Model and actress journeys from hidden pain to life in Christ
By Nissa LaPoint/Catholic Charities of Denver
Cover Girl model Jennifer O’Neill made a splash on magazine covers and ads as a teenager. The model soon became a household name in the 70s when she hit the big screen, catapulting her into a life of fame and fortune.
But nothing could cover the emptiness she felt inside.
“I had what appeared to be everything people wanted, but yet I had a hole in my heart,” Jennifer said from her home in Nashville.
It wasn’t until years later she discovered what brought true fulfillment—a relationship with Christ. Her life today at 67 years old is radically different from her modeling and acting days, she shared.
“All I want to do is be Christ’s ambassador and be used for his glory. That’s my focus,” she said.
During Catholic Charities’ Beacon of Hope Gala Jan. 30, 2016, at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, Jennifer will speak about her conversion from hopelessness and guilt to healing and love. The gala will benefit Lighthouse Women’s Services and Catholic Charities’ continuum of care for women in need.
Jennifer’s career began at 15 when her family moved to New York City. She was discovered by Ford modeling agency and appeared on the covers of Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Seventeen.
“On the outside it looked like I had wonderful things happening to me, but on the other side of the coin you would see I was not,” she said.
Jennifer shared that early in her life she was looking for love in all the wrong places, as the old Johnny Lee country song goes. She felt empty and unloved and decided the solution was to marry. At 17 she wed her first husband and at 19 years old had her first child. After six years, her marriage dissolved.
Before long, Jennifer’s fame hit new heights when she starred opposite John Wayne in the 1970 film “Rio Lobo.” Her subsequent portrayal of Dorothy in the film “Summer of ‘42” was hailed as legendary, according to her website, and she continued a career in film over the next decades.
Jennifer later got engaged to a Wall Street socialite and became pregnant. She was thrilled, he was not.
“Even my medical doctor said to me that under three-months gestation I was just carrying a blob of tissue,” Jennifer said. “I had the abortion and truly, deeply and profoundly hated myself. I was broken and wounded.”
Her pain was further compounded by the nine miscarriages she suffered afterwards.
“I thought I was being punished every time that happened,” she said.
Jennifer continued to experience a series of failed relationships. At 38, she became pregnant with her third child with her sixth husband. It was during this time that she experienced a deep conversion.
A Christian friend began to speak to her about Jesus and she said the Holy Spirit opened her ears and her heart. She opened the Bible for the first time and was drawn to the story of Jesus in the Book of John.
“I felt a relationship with him that was personal, and I felt valued,” Jennifer shared.
Over time, she allowed God to move into the deep crevices of her heart and heal the pain from her past abortion.
“I felt that my abortion was bigger than what Jesus did on the cross, but I realized Jesus forgives all of our sins, even abortion,” she said.
Jennifer was baptized as a born-again Christian and became fervent about advocating for life. She published a series of works to help other women who experienced an abortion, including “From Fallen to Forgiven: A Spiritual Journey Into Wholeness & Healing” and “You’re Not Alone: Healing Through God’s Grace After Abortion.” She also produced a DVD titled “Life After Abortion.”
She often tells other women that “If you have experienced the horror of abortion—there is hope, forgiveness and reconciliation in life.”
She helps to bring awareness to the devastation of abortion and the silence surrounding the resulting pain as a spokesperson with the Silent No More campaign.
Jennifer said there is hope—Christ will lead people to the truth and provide healing.
“If God can work with the likes of me, he can work with everybody,” she said. “He wants us to receive his grace, and he wants us to be healed in his name and be used for his glory.”
Be a part of the Beacon of Hope gala
Starts with 4 p.m. Mass at Risen Christ Church
Followed by 5:30 p.m. dinner and auction at Wings Over the Rockies
Register today at http://bohgala.org.