When the archbishop asked me for a favor

When the archbishop asked me for a favor

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Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, the famed radio and television host and author, is pictured with Adam (Jim) Thomas, who served as his driver when the archbishop visited Atlantic City.

 

 

I am embarrassed to say I don’t remember the exact date. I believe it was in the 1950s and was a Marian Year. I was an ardent admirer of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and a diehard listener to his award-winning and top-rated television program “Life Is Worth Living.” So you may imagine when I heard he was coming to Atlantic City for a presentation at Convention Hall for thousands of visitors and dignitaries, I was engulfed with the dilemma, how can I hope to meet him, my spiritual idol on Earth?

I was informed the task of escorting him as a driver down the boardwalk for a parade was assigned to fire department personnel with city convertibles. At this point I conceived a ruse, which I quickly justified by my great admiration for this man, and having convinced myself it did not fall into the realm of a serious transgression and the end justified the means, I proceeded with my plan.

Having lived in Atlantic City my entire life (I am now in my 80s), I was fairly well known to the city fathers and municipal employees, including the fire department, so I borrowed a fireman’s hat and presented myself as the driver for the archbishop.

Escorted by two legitimate fireman friends and their cars, I proceeded down the boardwalk and parked at Indiana Avenue and the walk to await the archbishop. He was staying at the Claridge Hotel. I can still envision his walking that long walk from the Claridge and up the ramp with the cloak and robes he wore on television billowing in the breeze. I greeted him and he looked at me and made a very complimentary personal remark to me, which I will not repeat here.

As I proceeded down the boardwalk, with hundreds of people crowding the vehicle, he repeatedly asked me to stop the car so he could talk to the people. He had a unique way of making the ordinary man and woman feel good and showed a genuine interest in their work, whether the person was a plumber, a carpenter, a housewife or whatever. His gift of caring for Mr. Everyman and Mrs. Everywoman was a tribute to his humility. I noticed when a child was present, he put his hand on the child’s head and made the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead.

At about this time I was muttering (I thought quietly but evidently not) and when questioned by the priest in the front seat with me as to why, I replied, “Here I am, Father, with the archbishop, and everybody is taking pictures and I, like a dope, have no camera.” How could I overlook that?

We proceeded to the hall and I remained in the wings offstage and observed the archbishop’s presentation. The hall was packed with all degrees of citizens, notables and celebrities. I still recall his opening remarks. He said when he was given the television spot, it was suggested he accept a name the promoters had hoped for, instead of “Life Is Worth Living,” but he refused. He said they were then stuck with the name they had hoped for and so assigned it to a show called “Red Buttons” starring the comedian.

After his presentation, while I was waiting outside his dressing room, a monsignor approached me and said the archbishop would like to see me, “it’s important.” I was perplexed as to what I may have done to warrant this request (or command). I entered the room and the archbishop was standing with his arms outstretched, in full regalia, and said, “Ah, my friend, Mr. Thomas, would you please do me a favor?” Before I could answer he said, “Would you please let me have my picture taken with you?” Evidently he had overheard me in the car murmuring as to having no camera.

He then autographed a book to me titled “Go to Heaven” and then asked me, “Do you like macaroons?” I replied, “I love them.” He said, “Well, I have a Norwegian housekeeper, who makes the best macaroons. There is a brown bag over there with some inside. Come share them with me.” With hundreds of people waiting to meet him, he had time for me. He cared about some worries I confided in him and gave me his attention and time.

His reaching out to the common man was indeed his imitation of Christ and I was surely fortunate to meet this great man and be the receiver of his blessing and spiritual love. I cherish his book, which has the following inscription to me, to Jim Thomas: “In token of gratitude with the blessings of yours Faithfully in Christ Fulton J. Sheen.”

Adam (Jim) Thomas is a member of Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Atlantic City.

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