.- In a Dec. 6 article for the Wall Street Journal, Jesuit priest Father Mark Henninger recounted his time with famed director Alfred Hitchcock towards the end of his life.
In 1980, Fr. Henninger was invited by his friend Father Tom Sullivan to visit Hitchcock's house in Bel Air, Calif. one afternoon to say Mass there.
Recalling his introduction to the director that day, Fr. Henninger said that “Hitchcock awoke, looked up and kissed (Father) Tom's hand, thanking him.”
The priest noted that seeing scripts from Hitchcock's films, such as “North by Northwest,” created a distraction for him as he said Mass in the study.
“Hitchcock had been away from the church for some time, and he answered the responses in Latin the old way,” Fr. Henninger remembered.
“But the most remarkable sight was that after receiving communion, he silently cried, tears rolling down his huge cheeks.”
Fr. Henninger continued to visit the Hitchcocks until Alfred's death on April 29 of that year. He reflected on how remarkable it was that Hitchcock let himself be pursued by God at the end of his life.
Something “whispered in his heart,” he wrote, “and the visits answered a profound human desire, a real human need.”
Fr. Henninger's story in the Wall Street Journal comes as a biopic on the director, “Hitchcock,” is in theaters after a limited release on Nov. 23.
Hitchcock was raised Catholic in London, and attended Salesian and Jesuit primary and secondary schools. His films were largely thrillers with twist endings, and his career as a director spanned from 1925 until 1976.
A 1953 film, “I Confess,” was Hitchcock's sole film concerning a priest.
The main character in the movie is a priest who ends up being investigated for a murder which he did not commit. Moreover, he heard the confession of the murderer, and so is unable to defend himself.
“Hitchcock tries to put a cross in every scene in that film, because the cross hangs over the decision this priest has to make,” Ben Akers, director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School, told CNA Nov. 7.
“In one of the key scenes where he's making this decision whether or not to clear his name, which would mean breaking the seal of confession and leaving the priesthood, he's walking around the streets of Quebec … and you see Christ carrying his cross, and underneath the arms of the cross you see this priest walking by in the very center.”
Deacon Scott Bailey, who is studying to be a priest for the Archdiocese of Denver, is also a fan of Hitchcock and of “I Confess,” in particular.
“It's an incredible portrayal of a priest … and I think it really hammers in the meaning, the reality, of the confessional seal.”
“It ended up being a really awesome movie and a very Catholic film … the priest really puts his life on the line by not saying anything.”
The portrayal of a priest so committed to the sanctity of the sacrament of confession has helped Deacon Bailey to reflect on his coming ordination to the priesthood, and the role he will have as a confessor.
“I find it a huge responsibility, more than anything; exciting and terrifying, all at once.”