By CNA Staff/Catholic News Agency
Sir Alec Guinness is one of the most recognizable actors of the 20th century. He is best known for his portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars trilogy.
At the age of 42, Guinness converted to Catholicism — in part because of a miracle.
Guinness was born in 1914 in London to a broken family. He never knew his father and grew up in poverty. Though he was confirmed an Anglican at 16, he was unsure of what he really believed about religion. As a young adult, he dabbled in Presbyterianism, atheism, Marxism, Buddhism, and even attended a few Quaker meetings, according to biographers.
While Guinness was rehearsing for a performance of “Hamlet,” an Anglican priest approached him, explained that he was blessing himself incorrectly, and showed him the correct way. Something about the encounter had a spiritual impact on him, and rekindled his interest in Anglicanism.
He was drawn further into the Anglican faith in the turmoil of World War II, but it wasn’t until 1954 when he was 40 years old that he had another experience that would open him to considering Catholicism.
He was in France working on a film about Father Brown, G. K. Chesterton’s well known fictional crime-solving priest. He was playing the title role and was dressed up as a Catholic priest. While walking down the street in priestly attire, a child spotted him and mistook him to be a genuine Catholic priest. The child ran up, grabbed his hand trustingly, and walked with him down the road.
The trust and affection the child had for Catholic priests had a deep impact on him and made him start to seriously consider Catholicism. He later wrote:
“Continuing my walk, I reflected that a Church that could inspire such confidence in a child, making priests, even when unknown, so easily approachable, could not be as scheming or as creepy as so often made out. I began to shake off my long-taught, long-absorbed prejudices.”
Soon after, his son Matthew contracted polio and appeared to be close to death. Desperate and seeking divine help, Guinness started dropping by a local Catholic church to pray.
He made a deal with God: if God healed Matthew, he would allow his son to become Catholic if he wanted.
Against all expectations, his son recovered. Guinness and his wife enrolled him in a Jesuit school. A few years later, Guinness, his wife, and his son all converted to Catholicism.
Guinness died in 2000.
This article was originally published by Catholic News Agency on Dec. 6, 2015.