Rome, Italy, Oct 1, 2011 / 10:29 am
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.