The Catholic Defender: Gary Cooper A Convert to the Catholic Faith
One of the most noted actors of all time, certainly one of my favorites who stared in so many great movies. He won an Academy Award for his role in Sergeant York (1941), and High Noon (1952) and nominated three other times as best actor. In 1961 Gary Cooper was awarded an Honorary Award for Lifetime Achievement. Gary Cooper was highly acclaimed in his role playing the life of Lou Gehrig in the movie, The Pride of the Yankees (1942). Like John Wayne, Gary Cooper's conversion was towards the end of his life.
Great was Gary Cooper's lifetime achievement in the present life, but with his conversion to the Catholic Faith, Gary Cooper now obtained the greatest legacy, eternal Salvation in the Kingdom of Heaven. Cary Cooper was marked for playing heroes in the movies, now he saddles up with the greatest heroes of all time, the Saints in Heaven. I remember as a kid playing out some of these heroes from some of these movies, but now people can follow his example taking hold of the Lord's Church. Gary Cooper at one time might have been in the top 100 male stars of all time, maybe in the top ten, but now he is part of those who reigns with the Great Cloud of Witnesses in Heaven.
Despite being born in Montana, he was educated in England before the Second World War. He did go back to Montana, but he was not keen to cold weather, he was known to have said he, "would rather starve where it was warm, than to starve and freeze too." So he ended up going west to California. Like many who went west looking for gold, he began finding odd jobs as a movie extra.
Eventually, in 1933 Gary Cooper married a Catholic, Veronica Balfe who had the nickname "Rocky" as she was a women's skeet shooting champion. It would be great to report that this was a marriage made in Heaven, but unfortunately, Gary Cooper did not treat it as such. He was a womanizer who fell like many before him, Sampson, Solomon, and David is a small list. He had several affairs but his wife Veronica was one special lady. Her story of forgiveness and love of God touched many hearts to include their daughter, Maria.
Politically, Gary Cooper lived the way of his heroes in his movies, he spoke before a House Committee on Un-American activities in 1947. He was a Conservative Republican and I would hate to think what he would say today with the corruption taking place now?
In the latter 1950's, the Holy Spirit began to reach Gary Cooper who began expressing his growing interest to discover the Catholic faith. Like many who kind of keep the Faith at arms distance, keeping an outstretch hand away holding it at a distance, Gary Cooper began embracing it. Gary Cooper began reading Thomas Merton's book, "No Man is an Island" and his daughter, Maria wrote to Thomas Merton about her famous dad. October 11, 1961, Maria received this response:
I was touched by your kind letter, and glad that it gives me an opportunity to greet you and your mother personally, and advise you of my friendship and good wishes. With everyone else, I loved Gary Cooper and his great movies, which I often remember with satisfaction--well, relatively often. For it is a long time since I have been to a movie. I even had a temptation and hope that if Seven Story Mountain became a film, he would play a part in it. This was a clear case of vanity on my part!! Anyway, with all my blessings and good wishes,
Father Louis Merton
PS. I am sending a book you might like.
James 1:21 states, "Therefore, put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls." Gary Cooper did just that, he was baptized in April 1959 as all the angels in Heaven sang with joy with the finding of a lost sheep. Like Sampson, Solomon, and David, Gary Cooper received the Lord's complete forgiveness.
According to Gary Cooper's daughter, Maria said of his conversion, “He was coming to this on his own, in his own time…bits and pieces of his own life that he wanted to put together in a new way,” she notes her dad visiting the local priest often talking about the faith.
Of his road to the Catholic faith, Gary Cooper told Barry Norman in "The Hollywood Greats", "I'd spent all my waking hours... doing almost exactly what I, personally, wanted to do, and what I wanted to do wasn't always the most polite thing either... This past winter I began to dwell a little more on what's been in my mind for a long time (and thought), Coop, old boy, you owe somebody something for all your good fortune. I guess that's what started me thinking seriously about my religion. I'll never be anything like a saint. I know. I just haven't got that kind of fortitude. The only thing I can say for me is that I'm trying to be a little better. Maybe I'll succeed."
The Catholic faith would become most important to Gary Cooper as in 1960, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. His wife Rocky told of her husband, “He’d been perfectly wonderful throughout the entire illness. What helped him most was his religion.” Gary Cooper lived by worldly standards a life worthy to live, yet, when He met Jesus perhaps for the first time, things changed drastically. On his death bed, he said, “I know that what is happening is God’s will. I am not afraid of the future.”
It was May 13, 1961 at 12:27 P.M., a peaceful Saturday, symbolically the same day the Virgin Mary appeared to the three children of Fatima 1917 and about the same time. It's like Our Lord and His Mother were there to take him home. A great testimony that the Lord does forgive. To have your family surrounding you praying the Rosary, showing the love that passes all understanding. A Plenary Indulgence is a great opportunity to pray. It also helps to have a faithful wife and daughter.
Today, if you go to a cemetery in Southampton, NY, you will find where he sleeps. In 2000, Rocky died and is buried next to him.
One of our favorite priests here at Deepertruth, the Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, SJ in 2008 organized a conference inviting Hollywood Catholic convert, Dolores Hart as the guest of honor. She became a Benedictine nun pictured with Maria Cooper and Patricia Neal. Patricia Neal was Gary Cooper's most known mistress who made her peace with Jesus and Mary. God can take something bad and bring good from it.
Servant of God John Hardon, SJ Prayer for the Beatification and Canonization of Father John Hardon. Almighty God, You gave Your servant, Father John Anthony Hardon of the Society of Jesus, the grace of religious and priestly consecration after the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Through Father Hardon, You provided for your Flock an extraordinary teacher of the faith. You entrusted Father Hardon into the loving care of the Blessed Virgin Mary whose counsel, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5) he faithfully followed and whose intercession he unceasingly invoked. If it be Your holy will, please grant the request I now make, calling upon the help of Father Hardon, so that his heroic sanctity may be recognized in the whole Church. I ask this through Your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who with You and the Holy Spirit, is one God forever and ever.