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‘Holy Dads’ of Hollywood

Movie stars who live their Catholic faith

By James Breig

On a website called “Fathers for Good” at a time of year when dads are celebrated, it’s natural to look at some top Catholic dads in Hollywood.

Here are five outstanding pops in popular culture – four contemporary and one from the past. They are presented alphabetically:

James Caviezel will star in new TV series in the fall. Photo: CNS /Tim Rue

JAMES CAVIEZEL portrayed Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie. Living out their faith, Caviezel and his wife have adopted two children with brain tumors. He told Catholic Digest magazine, “Even though they’re adopted, [being a father] is as strong as any instinct.” He had thought that he would not feel fully a father with adopted children, but concluded, “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

When he took the role of Christ, the actor said that Gibson warned him that he’d have trouble getting another role. Caviezel replied, “We all have to embrace our crosses….This is what I believe.”

Indeed, the actor experienced some career difficulties after playing Jesus, but he has found some meaningful roles, such as a lead in the 2008 critically acclaimed The Stoning of Soraya M, about the honor killing of a wife in Iran. He currently is cast in the lead role of a CBS series, “Person of Interest,” which debuts in the fall.

While he has that new TV show, he will continue in his old ways: living his faith publicly, as he has done by appearing in commercials urging people to vote against stem-cell research, and practicing it privately by praying the rosary every day with his family.

NEAL MCDONOUGH sticks to his beliefs even when he’s at work. In one case, that meant saying “no” to a TV role – and lots of money.

McDonough, known for his white hair, has appeared in many movies and TV shows, including “Desperate Housewives” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Band of Brothers.” But when he was asked to do sex scenes for a new series, he refused and was fired, losing millions of dollars in the process.

It was not the first time he drew that line; he has made it clear before that he won’t disgrace his wife or children by doing sexually charged scenes.

The father of three is known for his devotion to his faith and family – even if it means his career might be damaged.

CHRIS O’DONNELL has achieved success in movies (playing Robin in two “Batman” installments, for example) and TV (currently in “NCIS: Los Angeles” on CBS). The youngest of seven children, the actor attended Catholic schools, graduated from Jesuit-run Boston College and has five kids of his own.

O’Donnell once told People magazine about a significant choice he made in his life. “I was being offered these huge films that would have taken my career to a different level,” he said, “and I decided to put on the brakes.” He didn’t want his acting to consume his life.

In 2009, the actor was given the Caritas Award by the Saint John’s Health Center Foundation Trustees and the Irene Dunne Guild in Santa Monica, Calif. Citing his “Catholic and deeply rooted family values,” the trustees also honored his commitment to charitable causes.

DANNY THOMAS belongs on this list for several reasons. He was a father in real life. He starred in a sitcom titled “Make Room for Daddy,” in which he played a version of himself for 13 seasons in the 1950s and ‘60s. And he was an outstanding Catholic who spent his life giving thanks to a saint.

As he struggled to become a success in show business as a comedian, singer and actor, Thomas found himself facing failure and the loss of his dreams. Then he asked St. Jude, the patron of lost causes, for guidance. “Help me find my way in life,” he prayed, “and I will build you a shrine.”

When his career began to blossom, Thomas responded by establishing St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, which treats kids and pursues cures for them. In recognition of such enormous charity and the actor’s public expressions of his beliefs, Pope Paul VI named Thomas a knight commander of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Danny Thomas died in 1991.

MARK WAHLBERG is an actor and producer whose 2010 film, The Fighter, was nominated for a best-picture Oscar earlier this year. He is also a devout Catholic with four children.

He wasn’t always religious. Far from it. The youngest of nine children, Wahlberg got into repeated and serious trouble with drugs and the law as a teenager. But he turned his life around with the help of his parish priest.

Reflecting on his troubled youth, he has said, “I did a lot of things that I regretted and I certainly paid for my mistakes.” He said asking for forgiveness and making up for past deeds was his road to renewal.

His relationship to his faith evolved, eventually leading him to marry his longtime girlfriend in a ceremony in a Catholic church and to commit to daily Mass attendance. When he sought out a church while visiting Australia, for example, he quipped, “I love golf and I love church. I do both every day.”

Do you have a favorite Hollywood Catholic dad? Add your thoughts below.