Because “no child should die in the dawn of life,” the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, USA opened its doors in 1962, making Danny Thomas’s dream come true. Danny’s wish was to open a similar institute in his home country; thus in 2002, the Children’s Cancer Center of Lebanon (CCCL) was inaugurated with a mission to save children’s lives.
More than 50 years ago, Danny Thomas, then a struggling young entertainer of Lebanese descent with $7 in his pocket, knelt in a Detroit church before a statue of St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes. Thomas asked the saint to “show me my way in life.”
His prayer was answered, and soon he moved his family to Chicago to pursue career offers. A few years later, at another turning point in his life, Thomas again prayed to St. Jude and pledged to someday build a shrine to the saint.
Throughout the next years, Thomas’ career prospered through films and television, and he became a nationally known entertainer. He remembered his pledge to build a shrine to St. Jude.
In the early 1950s, Thomas began discussing with friends what concrete form his vow might take. Gradually, the idea of a children’s hospital, possibly in Memphis, took shape. In 1955, 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.
Thomas had 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 Thomas’ benefit shows that brought scores of major entertainment stars to Memphis. Often accompanied by his wife, Rose Marie, Thomas crisscrossed the United States by car talking about his dream and raising funds at meetings and benefits. The pace was so hectic that Thomas and his wife once visited 28 cities in 32 days. Although Thomas and his friends raised the money to build the hospital, they now faced the daunting task of funding its annual operation.
To solve this problem, Thomas turned to his fellow Americans of Arabic-speaking heritage. Believing deeply that Arabic-speaking Americans should, as a group, thank the United States for the gifts of freedom given to their parents, Thomas also felt that building a children research hospital would be a noble way of honoring his immigrant forefathers who had come to America.
Thomas' request struck a responsive chord. In 1957, 100 representatives of the Arab-American community met in Chicago to form ALSAC—the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities—with the sole purpose of raising funds for the support of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Since 1957, ALSAC- the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, with national headquarters in Memphis and regional offices throughout the United States, has assumed full responsibility for all of St. Jude’s fundraising efforts, raising millions annually through benefits and solicitation drives among Americans of all ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds. Today, ALSAC is America’s third-largest health-care charity and is supported by the efforts of more than 1 million volunteers nationwide.
Danny's Dream—St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital—opened its doors in 1962 and is now recognized as one of the world’s premier centers for study and treatment of catastrophic diseases in children. For more information about St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, visit www.stjude.org
Danny Thomas lived to see his little hospital become a beacon of hope for the catastrophically ill children of the world. The founder of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and ALSAC died on February 6, 1991, just two days after joining patients, parents and employees to celebrate the hospital’s 29th anniversary.
He was laid to rest in a family crypt at the Danny Thomas / ALSAC Pavilion on the grounds of the hospital. On July 12, 2000, his wife, Rose Marie, passed away and now lies with her beloved husband in the hospital’s Danny and Rose Marie Thomas Memorial Garden. Today, their children, Marlo, Terre and Tony, carry on their parents’ work and remain a driving force in fulfilling their father’s mission. Danny is gone, but his dream lives on.
The Children’s Cancer Center of Lebanon is a result of an agreement among the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Children’s Cancer Center of Lebanon Foundation and the American University of Beirut Medical Center.
In April 2002, St. Jude delegation and the CCCL founders, with representatives from the AUBMC, inaugurated the Children’s Cancer Center, after 4 years of visits to the Lebanon, with an objective to establish an affiliate regional medical center in Beirut.
The Center was then established under Notice no. 138AD as a result of the efforts of the founders Nasser Chammaa, Nabil Harfouche, the late Pierre Bou Khater, the late Naoum Khattar, and Joseph Asseily.
On the 12th of April 2002, the late Prime Minister of Lebanon, Mr. Rafik Hariri, her Royal Highness Princess Ghida Talal (Chairperson of Al-Amal Foundation in Amman, Jordan), and several members of the Lebanese cabinet and parliament as well as major officials from AUB, joined a delegation from ALSAC/St.Jude and the board of the Children's Cancer Center of Lebanon (CCCL) for the inauguration ceremony of the Children’s Cancer Center of Lebanon. More than 300 people, including parents and families of Lebanese children treated at St. Jude, witnessed this remarkable event.