In the world of film, Gary Sinise is best known for the role of Lt. Dan in the 1994 blockbuster, Forrest Gump. Off-screen, Sinise is still affectionately referred to as “Lt. Dan” by the thousands of US soldiers he travels to entertain and the veterans he shows his gratitude to with his charitable organization, The Gary Sinise Foundation.
Sinise launched his foundation in 2010, but that year would hold even more significance for the esteemed actor and philanthropist, as it was the year he was confirmed into the Catholic Church. He describes the road he took to Catholicism, which began with his wife’s conversion, in his recently released memoir, Grateful American.
In the late 1990s, Moira Sinise was in a stage production called The Playboy of the Western World. Her role, that of a woman in a tavern, was causing her to struggle with her recently attained sobriety, and so she sought the help of an Alcoholics Anonymous group. CNS reports that Sinise wrote:
“At one point, she went to a Catholic church looking for an AA meeting. This little French woman, she asked her, ‘Where’s the AA meeting?’ She looked at her (Moira) and said, ‘You should become a Catholic,'” he added. “Something happened to her at that moment — I don’t know, something that had been aligned within her. Her mother was Catholic, but she fell away from the church and married a Methodist. She was not raised in any particular faith.”
When Moira finished her stint on the stage she traveled to North Carolina, where Gary was shooting Bruno with Shirley MacLaine. Sinise explained that due to a hurricane in Wilmington, the two had to drive to Charlotte to catch a safe flight to Los Angeles.
“While we’re driving, the hurricane was blasting behind us. She turns around and says, ‘I’m going to the Catholic Church and I’m going to become a Catholic.'” Sinise recalled. “I laughed and said, ‘Wait a minute. We just moved across the street from a public school.’ ‘Yes, and I’m going to send our kids to a Catholic school,'” he added. “Sure enough, when we go home she went to the RCIA program at our local Catholic church.”
For the next year Moira began diligently attending the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program and the whole family began attending Mass in the same parish where their children went to school. Moira would be confirmed into the Catholic Church in the year 2000, but the church became a “place of great comfort” for Gary after the events of 9/11.
Over the course of the next decade, Sinise would build his faith along side his family, and in 2010 he surprised them all by converting to Catholicism, without telling anyone he was attending RCIA. He explains he brought them all to church on Christmas Eve for the ceremony:
“On Christmas Eve 2010 I told the family I was taking them to dinner at Morton’s Steakhouse and have Christmas Eve dinner,” he said. “And on the way there, I pulled into the church, and everybody asked, ‘What are we doing here?’ I said come on in. We walked into the church. The priest was there, and he confirmed me. It was beautiful.”
This is one of many stories Sinise tells in Grateful American, a book he calls “an autobiography for sure, but it’s a life-changing story.”
Since 2010, Sinise has spent so much of his free time in Catholic charitable fashion, supporting the troops wherever they may be as well as building “forever homes” for wounded veterans, that CNS has compared him to Bob Hope. Sinise explains that it was the events of 9/11 that marked a change within him and fueled his desire to help where he could:
“That service to others was a great healer to a broken heart after that terrible day [9/11], when we saw that terrible thing happen and we were all afraid and we were all wondering what was going to happen to our country,” Sinise said. “There’s something to my book where I talk honestly and say that that particular day was turning a point for a life of service.”