John Wayne “I’m a Cardiac-Catholic”

That’s what he used to say jokingly when asked what his religion was. We all love John Wayne for his great films, but waiting to the last hour to come into the Church was highly un-commendable.  In fact, according to his eldest son, Michael, Wayne had asked Father John Curtis, C.P., the chaplain of the hospital where he spent his last days, to convert him “the day before he died.” He must have had some powerful prayers being said for him because that is exactly what happened.

I know, the actor had three failed marriages — two to Mexican Catholics, one to a Peruvian.  Nevertheless, his seven children were all raised Catholic, as were his twenty-one grandchildren.  His friendship with Catholic director John Ford had a strong influence on him, as did, no doubt, the religious traditions and culture of his wives.  Ford died from a very painful cancer and Wayne remarked about how impressed he was with the comfort his Catholic Faith gave him throughout the ordeal.

This brings me to the point of my column.  John Ford was the cousin of Father Leonard Feeney.  “Ford” was his adopted stage name, which he took when he went to join his brother, Francis, as an aspiring actor in Hollywood. It was Ford’s (should I say John Martin Feeney’s) close friendship with John Wayne (Marion Robert Morrison) that indirectly led to one of Father Feeney’s enthusiasts, a certain young nurse (whose name I am withholding as I have no way of contacting her for approval), being appointed as private care-giver to the Duke while he was in Massachusetts General Hospital for treatment of his cancer.  That was perhaps six months before his death on June 11, 1979. I have no doubt that in private conversation this nurse put some good Catholic thoughts in the actor’s head.

Something else happened while John Wayne was in Mass General.  Brother Hugh MacIsaac, M.I.C.M., who was himself dying from cancer at the time (he died exactly one month after the actor), sent two religious brothers from Saint Benedict Center on a mission to try and get to see the Duke and leave him some Catholic literature, a Miraculous Medal, and a rosary.  Realizing that they’d never get past the front desk, they found a friendly janitor who revealed to them the room number where Mr. Wayne was convalescing.  With this information they hopped on a freight elevator and pressed floor number 5.  It was a non-stop flight.  Accompanied by the give-away sound that an elevator buzzer makes when it reaches a destination, the doors opened and the two brothers stepped out into the hallway naively thinking that they’d just walk to Mr. Wayne’s room and slip in to see him. Well, this was America’s greatest actor after all, and he was in critical condition, and they had no appointment, no not even a name to drop by way of referral.  Before they took five steps the good brothers were met by a team of security guards with walkie-talkies all a-buzz.  Back they went into the same freight elevator with some pretty tough looking escorts who took them to their command post on the ground floor.  Here they were given over to a very affable officer who apologized for any rudeness once he realized the brothers really were Catholic religious.  He took the materials that they had hoped to give the actor and he “promised” — that was his word — that he would see to it that Mr. Wayne received them.  At the time the brothers did not know that an acquaintance of theirs was serving as John Wayne’s nurse.  If the head of security kept his word, the Duke had some extra actual graces delivered to him at Mass General by a couple of stealthy disciples of Father Leonard Feeney

The interesting article “John Wayne: Cardiac Catholic” on The American Catholic website can be read here.

  • Terese Russo

    I would like this author to know That John Wayne has a grandson who is a very holy special healing priest,a very powerful yes to God Almighty.
    His name is Rev Matthew Munoz,Cypress,Calif.
    Your article has a need for more depth to it.
    in the love of Christ,

  • The Wanderer Weekly had an article about John Wayne and his family. The children and grandchildren were all named and what they are doing today. I would like to get a copy of the family. I wrote to Rev. Matthew Munoz and he sent me a picture of his ordination. He said in his letter, I loved my grandfather,but it is God who has a special place in my heart. Father Munoz had a very good Catholic grandmother, and he come from a very devout family.

  • As a big John Wayne fan, and a member of a John Wayne forum on the internet that draws its membership from around the world, I have noticed an increase in recent weeks of different, prominent Catholic periodicals all proclaiming John Wayne’s near-death conversion to the Catholic faith. Certainly, he married three women, two of whom were known to be devout Catholics. This topic has been a matter of discussion on more than one occasion on our message board. While it seems that Duke definitely had some spiritual leanings (based on things he said), it would appear that there were also some aspects of his life that were, shall we say, less spiritual. Whether or not he became a Catholic or not, I would certainly be real happy to meet up with John Wayne when I get to Heaven (that’s not meant to sound presumptuous, but I am confident in my salvation, although only God knows for sure).

  • Danijel

    I am from Croatia and i want to say, that i am so happy of Wayne´s Conversation to catholic Faith! He is my Idol! I love John Wayne!