Feast of Thomas A. Dooley (January 23)   Leave a comment

dooley

Above:  Dr. Thomas A. Dooley

Image Source = The Catholic Advance (Wichita, Kansas), January 27, 1961, page 5

Accessed via newspapers.com

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THOMAS ANTHONY DOOLEY, III (JANUARY 17, 1927-JANUARY 18, 1961)

Physician and Humanitarian

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It must be a source of heartened gratification to realize that in so few years you have accomplished so much for the good of distant peoples and have inspired so many others to work for all humanity.

–Telegram from President Dwight D. Eisenhower to Thomas A. Dooley, January 17, 1961; quoted in The Catholic Advance (Wichita, Kansas), January 27, 1961, page 5 (accessed via newspapers.com)

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The name of Thomas Anthony Dooley, III, came to my attention via In Faith and Love (1968), an adult Christian education resource from The Methodist Church (1939-1968), a predecessor of The United Methodist Church.  (I find some wonderful books in thrift stores!)  In Faith and Love, by Orlo Strunk, Jr., tells the stories of a few great and relatively contemporary Christians.  It is an example of mainline Protestant hagiography, minus the feast dates.  As I read Strunk’s account of Dooley’s life, I was impressed by our saint.  I also noticed a gaping hole in the narrative.  Why did Dooley leave the U.S. Navy in the middle 1950s?  As I consulted other sources, some of them openly homophobic, I learned of the part of Dooley’s biography that Strunk omitted.  One cannot understand the life of Thomas A. Dooley properly without grasping that he was a guilt-ridden homosexual struggling against homophobia and with himself.

Dooley, born in St. Louis, Missouri, on January 17, 1927, grew up in a devout Roman Catholic family.  His parents, Thomas A. Dooley, Jr. (1885-1948), and Agnes Wise Dooley (1895-1964), took him to Mass frequently led prayers at home, and taught him to be aware of the needs of others, especially the less fortunate.  Our saint, as a young man, enjoyed music, boats, horses, and travel.  His father’s high school graduation present to him was a trip to Mexico.  There Dooley traveled through the countryside on a burro and wanted to help the poor people of the mountain villages.

Dooley understood that he had responsibilities to his country and his fellow human beings, especially the less fortunate.  In 1943, at the age of 16 years, he matriculated at the University of Notre Dame.  He left the following year, to become a Naval medical corpsman, after learning of the injury of his brother Earle, in the U.S. Army in Europe.  Our saint learned subsequently of Earle’s death in Germany.  The U.S. Navy discharged Dooley after V-J Day.  Our saint visited Lourdes, France, in 1948, as he struggled with the fact that he was, according to many doctors, too sensitive to be a physician.  Dooley resumed his studies, enrolling at the St. Louis University School of Medicine, becoming an M.D. in 1953.

Dooley returned to the U.S. Navy, which commissioned him a Lieutenant and assigned him to the naval hospital at Camp Pendleton, California, then, in 1953, as the Chief Medical Officer of the U.S.S. Montague.  In that capacity our saint assisted in the evacuation of Haiphong, Vietnam, and saw more than 600,000 refugees suffer.  Dooley, who became aware of his lack of training in building a refugee camp, learned the Vietnamese language and performed surgeries on victims of atrocities Communists had committed.  The events of 1954 and 1955 haunted our saint.

The U.S. Navy discharged Dooley because of his homosexuality yet attempted to cover up the cause of his separation from military service.  Our saint could have simply returned home and pursued a lucrative career, but he chose to return to the former French Indochina as a medical missionary.  As Dr. Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) told Dooley,

The significance of a man, Tom, is not in what he attains, but in what he longs to attain.

Our saint traveled to Laos in 1956.  There he worked as a doctor with Operation Laos and helped to found Medical International Cooperation (MEDICO).  Dooley also wrote three books:  Deliver Us from Evil (1956), The Edge of Tomorrow (1958), and The Night They Burned Down the Mountain (1960).  “Dr. America,” as many Laotians called him, raised funds for MEDICO.  His donors included President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Dooley was also sensitive toward his patients, sometimes even playing the piano for them.  He combined humanitarian concern, mere human decency, and Cold War politics to finance his good works.

In 1959 Dooley returned to the United States for the treatment of his melanoma.  The University of Notre Dame awarded him an honorary degree in 1960, shortly before his death.  According to a Gallup poll in 1961, the only two people more respected by Americans were President Eisenhower and Pope John XXIII.  Dooley died in New York City on January 18, 1961, one day after his thirty-fourth birthday.  Later that year the U.S. Congress awarded Dooley a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal and President John F. Kennedy cited his example when launching the Peace Corps.

Despite his piety and humanitarian works, Dooley’s reputation among some people has become or remained negative.  The reason for this reality is homophobia.  On the other hand, some have criticized Dooley for not having been an out and proud homosexual.  Our saint was a man of his time in certain regards.  He was also exactly what God created him to be.

The legacy of Dr. Dooley is alive.  Dooley Intermed International helps refugees in several countries and emphasizes preventive medicine and self-help projects.  The Dr. Tom Dooley Society is an organization for medical alumni of the University of Notre Dame dedicated to global service to humanity.  Finally, the Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s gives the Thomas A. Dooley Award, which

honors individuals who, through their faith-based background, have demonstrated personal courage, compassion, and commitment to advance the human and civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.

Dooley loved his neighbors as he loved himself.  He also understood that many of his neighbors lived as far away from his home in St. Louis as Vietnam and Laos.  His Roman Catholicism inspired his humanitarian works.  He was indeed a saint.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 23, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN KENNETH PFOHL, SR., U.S. MORAVIAN BISHOP; HIS WIFE, HARRIET ELIZABETH “BESSIE” WHITTINGTON PFOHL, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICIAN; AND THEIR SON, JAMES CHRISTIAN PFOHL, SR., U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF CASPAR FRIEDRICH NACHTENHOFER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MUSICIAN, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLEMENT OF ROME, BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT COLUMBAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

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O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served.

Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world offers no comfort and little help.

Through us give hope to hopeless,

love to the unloved,

peace to the troubled,

and rest to the weary,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60

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