June Haver’s decision to become a nun was a deeply personal matter, so personal that only a few, out of the thousands who read the news, understood. Those few were men and women who had themselves dedicated their lives to the service of God, for no one else could comprehend the peace, the longing and the love that underly such a decision.
It was so personal that in those last few days before she left Hollywood for Leavenworth, Kansas, to enter Saint Mary’s Academy, June found it necessary to keep her whereabouts a secret. The press, while understanding somehow that June would not wish to discuss the matter, nevertheless closed in, because whether or not the announcement was personal, it was big news. The reporters badgered her family, her friends, and her associates in the Church for any tidbits that might add to the story.
A local newspaper immediately began a series of articles on June’s life, her career and her heartbreaks, and her subsequent decision to take the veil. Stories were liberally illustrated with pictures taken of Miss Haver during her movie career, and of ten as not they were of the cheesecake variety.
The attendant publicity was unavoidable because June was a celebrity in the public spotlight, and as such had belonged in a way to the public. Now she was severing all such ties, and in typical good taste, refrained from speaking to anyone or seeing anyone except her family and closest friends. The friends reacted in kind by rallying around June with loyal support, and while the press might pester for news and plead for pictures, the statements given by those closest to June were as brief and as sincere as possible. They felt, and rightly so, that this was no matter to be chewed by the news hounds.
For the past nine years, June cooperated to the fullest with the press. In 1949, she was awarded the Golden Apple by the Hollywood Women’s Press Club as the most cooperative actress of that year. She was always gracious and charming and unusually understanding of the tribulations of writers assigned to cover celebrities. Now the reporters were understanding in return. They did their jobs as well as possible, feeling only the highest respect for June in her refusal, in this instance, to help them on what might well be their last story concerning her.
During the first week in February, the rumors began to bounce. Several columnists reported that June would soon enter a convent, but she was unavailable for comment and her family would neither confirm nor deny the fact. Through her mother and sisters June said, “If and when I have an announcement to make, I shall make it to everyone.” When a priest whom she had consulted was contacted, he said, “If Miss Haver has anything to say, it is up to her, not me.”
The following day June telephoned the publicity department of her studio and read them the statement she had written herself. It said:
“To all my friends: Now that I am about to do something that some of you will perhaps find difficult to understand, I have thought it well to make a public statement.
“I am going away to prepare myself, by several years of prayer and study, for something I have been contemplating for two years. I am determined to be a Sister of Charity, with the Grace of God and the approval of His church, and to consecrate my life to the service of God in His sick and in His children.
“To do this will take more ability than I have. That is why I am going to prepare myself in a novitiate of work and prayer. If at the end of my two years of preparation my religious superiors judge that I am able to do this, I shall consecrate myself by vow to this kind of life.
“As far as I am concerned, I know what I want to do. But what I want must also be what God wants. May His will be done.
“You, my friends who have helped me so well in the past, I know will continue to help me with prayer, that I may always be generous in the service of God.”
It was neat, concise and to the point, and it said everything that June could possibly say under the circumstances. The publicist who took the message told her he thought it was beautifully worded.
“I think it covers it,” June said. “It’s all I want to say. Otherwise they’ll be wanting to know when I leave and it would be embarrassing with photographers.”
“I suppose İTİ be talking to you again,” said the publicist.
“No,” said June, and he could almost hear the smile in her voice over the phone. “I don’t think so. You won’t be able to get in touch with me.” She hesitated a moment and then added, I’m very happy.”
The news was not surprising to those who knew June. As she said in the statement, she had been considering such a decision for two years. While it was not something about which she spoke freely, wisps of her thoughts did leak out now and then. When she visited the Montevideo Film Festival in South America last year, she made a guarded admission to a Catholic layman that she was interested, and spoke very highly of the life of a nun.
She went to Rome in 1951, following the death of her fiance, Dr. John Duzik, and obtained an audience with Pope Pius XII. It is said that during her meeting with the Pope, she again spoke of her desire to become a nun. At any rate, although June had left Hollywood a troubled girl, she I came back from that trip with a new assurance, a new happiness. She seemed to know, for the first time in many years, what it was she wanted from life.
More than two years ago, it was reported that June had applied for dispensation from the Church to enter a convent. Such a waiver is necessary for a woman who has been married, for, although legally divorced, she is still married in the eyes of the Church. Clearance in a case of this kind is quite possible, but the application itself is not binding. The first rumblings began at that time, but June denied them, understandably in view of the uncertain circumstances.
After that, a great deal happened to confirm the suspicion. Last year, June sold her lovely home in Cheviot Hills, and afterward, offered for sale by auction the majority of her possessions. Later, she moved into her mother’s apartment, and then two weeks before her decision was made public, she told her studio that she would not renew her contract when it expired on February 20. Incidentally, it is typical of June’s fairness that she refused to accept her salary for that remaining period. all of these things pointed to the ultimate conclusion, but until everything was arranged and in order June refused to make any comment.
The most revealing clue of all, however, was June herself. She had never conformed to Hollywood’s way of life, and had not only shied away from the gaudier parties but had confined her friendships almost entirely to people outside the industry. As one friend put it, “She just never really belonged to Hollywood.”
People who knew her well could never reconcile her glamorous screen roles with the sincere and serious girl they knew as a friend. over the past two years, she grew increasingly interested in helping others. Whenever anyone had a problem, or was sick, or bereaved, June was always on hand with whatever help she could offer. She was devoting her life to other people, and as one person, a non-Catholic, said, “She couldn’t have done more had she already been a nun.”
If Hollywood was not surprised at her eventual decision, neither did they understand it. The citizens of the town tend naturally to dramatize the slightest incident, and on reading June’s statement in the newspapers, they immediately began asking each other “Why?” It was supposed, as a matter of course, that June’s tragic experiences in love had led her into the path of solace with the Church. They said that no girl could be expected to live through the heartbreak of such a marriage as that with Jimmy Zito; that no girl could survive such deep grief as that suffered over the death of the charming John Duzik, without finding the need to seek consolation. June’s father, a non-Catholic and a man who has seldom seen his daughters since his divorce from their mother, came to this conclusion: “It is a result,” he said, “of her hard work, her heartbreak and her deep faith in the Catholic Church.”
To those who have known June more intimately, the first two reasons are completely unsound. If Dr. Duzik had lived. of course, and if he and June had been able to secure from the Church an annulment of her marriage to Zito (a procedure which required a statement in writing from Zito to the effect that he had not wanted children at the time he entered into marriage with June, thus making the marriage invalid), they would undoubtedly have lived happily ever after. But Dr. Duzik did not live, and June’s faithful attendance at his bedside and her prayers in the chapel of St. John’s Hospital ended in sorrow.
Such an experience would normally send anyone on a quest for peace, and although many stories will probably be written stating that this tragedy was the direct cause of June’s choice, it could not, alone, have given her the incentive to take the veil. June decided to become a nun only through a real desire to serve God.
“If we did understand,” says her sister Evvie, “if we could know how June feels, then we would all be in a convent.”
June was not raised a Catholic. Her father is a Presbyterian, her paternal grandfather was a minister of the Congregational Church in Portland, Indiana, and her mother is a Catholic. But during her childhood, there was always a strong pull toward Catholicism. Back in Rock Island, Illinois, she used to stop in a Catholic church on her way home from school every day, and whenever anyone was ill she made a special trip to the church for prayer. Her two sisters used to tease her about it, yet, somehow, even then, they may have felt that they would all some day turn toward Catholicism.
The conversion came sooner than they thought. Dorothy, the oldest sister, became engaged to marry a Catholic, and when June, who was then sixteen, returned with her mother from a movie location trip, Dorothy had already been baptized and had taken her first Communion. June and Evvie followed shortly thereafter, June taking instruction at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, and eventually being baptized by Monsignor Con-cannon. She took her time about it, was deeply curious about all phases of it.
Following her trip to Rome during the Holy Year, she put aside all reading material except things relating to the spiritual, and spent her free hours in prayer and deliberation on her future. The sale of her house and other material things made possible the establishment of a trust fund for her mother, and with the choice of the Sisters of Charity and the waiver by the Church, June was ready.
She chose this particular order because she felt she was better suited to its work than to others. The Sisters of Charity is a fairly new order as Catholic orders go. It is American, only eighty-six years old, and maintains homes for orphans, retreats, homes for the aged, and schools. The nuns are transferred every six years from one type of work to another so that their lives offer a wide variety of service. June’s main source of joy has always been children. She is fascinated by them and feels them to be the primary mission of marriage; it is fairly accurate to say that her chief pleasure in her service, other than her religion, will come in helping youngsters.
Her choice made and all arrangements completed. she left Hollywood on February 8 for Leavenworth, Kansas. To her relatives, who would not be seeing her for a long time, she said “I want to leave alone. I’ve made my choice alone and I want to go alone.” Her family understood. With her mind reaching toward a future that required cessation of all personal attachments, it would be difficult enough to take leave of the loved ones who were trying so hard to understand.
At St. Mary’s Academy in Leavenworth, the mother house of the Sisters of Charity, June is now receiving a higher education which will fit her for the care of the sick and the education of the young. She leaves her bed at five o’clock each morning, joins in the first prayers and meditation of the day and then assists at Mass and receives Communion. After a simple breakfast with the sisters and the twelve other novices, she begins a sixteen-hour day that is filled with study, except for more than five hours devoted to prayer.
After eighteen months to two years of study and prayer, she will be ready to be professed. She will, if deemed suitable for the life she has chosen, take three vows. By the vow of poverty, she renounces all earthly goods. By the vow of chastity, she renounces all passionate attachments. By the vow of obedience, she renounces all self-interest and self-love.
Following this profession, she will make vows for one year only and renew them once a year for the next five years. The sixth year, she makes her vow for life, if she still wishes it. At any time until then she may make application to withdraw, if she should so desire.
Although the Sisters of Charity are not cloistered nuns and may visit with their families and friends, it is nonetheless a stupendous decision to make, and one that calls for a great deal of both courage and love. Heeding such a call is particularly difficult for someone in June’s position, not only because of the publicity washing over her personal feelings, but because she is bound always to be singled out from the other sisters as once having been a famous movie star. With her vows and her religious intents in mind, it will be difficult for her tactfully to avoid such attentions. Others will not easily forget the fact that for nine years June lived in what is regarded as the tinsel town of Hollywood. It will show in their eyes when they look at her, and it will be a real problem for June.
She is not the first from among the movie world to choose such a path. There has been Gareth Hughes, who is now an Episcopalian monk and working with the American Indians. There has been Jose Mojica, opera and picture star who is now a Franciscan monk in Peru. There is Juanita Quigley, famous child star, now a nun in the order of the Daughters of Mary and Joseph. There is lovely Colleen Townsend, who last year renounced a budding movie career to join her husband in his missionary work.
All of them no doubt had the same sincerity of purpose, yet it hits home a little harder in the case of June Haver. She is so young, so beautiful, was at the peak of a fabulous career. It is perhaps difficult to comprehend her choice, but it is one that must be admired. Many people ask her family why June, who could do so much good for others in her career as a movie star, wanted to enter a convent in order to do good. And the family’s answer is always the same:
“She has a right to some happiness of her own. All her life she has done many things that she didn’t want to do. In her school years she missed a lot, because she went to a studio school and never had the fun other kids have in high school. She was always under orders from her studio, sometimes to do things she didn’t approve of. She was always under financial pressure from a hundred different sources. Since she was a little girl she couldn’t do what she wanted to do. This is what she wants, and we’ll stick by her.”
Her family, her mother and sisters, do not completely understand, but they remember the line of dialogue spoken by a nun in “The Bells of St. Mary’s” that June has always loved. “You don’t become a nun because you’ve lost something, but because you’ve found something.”
They know that is the way it is with June, and that while they won’t be seeing her often, she is happy—truly happy for the first time in her life.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MAY 1953