time we see him! Do I have to tell him that I’ve changed my address? Will he still perform our wedding?

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