Gary Sinise – actor, director, bass player, patriot, philanthropist and convert to Catholicism – was a surprise guest at the Knights of Columbus’ annual convention in Orlando earlier this month.
The person who was most surprised about being there may have been Gary Sinise himself. He confessed that “he and his family weren’t part of any religion” until his wife returned to her mother’s abandoned Catholic roots in 2000 and he subsequently slow-walked his way to Confirmation in 2010.
He recounted his initial shock and eventual support of his wife’s decision in an interview several years ago. He’d been filming in North Carolina when his wife, Moira, and three kids came for a visit, at the same time a hurricane was heading ashore. Figuring that flights would be grounded, he rented a car and drove them toward Charlotte through gale force winds, pounding rain and all-to-close lightning strikes. At one point Moira turned to him and announced that when she returned to Chicago, she was going back to the Catholic Church and the kids were going to attend Catholic schools. He was stunned and none too happy about the decision. The only knowledge he had of Catholic schools were the awful stories two friends had told him, friends who were also “guilt-ridden.” So he said something like “No! Are you crazy?”
But Moira did as she planned, enrolling in RCIA and enrolling the children in Catholic school. Two years later, at the Easter Vigil, she entered the Church. In the meantime, the school turned out to be the opposite of what he expected. He discovered that it was a great environment and became a big supporter. It was another 10 years before he crossed the Tiber, but it was 10 years filled with charitable activities.
Shortly after 9/11, he was “invited as a celebrity” to entertain the first responders and that led to his learning about heroes like Father Mychal Judge, a chaplain for the NY Fire Department who died while aiding victims of the attacks on the Twin Towers.
In 2003, Sinise co-founded “Operation Iraqi Children,” which over nine years supported the great work of American troops by gathering and donating supply school supplies and clothing to the children whose schools had been rebuilt by the troops. Donations included 358,763 School Supply Kits, thousands of boxes of stuffed animals, shoes and sports equipment, hundreds of boxes of shoes, clothes, supplies, food and hygiene items and toys.
It was during the 50 USO tours and 119 USO concerts for troops performed by Sinise’s band, the Lt.Dan Band, that he became passionate about helping America’s wounded veterans. His foundation embarked on the Restoring Independence and Supporting Empowerment (RISE) program. The goal is to build “smart homes” for the service members who were most seriously wounded.
In partnership with the Knights of Columbus, a former Army infantryman who lost both legs and one arm in a roadside explosion in Afghanistan, was able to move into a new high-tech home with his wife.
Sinise expressed gratitude for the Knights’ collaboration and for their years of “incredibly generous and voluminous charitable work and mission.”
Susan E. Wills is Spirituality Editor of Aleteia’s English edition.