BETHLEHEM, Connecticut, AUG. 30, 2007 (Zenit.org).- 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 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.