During the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Dolores Hart enjoyed a successful acting career during which she co-starred in movies with Robert Wagner, Anthony Quinn, and Elvis Presley. She even became the first actress to kiss Elvis in a movie. But Hart left that life behind - and even broke off her engagement to the man she loved – in order to follow a higher calling.
She chose to become “Mother” Dolores Hart, a cloistered Benedictine nun at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, CT where she has dedicated her life to serving God for more than 40 years.
You might think that after all that time, there is nothing new Mother Dolores could learn about her faith or relationship with God. But hardship and pain have a way of being great educators.
Ten years ago, shortly after a three hour dental operation, Mother Dolores got up from bed and discovered her feet were tingling so badly, she could hardly put any weight on the floor. She traveled from doctor to doctor seeking an explanation but no one could adequately diagnose her ever-worsening condition. The 120 pound nun eventually lost twenty pounds, grew increasingly weaker, and was confined to a wheelchair.
Even then, the doctors didn’t help. They suggested she receive psychoanalysis because they theorized the whole illness was in her head.
Finally, Mother Dolores found neurologist Dr. Norman Latov. As she recalled on the radio program “Christopher Closeup,” he told her, “Mother, pain is not in your head unless it’s something that is a serious disorder in your head…We’re going to find out what this is about.”
The doctor diagnosed her with peripheral neuropathy. Mother Dolores explained, “It’s one of the most common diseases that most people have never heard of. It’s a neurological disorder that disrupts and damages the body’s ability to communicate with itself. It’s a deterioration of what are called the peripheral nerves, ones that send signals to our feet, our hands, muscles, organs and tissues.”
The neuropathy didn’t just produce a physical challenge but a spiritual one as well. Mother Dolores admitted, “No matter how much you think that you have come to a capacity of understanding your faith and believing in your faith, when a person is struck with a serious disease where you can’t do what you want to do, you can’t go where you want to go, where you can’t feed yourself, you can’t apply your own medical needs…you begin to say, “Where is God?”
This complete reliance on other people taught Mother Dolores a new view of the way God works in our lives – “All of a sudden you find out that God relates to you through persons. Persons do, in the final analysis, become the incarnation. You have to become dependent on the gift of human beings, and you discover that God is an incarnate reality. In the beginning, God was always a pie-in-the-sky reality. Now I had to realize that Jesus was there through the people who were assisting me, caring for me and doing the things that were bringing me through. That metanoia had to take place in me to submit to the gift of others.”
Happily, Dr. Latov has gotten Mother Dolores back on track to the point where she now leads a normal life. Her spiritual transformation, however, may be the most important gift of all.
(To hear more from Mother Dolores Hart - including stories about working with Elvis and the nature of her continuing friendship with her former fiancée – download the free podcast at www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast.)