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Roxane B. Salonen, Published August 16 2013

Living Faith: An encounter with nun who kissed Elvis

Last week I attended a conference in New Jersey for religious writers. I registered hoping the experience would strengthen my writing muscles and connections with others who write through a faith lens.

I didn’t realize until plans were well underway that the event would include a special appearance of someone I consider one of my newest heroes.

At summer’s beginning, I became intrigued by the premise of a new book, “Ear of the Heart,” a memoir detailing the life of Mother Dolores Hart, former Hollywood actress turned cloistered Benedictine nun.

The fairly sizable book became my companion for the first weeks of summer. At poolside with the kids and on any excursions, Mother came with me. And through her words and story, I quickly became endeared to her.

By the time I’d finished, the pages were filled with creases and underlines in all varieties of ink.

And so I arrived at the conference eager for the whole experience, including Thursday night’s honored guest.

Earlier that day, I was talking by phone with a friend just outside the hotel. When I looked up, Mother Dolores was walking past me. The scene felt terrifically surreal, as if she’d jumped out of the pages of her book and landed at my feet. My heart hastened.

About 10 minutes later, I ducked briefly into the restroom. Emerging from my stall, I sensed someone else nearby. I soon realized it was Mother Dolores again, this time washing her hands just a few feet away.

Not wanting to be intrusive, I gave her space, but a divinely planned crossing seemed inevitable as we merged again in the hall. Talk to her, I heard from within.

The next thing I knew she was sitting at a table holding my dog-eared copy of her story, in which she was inscribing a personal note.

“What’s the date today?” she asked. “Aug. 8,” I said, and as she wrote it, she had a remembrance – it was the anniversary of the death of her friend, actress Patricia Neal, she said, pausing momentarily, a look of love on her face.

“Your words have really inspired me,” I said. “You can tell by how many pages I’ve marked.”

Smiling, she asked, “Can I take a look?” At my nod, she began paging through to some of the more heavily underlined spots, reading a bit of what I’d marked.

I can only image how it must have felt for her to see which of her words had been the most impactful to one reader. Just as she’d blessed me, I sensed my marked-up pages were blessing her in some small measure.

“You’re just as lovely in person,” I said as she rose, for in her sparkling blue eyes I saw a glowing, vibrant soul filled with warmth.

In our remaining minutes, I summoned the courage to ask for a photo with her. The former Hollywood actress who once smiled for cameras smiled with me in a moment of graciousness before our parting.

That evening, as she gave her encore presentation in the hotel’s ballroom, Mother Dolores talked about the importance of words and how vital it is to harbor them along with the other riches of our souls.

“Each of us has a unique capacity to know and show God,” she said.

She also mentioned how earlier that day she’d been shown, by a reader’s dog-eared book, how life-giving it can be to share our journey with others. Knowing I was that reader, I glowed in remembrance of our earlier “chance” encounter.

For me, meeting the nun once kissed by Elvis Presley turned out even more thrilling than if I’d met Elvis himself. Though Elvis achieved worldwide fame, Dolores Hart bypassed a life of glamour for a more obscure one surrendered to God. And that’s as worthy of my admiration as any hip-shake and pop.

God bless the sacrifice of one brave and beautiful woman named Dolores. I will not soon forget her and the glimpse of heaven she gave me.

Roxane B. Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. If you have a story of faith to share with her, email roxanebsalonen@gmail.com