Father Matthew Munoz Talks About The Conversion of His Grandfather: John Wayne

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Hattip to Matthew Archbold at Creative Minority Report.  I have written previously on the deathbed conversion of John Wayne:   John Wayne-Cardiac Catholic.  His grandson, Father Matthew Munoz, has recently talked about his grandfather’s conversion.

“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.

Go here to read the rest at Catholic News Agency.  I am stunned by the Catholic charity of Wayne’s first wife.  She could have spent her life eaten up by bitterness due to him divorcing her, but instead she never stopped praying for the conversion of John Wayne, a prayer that was ultimately answered.  She loved him enough to want him to have the infinite gift of the Faith.  Even if a situation appears hopeless to our human eyes, we should never stop praying and hoping.  It is never too late for the hand of God to reach any human heart as long as life endures.


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  1. its great to hear father matthews story about his grandfather. My father is 78 and he belives in god but he has not been to a church in 67 yrs my mother prays every day that he gives the lord a chance so he can see what a bliss the house of the lord is. About father matthew i want to share what he did for me last yr. I had not been to church in 30 yrs i also believed in god but like my father i never went to church that morning was christmas eve life had taken its tole on me i didnt want to live any more i decided to go to church that morniing and then come home and take a bunch of pills that i had to take my life because i didnt want to live any more well after mass out of know were father matthew came from behind some rose bushes in front of our church well i went up to him and asked him to please say a prayer and bless me because i was going to take my life he took the time to pray and talk to me that morning that by the time i got home my life felt diffrent his blessing and prayers touched my heart after that day i go to mass monday threw friday 6:30 mass and on sundays i take my little girl tammy and i also work 3 masses helping out. thanks to father matthew taking the time that day my little girl has a mom and i belive in god 100 percent. i just got back from the holy land and that made my life complete the only wish that i want to see is that some day i get a chance to thank father matthew in person he left our parish in cypress ca never saw him agin but i hope and pray that some day i can tell him that thanks to him and god im still here and my daughter has a mom that believes in god 100 percent.

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