By Mark Ellis
ASSIST News Service
“A biographer said that the director, at the end of his life, shunned religion. Not true. I was there,” says Fr. Mark Henninger, a Jesuit priest and professor of philosophy at Georgetown University, writing in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
In 1980, Henninger was a graduate student in philosophy at UCLA as well as a priest. A fellow priest, Tom Sullivan, knew Hitchcock and invited Henninger to accompany him one Saturday afternoon to “hear Hitchcock’s confession” and “celebrate a Mass,” according to the WSJ article.
“I entered his home in Bel-Air to see him dozing in a chair in a corner of his living room, dressed in jet-black pajamas,” Henninger writes. “Tom gently shook him. Hitchcock awoke, looked up and kissed Tom’s hand.”
Sullivan introduced Hitchcock to Henninger as a “young priest from Cleveland.”
“Cleveland?” he said. “Disgraceful!”
Hitchcock’s wife, Alma, joined the three in Hitchcock’s study, where they celebrated Mass. “Hitchcock had been away from the church for some time, and he answered the responses in Latin the old way,” Henninger notes in the WSJ.
But it was the director’s emotional response that gripped the young priest in an unforgettable way. “The most remarkable sight was that after receiving communion, he silently cried, tears rolling down his huge cheeks.”
Henninger went back several more times to celebrate Mass with the English film director, visits always initiated by Hitchcock. After briefly engaging in small talk in the living room, Hitchcock would say, “Let’s have Mass.”
“He died soon after these visits and his funeral Mass was at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Beverly Hills,” Henninger recounts.
“Why exactly Hitchcock asked Tom Sullivan to visit him is not clear to us and perhaps was not completely clear to him. But something whispered in his heart, and the visits answered a profound human desire, a real human need,” Henninger notes in the WSJ.
Henninger observes that at least one biographer mistakenly thought that Hitchcock rejected any visits by priests to celebrate Mass at the end of his life. “That in the movie director’s final days he deliberately and successfully led outsiders to believe precisely the opposite of what happened is pure Hitchcock.”