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For more than 52 years, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has been a beacon of hope for children fighting cancer and other deadly diseases.
Winter in Memphis, Tennessee, can be cold and damp — certainly not ideal weather for an outdoor celebration to open the doors of a new children's hospital. But on the morning of February 4, 1962, the sun was shining brightly, a pleasant break from the wet winter days leading up to the anticipated event.
This was the day that Danny Thomas had dreamed of. The day when he would finally fulfill a promise made 20 years prior to St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes. As a struggling young entertainer, Danny had prayed in desperation to St. Jude, saying “show me my way in life, and I will build you a shrine.”
That shrine became St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the first hospital built for the sole purpose of conducting basic and clinical research and developing treatments for childhood cancer, sickle cell disease and other catastrophic illnesses. On this day, more than 9,000 people had gathered for the grand opening.
A symbol of hope
The statue of St. Jude Thaddeus that Danny had ordered from De Prato Statuary in Rome, Italy, had arrived weeks earlier and had spent much of the winter lying on its side in a crate in front of the hospital.
But the 5,000-pound, 10-foot-tall marble statue was now in place shrouded in fabric atop the 1,000-pound cornerstone that had been waiting to receive it for two years.
The statue and cornerstone, both personal gifts from Danny, would mark the entrance to the new hospital. In the cornerstone were copies of the St. Jude and ALSAC constitutions, as well as newspaper articles about the hospital and 75 cents donated by a little boy who was blind and partially deaf and who wanted to help.
The realization of a dream
Before unveiling the statue, Danny acknowledged the generosity of everyone who had donated, with big gifts and small ones, to make this day possible.
“A dream is one thing. A realization is something entirely separate,” he said. “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.”
Danny’s wife, Rose Marie, his companion throughout the journey to build St. Jude, wept as he spoke and then he pulled the shroud from the statue, unveiling the gleaming white marble. With the dedication concluded, the crowds moved toward the entrance to tour the new hospital, which was the first fully-integrated children’s hospital in the South.
After his own tour of the hospital, Danny declared: “To those who believe in nothing, and I hope they are few, let me tell you faith is a beautiful thing. To believe with all your heart and never despair of God’s mercy, you will succeed no matter what you try.”