Beyond Mickey Mouse
On her first day as a member of The Mickey Mouse Club cast, Sherry Van Meter was thrilled when Walt Disney himself called out to her, “Hello, Mouseketeer Sherry!” as she walked down the studio’s Mickey Lane with her mother.
“Oh Mommy, Uncle Walt knows me!” she enthused — and then realized that Disney had addressed her by name because her Mouseketeer shirt plainly said, “Sherry.”
Faith and miracles
The story is one of many that the Orange County, Calif., Legate loves to tell about her experiences on the famed 1950s television show that delighted millions and continues to conjure up happy memories for viewers now considered seniors.
Van Meter, who was born in Cleveland and grew up near Hollywood as Sherry Alberoni, has other stories from an impressive movie and television career that included roles in the final Abbott and Costello film, The Donna Reed Show, My Three Sons and Family Affair. But these days, although she still does live appearances as a former Mouseketeer, her greatest love is serving the Catholic Church.
Born into the faith, Sherry loved being Catholic as a child, but it wasn’t until after she married her husband Richard and began to raise a family that she more fully embraced what she had been taught.
“Suddenly, I became a Catholic because I wanted to be a Catholic — not because I was born that way or because the priest told me,” she said.
Then a crisis took the Van Meters even deeper into their faith. At age 10, their oldest daughter Casey was diagnosed with bone cancer and was not expected to live more than a few months.
“Everybody goes to God when they need him, and that’s exactly what I did,” Sherry said.
A few days before surgery to remove a tumor on Casey’s knee, Sherry and Richard had Casey blessed by a priest. But when their daughter was admitted, they also called a Catholic parish across from the hospital to ask if a priest could visit her.
The night before the operation, a priest came in, blessed the girl and gave her and her parents Holy Communion. After the surgery, when the Van Meters learned the tumor was benign, Richard called the parish to ask for the name of the priest so he could thank him and tell him the outcome. He was told that no priest had been available because of the Fourth of July holiday.
“We just stared at each other,” Sherry recalled. “Then we both started crying and laughing and got down on our knees thanking God for sending his angel to be with us at this, the most horrible time of our lives. We knew who it was and we knew he blessed us with our very own miracle.
“After that, we said the Church is going to become the center of our lives,” Sherry added. She and Richard, who entered the Church on the couple’s 10th wedding anniversary, became deeply involved in their parish of St. Timothy’s in Laguna Niguel, Santa Margarita Catholic High School, and the Order of Malta — a worldwide Catholic lay religious order.
Today, Sherry also serves on the business advisory board of Catholics Come Home and on the board of the California Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums. In Legatus, she was the first woman president of the Orange County Chapter and has been a master of ceremonies at two Legatus Summits.
Much of her and her husband’s work for their parish and Santa Margarita High School has involved fundraising — more than $6 million for St. Timothy’s and more than $36 million for the school. They also have helped the Norbertine priests of St. Michael’s Abbey, who teach at Santa Margarita, raised funds for a new abbey on a 327-acre site in Orange County. The Norbertines hope to start construction on the abbey next year and have the project completed by late 2017 or early 2018.
Abbot Eugene Hayes of St. Michael’s told Legatus magazine that besides helping raise money for the new abbey, Sherry has served as emcee of the community’s annual Vantage Point Gala and organized the Ladies’ Tea, held each year during Easter Week.
“She has lots of energy and what she is in favor of, she’s in favor 100%. She’s a person of great faith, great Catholic faith,” he continued, adding that Sherry also is a strong defender of Church teachings.
Tom Peterson, founder of Catholics Come Home and a member of Legatus’ Atlanta Chapter, agreed. “She is passionate and boldly proclaims her faith.” Peterson said he was so struck by her enthusiasm, passion and wisdom that he asked her to join the Catholics Come Home advisory board.
“Sherry is one of the best cheerleaders you could ever pray for. She is constantly building us up and promoting us. She’s a blessing to our apostolate, a perfect asset for our evangelization team.”
Peterson said although he remembers The Mickey Mouse Club from his childhood, he has always been intrigued with Sherry’s voice work for cartoons like Josie and the Pussycats and Super Friends. He has been particularly impressed that Sherry has remained a faithful Catholic while working in Hollywood.
“Living in southern California as a devout Catholic is not easy and Sherry, as is her husband, is a bright light in an area that needs more bright lights.”
Sherry credits the Order of Malta and daily Mass with nurturing her faith life and that of her husband, who has served as medical director for the group’s annual pilgrimages to Lourdes with those who are seriously and terminally ill.
The Van Meters belong to a subpriory, a smaller spiritual community within the order. “It’s not to look at ourselves as being special, better or different,” Sherry explained. “We’re just called to pray, give and do more. We’re just working hard at being good Catholics.”
Her attitude reflects what Sherry’s parents taught her during her career as a child actor. “When I would go on an audition, my mom would say, ‘You remember: If you get this part, it’s not because you’re cuter, better, smarter or more talented than the next little girl. It’s only because God wants you to get this job. If you don’t get it, it’s because God doesn’t want you to get it. He’s got something else in mind for you.’”
Sherry got her start in entertainment after a Hollywood agent spied her and her brother Roy in a dance class and suggested to their mother they could get work in advertising and modeling. In 1955, their agent proposed they audition for a new show called The Mickey Mouse Club and Sherry landed a part by tap dancing while playing the trumpet, a feat that nearly caused her to lose her teeth.
Growing up in an Irish-Italian household, Sherry said, “I didn’t lead a Hollywood life. I knew I was loved because I was part of a family, not because I was a paycheck. That makes a big difference.”
As a Mouseketeer, she earned $180 per week, which was more than her father made as a dress company manager. However, she didn’t see any of the money until she was 21. And if she talked back to her parents, she said her mother would call her agent to say, “Sherry will not be going on more auditions until she straightens out.”
“When you have folks like that, it keeps your feet on the ground.”
JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.