Unexpected Catholic Conversions
The man we know as movie star John Wayne was born as Marion Morrison in Iowa in 1907. In 1914, his family moved West, and Marion began to be called “Duke.” In the height of the Great Depression, he worked for movie studios as a prop man, and eventually became an extra and later starred as the cowboy Breck Coleman in the 1930 film, “The Big Trail.” He was renamed John Wayne by the studio to help craft a larger showing.
In the 1940s and 1950s, John Wayne starred in major Westerns and War pictures. He had four children with his first wife. In 1964, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and lost a lung and several ribs. He had two more marriages, one ending in divorce, the other lasting until his death and resulting in three children. Though he was raised Presbyterian himself, all seven of his children were raised Catholic by their mothers.
When his end was near, Wayne was in agony, succumbing to stomach cancer. A priest was called, and Wayne was baptized and the priest administered last rites. That night, Wayne fell into a coma. “I don’t know the technicalities of the Church or what constitutes a conversion,” said son Michael. “But Dad did die in the Church." In 1979, he died of stomach cancer at the age of 72.
Fr. Muñoz, Wayne’s grandson, said that his grandfather expressed a degree of regret about not becoming a Catholic earlier in life: “that was one of the sentiments he expressed before he passed on,” blaming “a busy life.”
From Wayne’s example, we should learn that it is never too late to embrace God’s forgiveness. We should not allow a busy life, no matter how important we think the work is, to keep us from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Receiving the sacraments and especially weekly Mass attendance can help foster that relationship.