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Guideposts Classics: Pat O’Brien on Being Guided by Faith

In this story from May 1949, award-winning actor Pat O’Brien shares the role that faith played in his marriage, his life and his career.

Actor Pat O'Brien

When anyone asks me what my faith means to me, the only answer I can give them is, “My faith is my life.” The prayer of faith I learned at my mother’s knee set the standard for living and of living ever since. And I would not surrender it for all the rewards of the world.

Faith, the way I see it, is believing in God no matter how you reverently express your belief—no matter what church or temple you attend. Faith is part of a man’s heart, and all of his soul.

Every spiritually minded man has a feeling of love for his religious faith and heritage and I feel the same about mine, for the Catholic Church has meant a great deal to me. Others who have worked for us for fourteen years are Baptists. They too are extremely religious; they, too, have a true faith. They always have been proud of their strict adherence to their beliefs. So our entire household is blessed with the gifts of faith, each in his own way. You can feel its presence.

My wife, Eloise, has this faith, too, and for us it has borne the fruit of true happiness in our four children. Ours is a home of love and mutual understanding. Truly one of the most powerful blessings and a great stimulus for my unswerving faith—is my marriage to Eloise.

To share a faith, to be dedicated to the same sacred security, has made us one “in sickness and in health—for richer or poorer.” There isn’t any doubt about the O’Brien’s happiness because we ask for and unfailingly get guidance.

To those who claim that faith is purely subjective, I say with sympathy: You’ve never given it a chance to act and live for you…Ask the soldier who found faith on the battlefield—ask anyone who has come square up against it and found the vital dependable saving power of God. Miracles, some call them. The man of faith knows that guidance and help are always available when sought.

When my oldest daughter, Mavourneen, was still a child, she was stricken with a severe illness. Eloise, with the agile loving hands of a mother, worked furiously at her bedside. Suddenly, as if touched by the hand of God, the child became well.

Eloise went all over the house looking for me. She found me praying

“There was nothing else I could do,” I told her.

“Nothing else was needed,” Eloise said softly and threw her arms about me in relief.

A miracle, many people say. But I know it’s just the practical and absolutely expected answer made possible by faith.

During the war, I traveled by air with an entertainment unit. We flew about 68,000 air miles to the battles of the Pacific, China, Burma and India. I grew in stature and maturity talking with those boys, trying to make them laugh, watching them pray—praying with them.

At Luchow, China, during one of the performance, we were ordered to break it up. Japanese infantry, some 100,000 strong, was approximately 25 miles away and not standing still. We scrambled into jeeps, raced for the airfields.

Sure, I was scared. I was praying harder than I thought possible. The prayer was part of my heartbeat. But my prayer was only part of a great salvo of faith that night. You could feel it—those guys had it, to a man. Scared, but full of prayer, men of all creeds. You felt that they knew God had His arms around them. I couldn’t really tell you how we were evacuated so rapidly, but we were. Technically, General Claire Chennault was the instrument of His care—his planes, his superb precision, flew us safely into Chungking.

Not so long ago, Eloise and I were due in Rome a week after we’d appeared at the command performance in London. We planned to travel by air. We made it as far as Geneva. There we found the planes grounded because of a strike and were told we couldn’t get to Rome. Eloise and I drew on our faith. We found it was possible to engage a car, but were warned against the hazards of the trip. The road to Rome lay over mountains.

We took the train to the border. There we were told we would drive at our own risk because of bands of brigands known to be infesting the mountain passes. Our attention was further directed to a downpour with the assurance that driving in such rain on the mountainsides meant our roads would be blocked by landslides. But nothing would weaken our determination and faith.

After two hours’ sleep in the tiny Italian village, we settled in the small car. In the front seat were two Italians who spoke no English. It was 4 o’clock in the morning, dismal, forbidding, foggy. Eloise and I held hands tightly. We were too busy with our prayers to talk at all. All that rain-drenched day we drove, and all that night and through the next day. At midnight we arrived in Rome. At 11:30 the next morning we were presented to His Holiness.

Those who know the terrain look unbelievingly at us when we tell of how we drove across the Italian frontier. Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be more truthful to say: “Our faith transported us to Rome.”

Faith never fails. Like an illimitable reserve fund, it is always waiting to give protection, inspiration, forgiveness, courage and spiritual joy. I am firmly convinced that anything I am today and everything I have today I owe to my faith.

It is a debt that can be repaid only by passing it on to others. I can ask no greater thrill in life than sitting in church on Sunday with my treasured mother, my beloved life-partner, Eloise, and my four youngsters, all understanding, and trying hard to serve God—all living practical faith. I wish every man and woman in the country could say with the conviction I do: “My faith is my life, my standard for living.”

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