John Wayne: Cowboy, Legend, Convert to Catholicism

August 1, 2013

John Wayne was a true man’s man. But did you know he was a convert to the Catholic faith? Apparently protestant Christianity wasn’t manly enough for the Duke. Even better, his grandson is now a Catholic priest. When asked why he converted, he reportedly drawled, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” Or something like that.

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.

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    • patholscher says

      Indeed, particularly when what few religious scenes we have in his Westerns, such as those in The Searchers, depict very Protestant scenes (ironically directed by the very Catholic John Ford).

  1. Marcelo Cavallari says

    Great news. Specially because liking John Wayne’s movies is one of the strongest bonds I have with my teenager son, culturally speaking

  2. Suzan Zaner says

    If you go to Bandera, Tx, go to the Old Spanish Trail restaurant, which is practically a John Wayne museum. Bandera calls itself the cowboy capital of America. There is a lovely Catholic Church there, St Stanislaus. Does anyone know if Mr Wayne attended Mass there? I believe he made a movie in the area.

  3. patholscher says

    I know that when he was filming Hell Fighters in central Wyoming, he attended St. Anthony’s Church in Casper for Mass. My parents attended the same church, and recalled him being there. This would have been in the late 1960s, as the movie was released in 1968. It’s not one of his better films, in my opinion.

    It should be noted that Wayne had a very long running association with the very Catholic John Ford. Ford arguably not only influenced Wayne’s career, but his personality, as Ford himself was a larger than life character and in some ways sort of resembled the characters Wayne portrayed on film. Some of Wayne’s best films, such as The Searchers, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and the Quiet Man were Ford films (interestingly, Ford very rarely portrayed Catholic themes directly in movies however). Wayne was arguably introduced to Catholicism through Ford. Indeed, in perhaps one fashion Ford might have presented a mirror image, as while he was a Catholic and a very devout one, his wife was an Episcopalian who never converted.

    Wayne has long been sort of a mixed personality to me, which is not meant to be a criticism of him. Personally, he was largely admirable, but he was married three times. Each of his wives was, I believe, Mexican and they all would have been Catholic or at least culturally Catholic. He liked and admired the Mexican culture and he was a sincerely Christian man who was drawn to the faith of his sponsor, Ford and his wives. He obviously wasn’t completely square with the Church’s teaching on marriage however (which would be also true for his two later wives). Additionally, while there are apologist for it, his failure to serve during World War Two remains a black mark against him, in my view, and one that’s hard to really fully excuse. It tormented him as well during the war, and I’ve been both amazed that his career survived that, and wondered if some of his later portrayals, or at least the one in the not so good “The Green Berets”, reflected a bit of guilt about that.

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