He was the fifth of ten children born to his Lebanese immigrant parents in Deerfield, Michigan, an hour southwest of Detroit, on January 6, 1914. His parents named him Muzyad Yalhood, which translated is Amos Jacob. He was brought up to respect all that God created and with a deep love for his faith and an accomplishment for hard work. He began selling newspapers on the street corner when he was ten and a few years after that he was hired to sell candy in a burlesque theatre. Despite the family's poverty, they also instilled in him a lighthearted outlook on life which translated into a comedy career for the young Amos. This helped him after he dropped out of high school in 1930 to pursue a career in show business. The experiences of the Great Depression would have discouraged anyone of lesser character but Danny pressed on, singing and performing. It was while singing on "The Happy Hour Club" radio show in 1935 that he met a young lady who shared his ambitions. On January 15, 1936 Rose Marie Cassaniti said "I do" to Amos and they lived on love for the next four years. It was in 1940, at the age of 26 with Rose Marie expecting their first child and he a starving, struggling radio actor with his life seemingly going no where and only seven dollars to his name, that he made a promise to God, offering this prayer in a Detroit church while on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament: "Help me find my place in life and I will build You a shrine where the poor and the helpless and the hopeless may come for comfort and aid."
Almost immediately he was hired at the 5100 Club in Chicago as its headline comedian but not as Amos Jacob, but Danny Thomas. The name was suggested by his agent. The club was a popular hotspot that attracted many who's who and over the years one of those was a Hollywood big wig who offered him a role as "Mr. Paneros" in his first film, "The Unfinished Dance." That led to him becoming alternate host on "Four Star Revue", a new television series highlighting new talent in a new medium. This translated to a role in the hit film "The Jazz Singer" which put him in contact with Sheldon Leonard to create the highly popular show that would become his trademark signature "Make Room for Daddy" which ran from 1953 through 1964, in a time that is considered the "Golden Age of Television." In 1957, still the same show but because of his popularity, the title was changed to "The Danny Thomas Show." It was his success in this series that not only allowed him ample funds to produce other shows such as "The Andy Griffith Show," "The Real McCoys," "Gomer Pyle, USMC" and other opportunities in film and television, but provided the means to make good on his promise to God.
He had been contemplating what he would do to repay God for his good fortune and kept looking toward the back country of the Mississippi Delta to establish some kind of home or medical center to help the very poor of Louisiana. In 1955 with his career well on its way, he approached his mentor, Cardinal Samuel Stritch, then the Archbishop of Chicago, and asked for his advice. The cardinal wasn't shy and counseled Danny to look toward Memphis. It had been the location of the cardinal's first parish. Even though Memphis already housed one children's pediatric hospital - the LeBonheur Children's Medical Center, Cardinal Stritch felt there was room for more and Memphis was centrally located. The Chicago prelate contacted his counterpart in Memphis Bishop Carroll T. Dozier the first bishop of the Diocese. The Bishop went out of his way to help put Danny in touch with various community and civic leaders. One of those leaders was Dr. Lemuel W. Diggs a professor of medicine at the University of Tennesee, Memphis. He suggested that a hospital be built dedicated to researching the study of childhood catastrophic diseases. Danny agreed with the idea which moved him greatly that he could fulfill this promise he made and the rest, as they say, is history.
He and Rose Marie took to the road to raise funds to build the hospital. From coast to coast they drove, drumming up financial support. It was a hectic pace that took them to 28 cities in 32 days. What they raised was commendable but far short of the goal needed. Danny had always been proud of his ethnic heritage as a Lebanese American and felt that more immigrants from the mideast who had accomplished their American dream should give something back to their ancestors through good deeds. Through a tremendous amount of public relations and persuasion, he was able to gather 100 leaders of the Arab American community in Chicago where ALSAC was formed. It stood for American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities. ALSAC's main purpose was to raise funds to build St. Jude's. That same year Bishop Dozier retired but the Diocese and Danny didn't lose support for his successor was Bishop J. Francis Stafford, now Cardinal Stafford, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity in Rome and the Archbishop who hosted the Holy Father's visit to Denver for World Youth Day in 1993. Bishop Stafford enthusiastically supported Danny's plans and established a special Diocesan fund to help the hospital. The people responded generously and Danny put in tons of his own money. It was enough to build the hospital and on February 4, 1962 his promise was fulfilled with the opening of St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital overlooking the Mississippi River in Memphis. There were 9,000 in attendance at the inauguration of the hospital as Danny stood teary-eyed beneath the impressive 5,000 pound ten-foot high marble statue of Saint Jude Thaddeus from Rome. He had personally ordered and paid for this personal tribute to the patron saint of hopeless causes that stands at the entrance of the hospital. He told the supportive crowd that, "A dream is one thing. A realization is something entirely separate. I publicly thank you, wherever you may be, for the support of this dream. It took a rabble-rousing, hook-nosed comedian to get your attention, but it took your hearts, loving minds and generous souls to make it come true. If I were to die this minute, I would know why I was born."
Most would consider their work done with this accomplishment, but not Danny. From that time on he devoted the rest of his career to raising at least twelve million annually to help with operating, research and expansion costs. He landed numerous tie-ins and was one of the first to tap into the lucrative professional golf circuit by contracting with the PGA for the Annual Danny Thomas-St. Jude's Open in Memphis. In 1977 he was presented the prestigious "Horatio Alger Award" bestowed on only truly outstanding Americans who exhibit a giving character and exemplify the true spirit of America. In 1985 President Ronald Reagan presented him the "Congressional Medal of Freedom" for his dedication to the children's cause. He continued performing until 1988 when, at the age of 74 he began slowing down. He may have been phasing out his show business career, but not his total passion for helping the children. In 1991, he visited his beloved St. Jude's Center for what would be his last time, and saw a plague on the wall "St. Jude's Hospital, Danny Thomas, Founder." Taken back and moved to tears, he remarked, "That's all the epitaph I want." Back in Los Angeles, with his devoted wife of 55 years Rose Marie nearby, he died two days later on February 6, 1991 of a heart attack - a heart so big it could not be contained and literally burst. His funeral overflowed with love and plaudits including President Bush's tribute to this great humanitarian and Catholic: "The death of Danny Thomas leaves a noticeable void in the world of American humor. We also lose a fine gentleman and humanitarian who will always be known as a man of good will. Danny Thomas entertained Presidents from Eisenhower to the present. He was a giant of the entertainment business who knew that spark of delight which Americans take in poking fun at themselves. In his situation comedies, either as actor or producer, he reflected the best qualities of American life. He pioneered the family sitcom in which we could all use the new medium of television to laugh at ourselves and our daily problems. We will be laughing with him for years to come. In 1962, Danny Thomas founded St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. It became more than a leading research center dedicated to finding cures for children's cancer and other diseases, but a symbol of the love that one man had for his fellow man. That was Danny Thomas." That, in a nutshell, might be Danny Thomas' epitaph but we suspect in Heaven he is honored even more so because of his deep faith, trust and love for God and His children.
So wrote a fellow who responded to me about an editorial I sent to our local paper. On the surface, it seems very logical and true, something should be done to try and stem the tide of desertion from the faith. However, he also, unknowingly, gave a perfect reason why such things are happening.
"People no longer need to submit to a theology that is handed down sentence by sentence, word by word from a pope and his Vatican. People can and are building their own theology."
Obviously, if this is true, then there is no need for parishes, no need for Catholic schools, no need to try and fill empty pews. If we are free, as Catholics, to make our own theology, then we have no need to attend Mass, we can worship God in a meadow, or a football game. No need to learn the faith, the how's and why's of our faith, whatever we want or 'feel' is perfectly okay. No need then for priests, nuns, or other religious. In fact, when groups like Call To Action call for small faith groups which may meet in someone's dining room and be 'guided' by a community ordained facilitator, one can see that their 'complaint' is precisely what they hope for. So it should come as no surprise that we see empty pews, etc.
"They have the right to do and to make their spiritual search without being hushed or thrown out by Rome."
Of course they have that right, but does that also mean they have right to call themselves Catholic? Free will means having the right to accept or reject God, His Church, etc. Of course there are consequences, but it seems no one told them that.
"But even if we, or an angel from Heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8).
"And what I do I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness" (2 Corinthians 11:12-15).
It's pretty clear that St. Paul, nor any of the Apostles, advocated 'building ones own theology'.
Do we have an example of this from Christ, or, as many seem to think, did the Apostles begin this 'dictatorship' of theology? Is it true that the Church has to change it's teachings in order to 'save' mass desertions?
In John 6, we read how Christ and His disciples went ahead after His miracle of multiplying the bread and fish. A large multitude followed Him and His disciples and heard His teaching on the Eucharist. Almost immediately, there was a problem. "The Jews then murmured at Him, because He said, "I am the bread which came down from Heaven." They said, 'Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, 'I have come down from Heaven'?''.The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, 'How can this man give us his flesh to eat?' Many of His disciples, when they heard it, said, 'This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?' But Jesus, knowing in Himself that His disciples murmured at it,…. After this many of His disciples drew back and no longer went about with Him. Jesus said to the twelve, 'Do you also wish to go away?'" (John 6: 41-41; 52; 60-61; and 68-67).
From a multitude of disciples to, at least, only twelve. But Christ didn't change one iota of His teaching. Scriptures are full of such examples where His teachings confronted the 'norms' of His day. His enemies even tried to use this well-known trait to try and trap Him.
"Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" (Matthew 22:16-17).
So, it's clear that Christ wasn't interested in the numbers game, nor cared to change His teachings to suit the norm of the day.
The early Church, often misused to try and justify their error, saw the danger of this 'self made' theology. "It is on him [Peter] that He [Jesus] builds the church, and to him that He entrusts the sheep to feed [ref. John 21:15-17]. And although He assigns power to all the apostles, yet He founded a single chair, thus establishing the sources and hallmark of the churches' oneness. No doubt the others were all that Peter was, but a primacy is given to Peter and it is thus made clear that there is but one church and one chair…..If a man does not hold fast to this oneness of Peter, does he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he deserts the Chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, has he still confidence that he is in the Church?" (St. Cyprian; On the Unity of the Catholic Church).
The Church is great gift of God. Without something, or someone to teach us what He taught, what would become of us? In fact, why not just come down, tell us we're free and leave? Why did He spend 3 years teaching the Apostles if it weren't in His plan to send them in His name?
In fact, He said precisely that. "Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw Him they worshipped Him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.'" (Matthew 28: 16-20).
It has to be pointed out that the commission to teach in His name was given to His remaining eleven Apostles, not to all of His disciples. Though we 'teach by our example and word, we do so under their guidance; not of our own accord, by our own authority, by our own wants and desires. We repeat to Christ what His Apostles said in John 6. "Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God" (John 6:68-69).
We don't need to concern ourselves with theological discussions, only believe and live what we say each and every Sunday (or are supposed to say):
Here is our faith in a nut shell. We do not 'trust' Scripture because men wrote it and men may be mistaken. We do not trust the Church because, again, it is full of frail, humans, who, again, may be wrong. This is the premise of those who wish to change the teachings of the Church to suit the 'Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times.
However, our 'trust' isn't based on men, but God. It is because we do believe in God that we 'trust' the Church He established to teach ALL nations His teachings for ALL time (ref. Matthew 28:16-20).
We 'trust' that He guides and guards His Church so that it will always do His will and follow His commands (Ibid).
We 'trust' the Scriptures which were written under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (see the Creed). And, again, we 'trust' the Church, which compiled and guarded the Scriptures, to help us interpret and understand those Scriptures.
The Church is here, not as a man made organization, but by the very hand of God. A gift, a voice of authority, teaching in His name and with His authority, so that we can trust that what it says is true. If it is otherwise, then God is a liar, and/or a fool, since Christ promised. "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).
If it is, as many think, an authoritarian, patriarchal monolith seeking to regain or retain it's grip on "the illiterate mobs', then that Church has been overcome by the powers of death, the gates of hell.
My friend ended his note to me by saying that it is useless to fight for the Church, but recommends I let it die. But can I? Will God? Again, is God then a liar or a fool?
As G.K. Chesterton wrote: "At least five times, . . . with the Arian and the Albigensian, with the Humanist sceptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin, the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was the dog that died" (The Everlasting Man, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1925, p. 254).
He went on to point out that when someone loses their faith, it isn't so much that they then believe in nothing, but rather, will believe anything.
Will the Church die if there are mass desertions to "larger, friendlier" (i.e. permissive) faith communities? Not as long as there is at least one who says "Lord, to whom shall we go?"
The Church is a gift from God. Cherish it as such. Cherish it as a loving mother, faithful to her spouse, our Lord Jesus Christ. Teaching her children how to please their Father, and avoid the dangers of a dark and dangerous world.
The Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon along with a cadre of Franciscans and Dominicans lands in Puerto Rico, bringing the faith to that island where it has flourished ever since.
Pope Pius XII issues his famous encyclical Humani generis which dealt with false opinions threatening to undermine the foundations of Catholic doctrine.