Bethlehem, Conn is home to the 400-acre Abbey of Regina Laudis, Latin for “Queen of Praise.” The 36 nuns praise God seven times every day by chanting Holy Mass and the Divine Office (Psalms and prayers) in Latin.
Here are two fascinating stories about two of the 36 talented and holy nuns who live there and support themselves by farming the land and selling their art at a gift shop on campus. They also intercede for us.
At 18 years of age, Dolores Hart, a beautiful young Catholic aspiring starlet, attended daily Mass and received Holy Communion. She was fervently praying to get the female lead in a new movie starring Elvis Presley. Out of 400 applicants, she got the part. She was the first one to kiss Elvis on the silver screen. She said he was shy and devout, he would read his Bible in spare minutes on the set.
After many movies with Elvis, a friend recommended to her that the quiet Abbey in Bethlehem was a great place to get a good rest. A Benedictine tradition has always said: “Hospes Christus est,” “the “guest is Christ.” She came back to the Abbey for a second visit and heard the call of God inviting her to spend the rest of her life as a member of the Benedictine community in Bethlehem.
She broke her long time engagement to a young architect and broke his heart at the same time. Although he dated others, he never married and would come to visit her at least once a year. HBO has recently made a short movie about her life, “God is the bigger Elvis.” Now her name is Mother Dolores Hart, OSB. She went to the Academy Awards this year in Hollywood, hoping to promote her movie. Because of her connections in show business, the Abbey presents a play and a musical every summer. This year they presented South Pacific.
The other famous name at the Abbey is Mother Georgina Patton, granddaughter of General George S. Patton, Jr.
The history behind this story is that Mother Benedicta Duss, foundress of the Bethlehem Abbey, was an American medical doctor and a member of the Benedictine Abbey of Jouarre in North Central France.
During the German occupation of France in WWII, the Gestapo tried very hard to find the American doctor but she artfully eluded them. In 1945, General George S. Patton, Jr. and his Army liberated Jouarre and its historic Abbey. Mother Benedicta was so grateful for the liberation that she promised God she would open a Benedictine Abbey on the East Coast of the United States. In 1947 she founded Regina Laudis in Bethlehem. This story was fictionalized in a beloved Christmas movie, “Come to the Stable.” Mother Georgina Patton, the granddaughter of General George S. Patton Jr. is now a Prioress of the Bethlehem community. The Bethlehem Abbey has begun a daughter community on the West Coast. “Ora et Labora,” a play on words in Latin, for “Pray and Work.”
Mother David Serna OSB, is the present Abbess of Regina Laudis. At the recent celebration of her fiftieth anniversary of her vows as a Benedictine, all three of General Patton’s grandchildren were there. His grandson Ben has just written a new book called “Growing up Patton”. He tells in the book the story of his father’s graduation from West Point. An old soldier came up to him and said “you’ll never be the soldier your father was, but congratulations on your graduation.