“After my prayer, things happened so quickly that I knew it had to be more than coincidence. I never prayed for fame and fortune. I was just trying to make a living.”                                                                                        Danny Thomas

November 1937 – Peter and Paul Catholic Cathedral – Detroit, Michigan: Amos Jacobs was at a crossroads and didn’t know what to do. His career seemed hopeless. He was a struggling young comedian with a baby on the way and money was tight. His pregnant wife, Rose Marie, begged him to quit his job and get a real one, but he didn’t want to leave the acting career he loved.

Amos, a devout Catholic, put his last $7 in the collection plate and knelt in front of a statue of St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes. Needing direction, he prayed for the means to provide for his family. Ending his prayer he made an unusual promise, “Oh God, if you will show me the way to go, I will build a shrine to St. Jude.”

Born Muzyad Yakhoob, Amos was raised in Toledo, Ohio, one of nine children of Lebanese immigrants. Concerned about anti-Arab sentiment, his mother changed his name. Amos dropped out of school after the 9th grade with a dream to be a comedian. Working odd jobs, he saved his money, bought two suits and moved to Detroit to look for work.

He got his first job in 1932 singing on the radio program “The Happy Hour Club” at WBMC Radio. After five years, Amos had graduated to performing comedy routines in Detroit clubs. His meager salary and tips barely paid the bills, but he was doing what he loved.

A week after Amos made his vow to God, he got a comedy gig that paid him $75 a week. Then a friend called about a big comedy job opportunity in Chicago. God had heard his prayer. Amos and Rose Marie were off to the Windy City.

In 1940, because he didn’t want his family to know he was working in night clubs, Amos borrowed the first names of two of his brothers and changed his stage name to Danny Thomas. He was earning a whopping $500 a week as a comedian at the 5100 Club in Chicago. He was soon represented by the William Morris Talent Agency and in big demand in Chicago, Detroit, and New York.

Thomas’s successful comedy act led to five movie appearances, followed by television opportunities. In 1963, he landed his own television comedy show, “Make Room for Daddy,” which later became the “Danny Thomas Show.” The show became one of television’s most successful family shows, winning five Emmy Awards in its 11 seasons.

Thomas never forgot his promise to build a shrine to St. Jude. He sought the advice of Cardinal Samuel Stritch, the Catholic Archbishop of Chicago. Rather than build a shrine, Stritch persuaded Thomas to consider a project like the Shriners Hospital for disabled children. Being a Tennessee native, he also convinced Thomas that Memphis, Tennessee, would be a great location because of the need for good hospitals in the South.

In 1957, Thomas founded the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC) to raise money to build a hospital. Fundraising was a daunting task until several prominent Memphis businesspeople and doctors got behind the idea of a unique research hospital with a mission to cure life-threatening pediatric diseases.

On February 4, 1962, after five years of planning and fundraising, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital opened in Memphis. With a focus on catastrophic diseases like cancer and leukemia, the 85,000-square-foot non-profit hospital welcomed children worldwide regardless of race or religion. Patients were never charged for their care.

Since it started 60 years ago, St. Jude has increased the cure rates for pediatric cancers from 20% to more than 80% today. In 2021 St. Jude received more than $2 billion in donations, and in 2022, St. Jude was named the second-best children’s hospital in the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report.

According to Thomas, “St. Jude Hospital is the reason I was born. Show business was only a vehicle to fulfill my destiny, establishing St. Jude.” Danny and Rose Marie Thomas are buried on the hospital grounds near a large statue of St. Jude. What began as a simple prayer in Detroit during the Great Depression has become a beacon of hope for children who had no hope.