When Rev. Mother Dolores Hart walked away from her life as an actress in Hollywood to become a nun in Connecticut, she thought she had put acting behind her.
For the actress formerly known as Dolores Hart, who starred opposite Elvis Presley, Montgomery Clift and Anthony Quinn, acting would eventually come back into her life. She now sees it as part of her vocation as a Benedictine nun, although her role is solely backstage. At the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, she has helped cultivate a passionate theater community as an artistic director. In a 200-seat outdoor theater, The Gary-The Olivia Theater, built on the grounds, a play is presented each summer by the community, which has made Mother Dolores see that the arts can bring one closer to God.
The daughter of actors and the niece of singer Mario Lanza, Mother Dolores fell in love with movies watching them with her grandfather, who was a movie theater projectionist. She decided she wanted to be a movie actress and got her start barely out of high school. Her first film was also Elvis Presley’s first film, “Loving You,” released in 1957. She also worked with Presley in “King Creole.” She starred with Connie Francis in “Where The Boys Are.” During her brief yet very busy career, she worked with prominent directors Hal Wallis and George Cukor, and actors Walter Matthau, Maureen Stapleton, Frances Farmer, Robert Wagner, and Karl Malden. She received a Tony nomination for her work in the Broadway play, “The Pleasure of His Company.” In 1962, she made a film, “Lisa,” which was the story of a Dutch holocaust survivor trying to make her way to Palestine, a role that had a profound impact on her life and prompted her to hear God’s calling. She left Hollywood for Bethlehem in 1963.
the Abbey’s 400 acres. Mother Dolores is the Prioress. The nuns’ daily life includes chanting the Divine Offices seven times a day in Latin, and tending to their dairy farm, where they make cheese, look after a beef herd, pigs, sheep, lamma and a donkey. They take care of the property’s extensive orchards, and try to be as self-sufficient as possible. It is a life in keeping with St. Benedict’s dictum that their lives should be a balanced combination of prayer and work. A special part of the nuns’ lives is the theater, which has evolved over the past nearly three decades. Productions staged there have included “My Fair Lady,” and “West Side Story,” as well as plays by Chekhov and Jean-Paul Sartre.
Interestingly, The Gary – The Olivia owes it origins in part to the inspiration of another film actress, Patricia Neal, who won an Oscar for her work in “Hud.” In 1980, Neal sought refuge in the Abbey during trying personal times. Uncertain that she could ever be on stage again, Neal was encouraged by the nuns to give a poetry reading on the Abbey land. With her help and other friends, the theater was built in 1986. It was named in part after Neal’s late daughter, and for her friend, Gary Cooper.