Daly, Michael, Newsweek
Byline: Michael Daly
Long before Scientology, Cruise studied for the priesthood.
Before Tom Cruise was a Scientologist, he was as devout a Roman Catholic as was his now estranged wife, Katie Holmes.
And just in time for Cruise's 50th birthday and just as his third marriage was unraveling, the priest who recruited him for the seminary more than three decades ago mailed him a photo.
"I found an address online in Los Angeles," says Father Ric Schneider of the Order of Friars Minor. "Probably an agent, I guess."
Father Ric took the photo of Cruise at the age of 14, when the man who is now the most famous of Scientologists was still among the best of Catholics and known by his family name, Mapother.
Not that Father Ric was sending Cruise a message. The priest just thought the star might enjoy this captured memory of him in earth shoes and an unbuttoned shirt, standing beside another boy by a pond. A smiling Cruise is holding a radio-controlled boat the boys built in the hobby shop at St. Francis Seminary just outside Cincinnati in Mt. Health, Ohio.
"A cute little kid," Father Ric says.
Cruise, like most of his classmates at St. Francis, attended the seminary more for the education than out of any serious thought of becoming a priest. But they had all shared the devout routine of those headed for ordination.
"You went to daily Mass, you went to morning prayer, you went to evening prayer, you prayed before meals, you prayed after meals," Cruise's classmate Don Weller recalls. "He was well indoctrinated ... For him to totally shut himself off was just amazing."
Cruise went to the seminary after hearing Father Ric give a talk at St. Raphael the Archangel school in Louisville, Ky. Cruise's mother had moved there with her son and three daughters after leaving his father. The departure had been preplanned, with the mother instructing her children to have their bags packed and hidden but ready. The father is said to have followed his family to Louisville and sought a reconciliation that was not forthcoming. The couple divorced shortly after Cruise's 13th birthday.
The next step for Cruise was to have been his father's alma mater, St. Xavier High School, in Louisville. He saw an alternative when Father Ric ended his talk at St. Raphael's by asking if anybody was interested in attending the seminary.
Cruise--then still Mapother--expressed interest. Father Ric visited the boy's home and spoke to the mother.
"Nice home, nothing fancy," the priest recalls.
The priest administered the usual IQ test to determine if a candidate was likely capable of college-prep-level studies.
"He just made it," Father Ric says.
As with all recruits, Father Ric drove Cruise up to the seminary on a Friday to get a firsthand look. Cruise attended class on Saturday and stayed there through Sunday, when Father Ric drove him back home. Cruise liked it well enough that he decided he wanted to enroll.
He did not strike Father Ric as somebody likely to become a priest.
"It was pretty obvious," Father Ric says. "I think he went there to get an education. I didn't get a sense he was serious about the priesthood or the religious life."
The priest adds, "He might just have wanted to get away from it all."
In the fall of 1976, Cruise joined 67 other freshmen at the seminary.
The Superior, the friar in charge, was Father John Boehman. He remembers Cruise as "basically a good kid" who was always smiling, but also "one of the ones more likely to get into trouble."
"If he could trip somebody or do something like that, it would be right down his alley," Father John says.
Cruise hardly seemed the stuff of a future movie star, with modest stature and in sore need of an orthodontist. One of his snaggled front teeth was chipped.
"His teeth were different than they are today," Father John notes. …