Former leading lady Dolores Hart turned a kiss into an Abbey-saver. Now she and her order are at it again.
Mother Dolores Hart wasn’t always a nun. Once upon a time she was a Hollywood leading lady, appearing in feature films alongside the likes of Montgomery Clift, Robert Wagner, and Elvis Presley.
In fact, in the 1957 production Loving You, Dolores kissed Elvis Presley, the King. It was the first time Elvis had kissed anyone on screen. She didn’t even know who he was at the time.
50 years later she has turned that brief moment into a fundraising campaign that raised over $1 million.
Mother Dolores is now an important part of the community at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut which was nearly condemned to closure in 2011 due to fire code and safety issues.
Mother Dolores wasn’t having any of it. She started the fundraising campaign, wrote an autobiography, embarked on a speaking tour, and made TV appearances.
A short film about her life, “God is Bigger than Elvis,” was nominated for an Oscar in 2012. People began noticing and sending donations to the abbey and soon they had enough to install a new fire system and necessary upgrades.
But now the Abbey, an industrial complex built in 1947, is in need of further repair. This time the repairs are forward-looking, to prevent the same threat of condemnation and to improve the quality of worship.
Sister Angele Arbib, the community’s spokeswoman, explained, “That first phase was more of an urgency, a survival thing. But this is all needed. We have to continue, because we aren’t going to be in a position to do this ever again. We are doing this for the future.”
The renovations of the abbey include fixing the sagging ceiling of the chapel, installing new wiring, insulating pipes to prevent bursting in the winter, increasing housing and a host of other necessary improvements.
Improvements on the Abbey are estimated to cost between $7.5 and $9 million dollars. The nuns have already raised $3 million by reaching out to the community and tapping into their individual and group skills like handcrafted pottery, artisanal cheeses, sculpting and smithing.
Where once the nuns believed they would lead a strictly contemplative life, they are now becoming accustomed to being business women in the larger world.
See the Abbey’s homepage to learn more about their story and make a donation.