IRONDALE, Ala. — Paul Darrow went to his first gay beach when he was 15.
Soon after, he hitchhiked his way to New York, where there was a thriving gay scene and where he could pursue a career in modeling. Once there, he landed a high-end job as an international model and rubbed elbows with celebrities at clubs in the city.
When he wasn’t at the studio or at the gym, Darrow spent his time looking for partners. He found himself going through dozens, and then hundreds, and then thousands, of lovers.
“It became frantic, and it was never my intention ... but I became insensitive to what it means to be with a partner, both body and soul,” he said in the documentary film Desire of the Everlasting Hills.
But after the AIDS epidemic claimed around 90% of his friends, a disease he himself narrowly and miraculously escaped, Darrow decided to move to San Francisco for a fresh start. He met his partner Jeff there, and they moved to a cabin in Sonoma County.
It was in their shared home that Darrow accidentally discovered a one-eyed, straight-talking “pirate nun” wearing an eye patch who would change his life forever.
“It was so strange that I said, ‘Jeff — Jeff, come in here! You gotta see this!’” he said, pointing to the image on the TV.
Unbeknownst to them at the time, it was Mother Angelica on EWTN. She had just had a stroke, which pulled the left side of her face into a slump and required her to wear a black eye patch over one eye.
“So (Jeff) comes in, and I’m laughing mockingly at this nun with a patch over her eye, a distorted face … and a complete old-fashioned habit,” Darrow said. “We both mocked her and laughed at her — you know, ‘Gosh, these crazy Christians.’”
Jeff left the room and Darrow was about to change the channel, when Mother Angelica “said something so intelligent, so real and so honest that it really struck me,” he said.
“You see, God created you and I to be happy in this life and the next,” Mother Angelica said through slumped lips, her good eye still twinkling behind her glasses.
Mother Angelica’s words struck a chord with Darrow that day, and he found himself secretively snatching glimpses of her episodes every chance he got: “He cares for you. He watches your every move. There’s no one that loves you that can do that.”
Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, foundress of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), passed away on March 27 after a lengthy struggle with the aftereffects of a stroke. She was 92 years old.
“She really had … a huge influence on my life, and I learned to love her,” he said, “but at the same time, I had to hide her.”
“So when I turned off the TV, I would always change the channel so that when Jeff or whoever was watching that TV came in, they would never see that I was watching Mother Angelica. And it reminded me as I was doing this when I used to turn the channel when I was watching porn because I didn’t want Jeff or anyone else to see a porn station come up.”
Eventually, Mother Angelica’s influence convinced Darrow to go back to church — after decades of absence. It was a move that made Darrow very wary; he was sure he would lose friends and clients if they saw him going into a Catholic church.
And in some ways, he was right.
“I lost clients; I lost friends,” he told CNA in a 2014 interview, at the premiere of the documentary.
“People were in shock that an educated, relatively intelligent man could believe in Jesus Christ. These were the few friends that were aware that I was back in the Church.”
But it’s a move that he has never regretted. Since his conversion, Darrow has shared his experience through talks and conferences. Mother Angelica also led Darrow to discover Courage International, the Vatican-approved apostolate that reaches out to Catholics with same-sex attraction with the goals of growing closer to God, engaging in supportive friendships and learning to live full lives within the call to chastity.
It was through Courage International that Darrow became involved with the film Desire of the Everlasting Hills, which he saw as a chance to share his story and to give others the same hope that he found in the Catholic Church.
“I was not discriminated against at the beginning of my journey back to the Catholic Church; I was never told that I was a bad person, that I was doing something wrong, even in confession,” he said.
“The Catholic Church really is, according to its teachings, open to everybody.”
Darrow said he felt he owed it to God to share his story through courage and through the film because of all that God had done in his life.
“I wanted to express my love to God and my appreciation for all that he has done for me,” Darrow said, “that he had never forgotten me during the decades that I had forgotten him or turned against him.”
The full documentary is available for free online at: https://everlastinghills.org/movie/