Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 1, 2003
A sister's prayers star in Hollywood
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
A few years ago, a longtime friend of The Christophers named Sister Florence Pakenham wrote to tell us a beautiful personal story. We liked it so much that we wrote back and asked if we might share it with others.
Sister Florence, a Sister of Charity of St. Elizabeth now living in New Jersey, gave us her permission - "whenever you think the time is right," she said. That time is now.
Almost 65 years ago, at Christmas time in 1939, she and another sister enjoyed a tour of Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan. Their guide was quite remarkable: "a tall, slim dark-haired young man with one of the most beautiful speaking voices I have ever heard. . . . (It) had a living warmth that was most attractive."
He spoke to many tour groups throughout the day, but his words nonetheless "sounded singularly fresh - almost spontaneous." They had a brief conversation, in which he referred to his Californian background.
"Later I mentioned to the other sister that it seemed a pity that one so obviously cultured could not get a position better than that of guide," she said. "He had impressed me deeply, so deeply that I added his name ('Radio City Guide,' the only name I knew) in my daily prayers that God would give him success in the career he meant him to have."
Four years later she saw a picture of him in The New York Times, and news that he would be featured in his first Broadway play. Now she had a name to mention in her daily prayer for his success. Two more years went by, and during the showing of a movie at her motherhouse Sister Florence was pleasantly surprised to see her old guide - now a star in that film, portraying a priest in China.
Fan letters were out of her sphere, but she felt she had to write to her "spiritual prot‚g‚," as she thought of him, to tell him of their chance meeting years earlier. And so she did, on Aug. 4, 1945. She concluded: "I hope you do not think me presumptuous for taking a keen and personal delight in the splendid success you have achieved, and for attributing a bit of that success to my daily prayers."
The actor's reply was warm and personal. He recalled coming to New York in June 1939, and of the struggle he underwent - "attending dramatic school, frequenting the managers' offices, and working part-time at Radio City to keep myself going." It was three years before he got his first break, but since then his career had soared.
"Although I am not a Catholic and often give thanks to Lady Luck for all my good fortune," he concluded, "I am certain that there is more to it than that and I am deeply grateful for your prayers and good wishes, as well as for those of other Catholics whom I know and love. Your faith, I am sure, had much to do with the succession of blessings which have come my way."
He didn't know it then, but for Sister Florence's correspondent a lifetime of blessings, and one of the most illustrious careers in film history, still lay ahead. The letter from the young actor was written from Culver City, Calif., on Aug. 21, 1945. He signed it, "Yours sincerely, Gregory Peck."
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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