“You Are Just Like Jesus”

A 1959 Gallup Poll listed him as the seventh most popular person in the world (I’m not sure who the first six were). In his time, Dr. Thomas A. Dooley (1927-1961) was a Catholic folk hero whose humanitarian work in Southeast Asia won him the admiration of popes and presidents. Today marks his death of cancer, a day after he celebrated his thirty-fourth birthday. Born to an upper-class St. Louis family, Dooley graduated from the Notre Dame University. After medical school, he became a Navy doctor in 1954 and was assigned to work with refugees fleeing North Vietnam’s Communist regime. His book Deliver Us From Evil, based on his experiences, was an instant bestseller. In 1956 Dooley resigned his commission to start a medical mission in Laos. (What wasn’t known at the time, notes Dooley’s biogapher James Fisher, was that Dooley was gay, and was forced to leave the Navy.) A charismatic speaker and a superb fundraiser, Dooley was an instant celebrity who, like John F. Kennedy, captured the idealism of a young generation seeking to make a difference in the world. One Catholic school student wrote him, “You are just like Jesus.” His canonization cause was launched in 1970, but Fisher writes that “it was later suspended due to the complexities of his character.”

About Pat McNamara

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