Families from around the world are familiar with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which offers hope every year to thousands of children battling cancer. I’m compelled to share some of the history behind the hospital and what we know of St. Jude Thaddeus because today, October 28, is his feast day.
Before proceeding, if you’re wondering what a feast day is, it’s not an occasion to hang pinatas and play pin-the-tail on the donkey. Feast days are typically days on the liturgical calendar that commemorate a saint’s death, if the date is known. That person, often a martyr for the Christian faith, is remembered with special prayers and possibly scripture readings. (Some saints have tasty recipes associated with them that the faithful create then post to Pinterest.)
Very little is known about St. Jude from the Bible, other than he was one of the 12 Apostles of Jesus, a brother of St. James, and a relative of Jesus. The only words of Judas recorded in the Bible are found in the book of John when the 12 are gathered with Jesus in the upper room for the last supper:
“Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, "But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?" ~ John 14:22
In retrospect, I bet Judas (not Judas Iscariot) was thankful some writer made that important distinction. Would you forever want to be confused with the man who betrayed Jesus? I think not. Maybe that’s why he started going by Jude (or is that an English invention?) I can just see him meeting an acquaintance now, “Hi, you can call me Thaddeus, or you can call me Jude, just don’t call me Judas or late for supper!”
The Catholic in me did cartwheels when I discovered the story behind the founding of St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, TN. You may do them too, even if you’re not Catholic, once you hear the story.
The following is copied, in part, from St. Jude’s official website:
More than 70 years ago, Danny Thomas, then a struggling young entertainer with a baby on the way, visited a Detroit church and was so moved during the Mass, he placed his last $7 in the collection box. When he realized what he’d done, Danny prayed for a way to pay the looming hospital bills. The next day, he was offered a small part that would pay 10 times the amount he’d given to the church. Danny had experienced the power of prayer.
Two years later, Danny had achieved moderate acting success in Detroit, but he was struggling to take his career to the next level. Once again, he turned to the church. Praying to St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes, Danny asked the saint to “help me find my way in life, and I will build you a shrine.”
His career took a turn for the better, and soon he moved his family to Chicago to pursue career offers. A few years later, at another turning point in his life, Danny visited a church and remembered his pledge to St. Jude. Again he prayed to St. Jude and repeated his pledge to build a shrine to the saint if he would show him the way.
In the years that followed, Danny's career flourished through films and television, and he became an internationally known entertainer. He remembered his pledge to build a shrine to St. Jude.
In the early 1950s, Danny began discussing with friends what concrete form his vow might take. Gradually, the idea of a children’s hospital, possibly in Memphis, Tennessee, took shape. In 1955, Danny Thomas and a group of Memphis businessmen who had agreed to help support his dream seized on the idea of creating a unique research hospital devoted to curing catastrophic diseases in children. More than just a treatment facility, this would be a research center for the children of the world.
Danny started raising money for his vision of St. Jude in the early 1950s. By 1955, the local business leaders who had joined his cause began area fundraising efforts, supplementing Danny's benefit shows that brought scores of major entertainment stars to Memphis. Often accompanied by his wife, Rose Marie, Danny crisscrossed the United States by car, sharing his dream and raising funds at meetings and benefits. The pace was so hectic that Danny Thomas and his wife once visited 28 cities in 32 days.
Through striking improvements in the care of pediatric leukemias and numerous forms of solid tumors, St. Jude—which now has a daily operating cost of $2 million—has brought about improved health care for children all over the world. St. Jude’s physicians and scientists have pioneered treatments that have helped push the overall survival rates for childhood cancers from less than 20 percent when the hospital opened in 1962 to 80 percent today.
If you didn’t join me with the cartwheels after reading the story, it may be because you were too busy rolling your eyes. And it’s hard to do a cartwheel if your eyeballs are rolling around in your head. Trust me, I haven’t always been Catholic but I’ve been one long enough to know what gets under my Protestant friends’ skin. If you’re not Catholic and you read the whole story I commend you, even if you were grumbling aloud Why did Danny Thomas and all those Catholics pray to dead people? They can’t hear us! Where do Catholics get the notion to call anyone a saint who isn’t living on earth? Why have a so-called feast day? That’s a little macabre. None of this is in the Bible.
There are so many misconceptions about the Catholic Church that I like to build bridges of understanding whenever possible. I don’t mind eye-rolling, honestly, so long as it’s educated eye-rolling. So, in the name of Christian friendship and unity, allow me to tackle some of these Catholic-y questions to the best of my ability.
I’ll quickly cover 1) Why Catholics pray to the dead 2) Why Catholics call some dead folks “saints” and 3) Why we have feast days.
1) Catholics pray to the people they trust are in Heaven because we don’t view them as “dead” but as more alive in Christ than you or I on earth because they are in the presence of the Living God. We believe from Hebrews 12:1 that we’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, holy people who are aware of what occurs on earth and are rooting us on as we continue our race to the finish. We ask the saints to pray for us as we would ask a dear friend in a Bible study group to pray for us. Interestingly, John saw in Revelation 5:8 the 24 elders holding bowls full of incense that were the prayers of the saints. Why did they collect all of those prayers? Hmmmm…
2) Catholics recognize that the Bible calls Christ-followers here on earth saints. We know from 1 Corinthians 1:2 “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” We’re called to be saints together with ALL those who in EVERY PLACE call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I’d strongly suggest that those in Heaven are calling on the name of the Lord, Jesus. So, do we stop being saints once we earn our heavenly reward? To be a saint is to be holy, set apart. True, the Catholic Church often refers to a select group in Heaven as canonized saints. If you want, I can explain further who they are, but since I said I’d “quickly cover” these topics, that will need to wait for another time…if you’re at all interested.
3) To understand why we have feast days, I borrowed the following from the Catholic website New Advent. “Feast Days, or Holy Days, are days which are celebrated in commemoration of the sacred mysteries and events recorded in the history of our redemption, in memory of the Virgin Mother of Christ, or of His apostles, martyrs, and saints, by special services and rest from work. A feast not only commemorates an event or person, but also serves to excite the spiritual life by reminding us of the event it commemorates. At certain hours Jesus Christ invites us to His vineyard (Matthew 20:1-15); He is born in our hearts at Christmas; on Good Friday we nail ourselves to the cross with Him; at Easter we rise from the tomb of sin; and at Pentecost we receive the gifts of the Holy Ghost. Every religion has its feasts, but none has such a rich and judiciously constructed system of festive seasons as the Catholic Church.” I couldn’t have stated that any better.
I genuinely enjoy learning about the saints of old and wish I had started learning about them sooner. Most served Christ courageously in life and serve as wonderful Christian role models for us today, if we’d take the time to learn about them.
It's believed that after the death and resurrection of Jesus, St. Jude traveled throughout Mesopotamia, Libya, and Persia with St. Simon preaching and building up the foundations of the early Church. St. Jude died a martyr’s death for his unwavering faith. His body was later brought to Rome and placed in a crypt under St. Peter's Basilica.
Hopefully you appreciated learning a little about St. Jude, the children’s hospital that bears his name, and why we Catholics do a few of the things we do. If you’d like to know more about St. Jude, like how he became associated with desperate situations…then click HERE for a quick top 10 list.
Happy Feast Day!
Funny that the title "Author" appears above this description yet I have no idea what to share about myself in this space! How about my first name is Kim. My last name is Tisor. Tisor rhymes with miser, though I try not to be one.
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