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Interview: A Nun Asked Me If the Holy Spirit Had Given Me That Nudge…

US Actor, Catholic Convert & Coordinator of Finding Vince 400 Shares With Zenit on Vincentians’ 400th Anniversary

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‘I promised her that I would pray about it. As we kept in touch, she asked if the Holy Spirit had yet given me the nudge. She encouraged me through the years, as only a spirit-filled Sister can …’
In an interview with Zenit, American actor Clarence Gilyard, also coordinator of «Finding Vince 400» (FV400), the International Film Festival and Contest dedicated to Saint Vincent de Paul for the globalization of charity, shared his gradual spiritual journey and how he is living his faith.
Gilyard is known to the general public for having played in the television series, Walker, Texas Ranger, among others, and for being in many successful films including Top Gun. In this interview, he shares his touching story of conversion, the Vincentian charism, and the proper relationship between charity and cinema.
Originally Lutheran, the actor had expressed how in his career, being faced daily with extreme secularism made living morally a challenge. Having expressed he had hit rock bottom with drugs, alcohol and casual relationships, he noted that the Catholic Church drew him out of his struggle 22 years ago. He now partakes in all World Youth Days, serves as a consultant for his local bishops conference, and lives his faith publicly.
Officially announced in Rome in 2017 during the Symposium of the 400th anniversary of the Vincentian charism, «Finding Vince 400» is a festival where the theme of the globalization of charity ​​will be presented in all artistic voices in a contest.  It marks the final initiative of the Vincentian Jubilee Year.
Globalizing charity, one of the recurring themes of the Jubilee, will be expressed through the medium of cinema. This insight gave rise to the idea of organizing the film festival, organized by Gilyard, which will take place at Castel Gandolfo October 18-21, 2018.
The goal of the Festival is to stimulate creativity on the theme of the globalization of charity. “Finding Vince 400” is an invitation to develop stories and spread the message of globalized charity through the art of modern storytelling. The contest, open to all, is divided into three sections.
Participation in the «Finding Vince 400» contest is possible in one of the following three sections: Seeds of Hope, Film Script, or Short or Feature Film. The festival’s organizing committee, in response to numerous requests for participation, has extended the date for submitting entries to August 31 for «Seeds of Hope» and «Short or feature film.» More information can be found at the end of the interview.
Here is the interview:
What is the goal of ‘Finding Vince’?
Finding Vince is an invitation to create truthful stories for those who cannot tell them. You and I know that the numbers of us who possess untold stories is in the billions, so we are now in the business of fighting poverty through the art of modern storytelling…filmmaking.
Pray for our films that our films will entertain, instruct, and lead. Pray that our films will inspire and spark a fire. And realize that these films are for you and in so many ways are about you. Use your imaginations and then use your resources and creativity…
Is Hollywood’s world compatible with solidarity with the poorest?
Hollywood is a «collective noun» which can mean many things: money, power, excessiveness…. As every human has some beautiful aspects, and other less beautiful. Anywhere, and therefore also in Hollywood, there are men and women sensitive to charity and aid towards the less fortunate because I am convinced that God speaks to the heart of everyone without exception. It is up to us to decide how and what to say. In Hollywood as in Paris and as in Rome, solidarity was born from a heart open and sensitive to the needs of our brothers and sisters.
How did you get involved in the idea of creating a new film festival focused on charity?
In the summer of 2011, as part of my involvement in the Church, I was involved with helping an English-speaking venue at the World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, where Pope Benedict visited.
As it happened, I met an American nun who had a great impact on me. There was this sister and a group of young pilgrims, with whom we enjoyed our time together and took photos. As they were leaving, the nun, Sister Christian Price asked me to consider working with her. At that time, she was the National Director of Youth and Young Adults for the National Council of the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The opportunity was to work with her to promote the Society of St. Vincent de Paul among our world’s youth and young adults: first, to help them to develop spiritually and then to develop opportunities for service.
Beyond working together in these efforts, did anything else follow?
I promised her that I would pray about it. As we kept in touch, she asked if the Holy Spirit had yet given me the nudge. She encouraged me through the years, as only a spirit-filled sister can, by reminding me that sometimes all it takes is telling your story. My story is marked by 11 academic years and 20 film and theater projects. Later in the summer of 2016 I was on my way to work for an English-speaking venue of Pope Francis’ World Youth Day (WYD) in Krakow, Poland when an American priest, Fr. Willy Raymond, my spiritual advisor, asked me to give a witness to 1500 pilgrims at the Vincentian youth meeting, just prior to the World Youth Day in Krakow. Then and there I met Father Tomaž who changed my whole life. I am a convert to the mother Church for 22 years, now. The Church accompanied me and while every day is a struggle, I would never turn back.
What have you learned since your conversion. Has your daily life and your perspective toward it been impacted?
I have come to realize that my approach to this life is necessarily evolving: evolving and maturing into a critical daily request to our good God to help me make mine, my life and my labors, my work, a prayer. Adopting St. Paul’s invitation to «pray without ceasing.» Since taking this mentality, my life seems to contain many diverse and complex things……..As I said, I am a convert to the Church for 22 years, now. I am a husband, father of six, an actor, and along with my colleague, West McDowell, a director and a teacher.
Are Saint Vincent’s life and his passion for charity a story which can recruit new generations?
I think St. John of Avila, the Spanish priest and mystic, was agreeing with St. Vincent de Paul’s charism when he taught us that just as we look at ourselves, listen to stories and experience films, we see our neighbor with human eyes, and so when we look at Christ we will see our neighbor with Christian eyes, …with the eyes of Christ…..will see and experience how very right it is that we are obligated to endure and love our neighbor: Christ loved and esteemed them as the head loves his own body, as the husband loves his wife, as brothers and sisters love one another, as our loving father loves his children.
In the past, traditional stories established our place in the world based upon where we lived, who our family was, and our relationship with God. As we evolve we realize that although there is good in, shall we call them ‘master stories’, there are flaws. Some of the older master stories depicted unequal and unfair relationships between us.
Since we cannot survive without our stories, new ones have been created to replace the old. But they have emerged necessarily from our conventional communities with the survival of our communities as the priority. These are not always structured in the pursuit of true information…but with the goal to support the market economy….making money.
The beautiful individual and collective stories that do not serve the market economy suffer the consequences of not being told. If my story isn’t told I do not exist.
In this way, how is Finding Vincent 400 significant?
Fv400 is a response to our primal need to connect and, or if you will, reconnect to the truth of who we are. This is very Vincentian.
In which way can cinema and art tell stories capable of really moving and touching the heart of those in the audience?
The assumption that one story is the only story, or that one group’s lives are more valid than another group, or that one group of people who do not look like us, do not have the right to live and work as we do: yet no matter how divisive life may become…The movie theater has always been a place where we can rediscover what unites us…the commonality of our stories…and the willingness to dig into each others stories… Make the difference…
Stories in film embody, convey, challenge, and inspire values and beliefs. As 21st Century storytellers, filmmakers, artists, we must aspire to this. Ultimately October 2018 will be an experience, a resource and opportunity to produce new tools as the Vincentian family grows and evolves.
As the film festival wishes to embrace artistic creations of younger artists, what role do they play in the world’s transformation and change?
What we pray for comes to fruition when we observe the collaboration between the young and old in common causes, in fellowship, in doing the work of God. Because as art, across all ages, is inspired, created and developed, it tells our commonness as a common story.
More details on the ‘Finding Vince’ Contest:
The Three Sections:
«Seeds of hope«: for those under 18 years of age. The proposed theme: the service to the poor. To participate: be «Seeds of Hope» by developing the theme of “service to the poor” through creative expressions (story, poetry, painting, sculpture, music, etc.). Entries (video or images or creative work) must be uploaded to or through before 05/28/2018. After this date, entries may still be submitted until 08/31/2018. Jury awarded artists will be invited to the festival and awarded a trip and stay in Castel Gandolfo during the duration of FV400.
Film script «Finding Vince 400»: dedicated to storytellers and screenwriters. The five best works will be awarded with a trip and stay in Castel Gandolfo during FV400 and a scholarship to produce the script in a short film. The scripts will be awarded at Castel Gandolfo between October 18 and 21, 2018. Deadline for presentation of works: 05/25/2018 and registration at
Short or feature film «Finding Vince 400»: for those who present a short film or a featured film. The film should be inspired by service to the poor and trying to change the perspective of our society on poverty. Jury selected artists will be awarded with a trip and stay in Castel Gandolfo during FV400.
Online Registrations will be available for all participants beginning May 15 at This site includes all information for participating and lodging during the Film Festival in Castel Gandolfo.
Awards ceremony: Castel Gandolfo from October 18 to 21, 2018.
Submission Deadline: 05/25/2018 and registration at: After 5/25/2018 a new form will allow you to submit your work until 8/31/2018.

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