Mother Dolores Hart feels very comfortable taking pictures of the visitor with her professional digital camera.“I want to take pictures of all the people who interview me because it’s the only way to show the sisters what I have been doing,” she smiles while she puts away her Canon.What she has been doing? It would be an understatement to say she has been an agent of change wherever she has gone: —Tip-toeing into theater projection rooms at the age of eight, where she watched movies over and over on weekends while being paid a nickel to wake up her grandfather, who worked as a reel operator, minutes before the movie was over; —Becoming a young Hollywood actress-turned-cloistered Benedictine nun; —And finally, being named dean of Education at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut.During most of her 75 years, she says, she has been developing her acting and directing skills. She “desperately” wanted to become an actress, and when she became one with a promising future, she also learned the “behind the scenes” aspects of the business at a young age, including how to shoot a close-up or a double head shot — not your standard “starlet” pursuits in the late 1950s and early 1960s.“I could have ended up directing movies,” she says matter-of-factly during an interview with The Tidings on a warm June afternoon at the Pauline Media Center in Culver City.But at 25, Dolores Hart (nee Hicks) took another route and entered a monastery. The path was not easy, but it was revealing and reassuring.A half century later, Mother Dolores is sharing her life in her autobiography, “The Ear of the Heart: An Actress’ Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows,” co-written with Richard DeNeut and published by Ignatius Press.‘We have to stay upbeat’Throughout the years, Mother Dolores grew into a pro-active director within her community, which led to a renewal of the formation process, despite opposition of members attached to pre-Vatican II procedures.“I believed very strongly that things had to happen to help youth come in,” she noted, “and I wrote a letter to the Abbess giving her the points of what should be done.”At the core of it was changing the “old practice” of silence, of not sharing personal painful life issues.“We have to stay upbeat,” she told the Abbess. If the community continued with old practices, “it will never work with the new generations,” she wrote.“You have to have freedom about what you have in your heart,” she told The Tidings. “Allow people to share whatever they have in their mind. Every person has different ways of viewing things; a different angle and possibilities.”In her years of contemplative life she came to the realization that there cannot be a separation of the person and her past. “Everyone [entering a religious community] brings what they have with them,” she declared. “You don’t leave it at the gate.”Dolores Hart had brought sizable baggage (and, at first, some paparazzi) with her to the community, and not just because she was the first girl who kissed Elvis Presley on the big screen. She was born to a young couple from Chicago who seemed to never figure out how to live together and raise their child. Thus, Dolores was raised by her grandparents, who provided a safe environment and a certain stability, while both parents became alcoholics and went through several divorces. In a way, she admits, becoming an actress fulfilled her parents’ [frustrated] dream, especially her father’s, who had short stints as a Hollywood actor.She envisioned herself having her own family, but that idea rivaled with the call to a religious life.“Vocation came to me because I was an actress and was given a tremendous advantage and God said, ‘Now you are really going to be an actress.’”Then she learned that “monastic way of living has a more incarnational dimension and sexuality is not limited to the genital experience, but part of the development of the whole person.”It is expressed, she said, through development of capacities and creativity, of skills and gifts. As an example, she cited the new Abbey’s church, built by three sisters in 1994. Then there is Mother Anastasia, a blacksmith who did all the iron work in the church, and now teaches children. Another sister is a candle maker, another the gardener, still another the photographer, and so on.The key to developing a healthy spiritual life that could lead to discerning one’s vocation, she asserted, “is to listen. Listen what young people are saying and finding in their own lives.”She recalls the time spent on film sets with Pat Barto, a costume designer who helped her gain self-confidence and offer tips for life.Then she reflects on her vocation and the “other dimension,” eternity. “God gives you back your body after you die. He will give me back the body of an actress for eternity.” She smiles. “I wonder what roles are waiting for me in eternity.”For more information about “The Ear of the Heart: An Actress’ Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows,” visit {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2013/0712/dolores/{/gallery}