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The Duke

from The Catholic News Agency

My ‘granddaddy’ John Wayne, actor and Catholic convert
By David Kerr

Fr. Matthew Muñoz

Rome, Italy, Oct 1, 2011 / 12:29 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- John Wayne, for many, was a Hollywood legend who symbolized true masculinity and American values. To Fr. Matthew Muñoz, though, he was simply “granddaddy.”

“When we were little we’d go to his house and we’d simply hang out with granddaddy and we’d play and we’d have fun: a very different image from what most people have of him,”  Fr. Muñoz told CNA on a recent visit to Rome.

Fr. Muñoz was 14 years old when his grandfather died of cancer in 1979. In his lifetime, “The Duke” won an Oscar, the Congressional Gold Medal and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Of all those achievements, though, Fr. Muñoz is most proud of just one – his grandfather’s conversion to the Catholic faith.

“My grandmother, Josephine Wayne Saenz, had a wonderful influence on his life and introduced him to the Catholic world,” said 46-year-old Fr. Muñoz, a priest of the Diocese of Orange in California.

“He was constantly at Church events and fundraisers that she was always dragging him to and I think that, after a while, he kind of got a sense that the common secular vision of what Catholics are and what his own experience actually was, were becoming two greatly different things.”

Fr. Muñoz’s grandparents married in 1933 and had four children, the youngest of whom – Melinda – is his mother. The couple civilly divorced in 1945 although, as a Catholic, Josephine did not re-marry until after John Wayne’s death. She also never stopped praying for her husband’s conversion – a prayer which was answered in 1978.

“He was a great friend of the Archbishop of Panama, Archbishop Tomas Clavel, and he kept encouraging him and finally my granddaddy said, ‘Okay, I’m ready.’”

As a result of a change in Panamanian leadership, Archbishop Clavel was exiled from his native land in 1968. Three years later, Cardinal Timothy Manning, then the Archbishop of Los Angeles, invited Archbishop Clavel to Orange County, where he served as pastoral leader to half of Orange County’s 600,000 Latinos.

By the time of Wayne’s request, however, Archbishop Clavel was too ill to make the journey to the film star’s residence.

“So Archbishop Clavel called Archbishop McGrath,” Fr. Muñoz said, explaining that Archbishop McGrath was the successor to Archbishop Clavel in the Archdiocese of Panama.

“My mom and my uncle were there when he came. So there’s no question about whether or not he was baptized. He wanted to become baptized and become Catholic,” Fr. Muñoz said. “It was wonderful to see him come to the faith and to leave that witness for our whole family.”

Fr. Muñoz also said that his grandfather’s expressed a degree of regret about not becoming a Catholic earlier in life, explaining “that was one of the sentiment he expressed before he passed on,” blaming “a busy life.”

Prior to his conversion to Catholicism, though, John Wayne’s life was far from irreligious.

“From an early age he had a good sense of what was right and what is wrong. He was raised with a lot of Christian principles and kind of a ‘Bible faith’ that, I think, had a strong impact upon him,” said Fr. Muñoz recalling that his grandfather often wrote handwritten notes to the Almighty.

“He wrote beautiful love letters to God, and they were prayers. And they were very childlike and they were very simple but also very profound at the same time,” he said.

“And sometimes that simplicity was looked at as naivety but I think there was a profound wisdom in his simplicity.”

Fr. Muñoz summed up the hierarchy of his grandfather’s values as “God coming first, then family, then country.” It’s a triumvirate he sees repeatedly reflected in his grandfather’s films. He believes those values are much needed in Hollywood today and, if “the Duke” were still here he’d be leading the charge.

“My grandfather was a fighter. I think there would be a lot of things he’d be disappointed and saddened over. But I don’t think he would lose hope. I think he would look at the current time as a moment of faith. People are in crisis and they’re looking for something more meaningful, more real,” Fr. Muñoz said.

“So I think he would look at the situation and say – don’t get discouraged! I think he would say get involved. Don’t go hiding in a shell and getting on the defensive from Hollywood. Get involved and be an agent for the good. I think he would do that. That’s what he did in his time.”



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Have you ever watched those makeover programmes on television?  Like Changing Rooms and House Doctor and the rest?

The best part seems to be at the end of the show when the redecoration and refurbishment is unveiled to the unsuspecting homeowner (that’s on “Changing Rooms” isn’t it?)   Usually, there are shrieks of amazement and of joy at the transformation.  Although I seem to recall one episode in which the look on house-owners’ faces was that of disbelief and horror at the atrocity perpetrated upon their home

But usually – even if the result would not be to the majority of viewers’ taste, the transformation is welcomed…and such words as “fantastic” “amazing” “wow!”  and even “I’m speechless!” are common.

Then there’s “How Clean is Your House” – that’s the show where two woman – one of them a large and rather intimidating lady – tackle manky, clarty, and disgustingly grimy and filthy houses….and effect an almost magical transformation, by restoring them to pristine, immaculate, and spotless glory.

The reaction from those whose former hovels they have cleaned up is genuinely that of sheer joy.  And some are so overcome, that they weep with happiness.

We all like changes for the better.  We all welcome transformations that restore or embellish or enhance

It works in people’s personal lives too.

Transformations are big business today. Facelifts, liposuction, botox injections, and a host of cosmetic procedures which all seem to cost a lot of money but are deemed by those who undergo such treatment as well worth it. A new face, a new look, a changed appearance seems to bring joy and happiness to a lot of people

Such transformations are big business because we are very aware of the face we present to the world. And we will alter our face to our advantage if we can.

Sometimes the change is not just in looks but in our whole image — including our name.

Larushka Shikne did not like the image he thought his name projected, so he changed his name to Laurence Harvey. Issur Danielovitch Densky did the same thing and became Kirk Douglas.

In the same way, Frances Gum transfigured herself and her image into Judy Garland. Archibald Leach became Cary Grant.

And would you have paid money to see Marion Morrison in the movies? Maybe, but Marion didn’t take that chance, he became John Wayne.

Remember that in Holy Scriptures many people got new names to go with a new life and a new image. Abram became Abraham. Sarai became Sarah. Jacob became Israel. Saul became Paul. Simon became Peter, “The Rock.”

And – supremely – Jesus on the mountain. The church calls this event the Transfiguration of Christ. Jesus was “transfigured”: the figure, the image, the look that he had, the face that showed to others was changed over. The appearance of his face changed. Jesus had a different look.

It would be well for us to consider carefully this – admittedly strange – episode in his life.

So often we seem to regard Jesus simply as a good friend, or a clever teacher, or gifted preacher.  There is a temptation to think of him as a good man….a very good man….and that’s as far as it goes.

But in the story of the Transfiguration we see Jesus in a new light: here he is transformed and transfigured and identified as the one true Son of God.

The voice on the mountaintop said, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen – listen to him!”

In this world in which so many whispers try to seduce us and so many voices vie for our attention and obedience, we would do well to listen to the one who is our mighty Redeemer, our Saviour and Lord, the Way, the Truth, and the Life………….

……..and if we did so more intently, we would find our own life changed, transformed for the better, cleansed, and renewed and refashioned………..

……..and we would most certainly, as a result of this amazing makeover, be filled with overwhelming joy and happiness.


BELLINI, Giovanni Transfiguration of Christ Oi...

BELLINI, Giovanni Transfiguration of Christ Oil on wood, 115 x 152 cm Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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