“Before I sit down, may I tell you, on my way here I was considering myself a real pig for wanting you to remember your suffering, just so I can do a better acting job.”
Hart was nominated for a Golden Globe for her portrayal of “Lisa.” Today, Hart is the only nun who is a voting member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscars).
Maria Cooper Janis, the daughter of screen idol Gary Cooper and one of Hart’s best friends, said Hart found a way “to keep a foot in Hollywood” while fully embracing Benedictine life, which keeps the nuns mostly isolated, and on a strict schedule of prayer, study and manual labor.
A painful neurological disease, peripheral idiopathic neuropathy, now limits her physical activity, but for decades, Hart worked in the abbey laundry and in the wood shop, building coffins.
She also carefully tended her friendships from her movie star days, and made Regina Laudis a welcoming place for those who needed a spiritual break — or those who just missed her and her borderline naughty sense of humor.
It was Janis who had introduced Hart to Neal when the Oscar-winning actress was struggling with weighty personal problems. The two developed a strong bond. Neal, one of many in show business to seek rest and counsel with Hart at Regina Laudis, is the only one to become a Catholic on her deathbed at the abbey, and to have been buried there.
Janis — along with Hart’s devoutly Catholic fiance — was one of Hart’s friends who did not argue when told that she was leaving for the convent. Janis said she did not assume, as many others had, that her best friend was “running way from men, or Hollywood or running away from life.”
“I knew this was absolutely what she had to do,” said Janis, who is Catholic, but said she is moved more by the spirit of her religion than its doctrine. “You don’t stand in the middle of the tracks of a speeding train coming at you.”
Zada, the Holocaust survivor who became fast friends with Hart, did try to talk her friend out of monastic life.
“I was very upset, and actually for a couple of years I was still writing her angry notes about throwing her life away,” said Zada, who still travels from Los Angeles to visit Hart at the abbey.
“If you heard what I hear,” Hart once told Zada, “you would come, too.”
Zada said she came to realize that even though she would never understand what compelled her friend to give up one life for another, Hart did understand, and that was all that mattered.
“Everything comes from her heart,” Zada said. “As corny as it sounds.”
— Religion News Service