Bob Hope was married 69 years to lifelong Catholic Dolores DeFina Hope, but only in his later years did he himself join the Catholic Church.
“Over the years,” Cardinal Roger Mahony noted after Bob’s passing in 2003, “I would invite him to join the Church, but he would respond in his typical humor: ‘My wife does enough praying to take care of both of us.’” It was, though, “one of my greatest joys knowing that Bob Hope died as a Catholic,” said the cardinal, who was a student at St. Charles Borromeo School in North Hollywood in the 1940s, when the Hopes, Bing Crosby and other parishioner-celebrities put on shows free of charge in the school auditorium.
“When the school playground was paved over to provide Sunday parking, the Hopes opened up their spacious back yard so that we could play touch football on their expansive grass — actually, Bob Hope’s golf practice area. They were always so welcoming.”
Over the years, Bob and Dolores Hope provided regular and generous support to many humanitarian causes and agencies, including those of the Catholic Church. Together, they contributed toward the building of many chapels, shrines and altars in churches all over the country, including Our Lady of Hope Chapel at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.
Locally, they funded Our Lady’s Chapel adjacent to St. Charles Borromeo, where, in 1998, they were invested as Knight and Dame Commander with Star of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, an honor granted to those who “promote the interests of society, the Church and the Holy See.” Previously, in 1992, Dolores was named a Cardinal’s Award Recipient in recognition of her many contributions toward improving the quality of life in Southern California.
In 1999, as thousands of refugees in Kosovo faced starvation, homelessness, and destitution, the Hopes gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Catholic Relief Services to help alleviate the suffering in that war-torn region. “The Hopes have also contributed to the faith life of our Catholic community through donations to so many Catholic causes, so often quietly and without public notice,” said Cardinal Mahony.
Bob Hope died on July 27, 2003, two months after his 100th birthday. Dolores died Sept. 19, 2011, at age 102. Both, said Cardinal Mahony, served the greater good of humanity through their lives as “powerful witnesses to the Gospel, which encourages all of us to live our lives in the service of others.”