In this story from August 1954, legendary journalist and television host Ed Sullivan reveals how his faith helped put his career on the right track.
The big guy sitting across the aisle on the Los Angeles to New York flight grinned at me. “I happened to notice you reading that story about the Pope’s illness. Don’t worry about it. He’ll be all right.”
I gave him a double-take as he nodded his head emphatically.
“You’re a Catholic ... aren’t you?” ... I nodded. “Well, I’m a Protestant,” he went on. “But I can tell you something about the Pope.”
Your reporter, a bit puzzled, urged him to continue.
“Before he became Pope he was Eugene Cardinal Pacelli and he visited this country,” the big guy said. “I was the co-pilot of the plane that flew him from city to city. He had to cover a lot of cities on a lot of visits. And right smack in the middle of the trip we ran into some bad flying weather.
“One black morning, the Cardinal came down to the hangar, and he said to me and my pilot, ‘I don’t want you young men to do anything you don’t want to do. But if you don’t mind flying in this sort of weather, I don’t.’”
The big guy paused to reflect.
“The pilot was a Protestant, too. We looked at each other, both with the same thought. If we said ‘no,’ it meant that Cardinal Pacelli had more moxie than both of us.
“Apparently the Cardinal read our thoughts because he said gently, ‘This is not a matter of courage. I just wanted you to know that I trust you both.’”
My flight companion smiled.
“We told him we’d fly. But by the time we got the plane out of the hangar, there was a solid bank of black clouds at the end of the runway.
“’What do you say?’ the pilot asked me.
“’Give it the gun,’ I told him. And we took off. I guess we were just returning the faith he expressed in us.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“We gained altitude and headed into the storm clouds. Back in the cabin the Cardinal was sitting there, his thin face calm, prayerful, a sort of glow on it. Suddenly a hole opened up in the cloud center, and we sailed through. And as we went through, the opening sealed up again. If that happened once, it happened five times.”
The big guy finished the story, and I sat silent and nostalgic.
I knew what he meant by the “glow.” When my wife and daughter and I were in the Vatican in 1949, I was so intent on the Pope’s face that I had to ask the girls later what color robe he had worn.
Then my thoughts wandered to the time I was a kid of 18 and a twelve-dollar-a-week sports editor of the Port Chester, N. Y. Daily Item. When the Hartford Post offered me a fifty-dollar-a-week job, there was a farewell banquet and speeches—glowing speeches about the bright future in Hartford.
Four days after I started work with the Hartford Post, the owner announced he was selling the paper. All employees would be given two weeks’ pay.
My whole, big, important world crashed. How could I go back to Port Chester? My successor at the Item was already at work. At 18 a lot of false pride can confuse your thinking. And at 18 every setback is a major calamity.
I got a job in a Hartford department store, wrapping bundles. Everybody in Connecticut was buying pots and pans that week. And wrapping paper neatly around the handles of pans requires artistry not possessed by an ex-sportswriter.
Then an infection developed on the right side of my lower jaw. The pain became so bad I couldn’t sleep. I was alone, too proud to go home, in pain and discouraged.
Just a few years before, when a student at St. Mary’s School in Port Chester, we would recite the Rosary, rattling off the responses so rapidly that it became a sing-song, devoid of meaning.
But when you’re in trouble and kneel in prayer by your bed, the “Hail Mary” becomes a very personal salutation. And your plea: “Pray for us sinners” is the complete recognition of your helplessness—and your faith.
Every young man comes to one crossroad where he is tested for manhood. At this point in Hartford prayer helped me grow up. I quit feeling sorry for myself, stuck with the job I didn’t like, went on my own to the Hartford Hospital Clinic, where a young, cheerful doctor cleaned out the infection in my jaw.
Several days later I returned from the department store to find a letter for me on the hallway table. The upper left-hand corner had the imprint, New York Evening Mail. I tore it open. It was from Sam Murphy, Sports Editor of the Mail and one of my job contacts.
“Dear Sullivan,” he wrote. “I have recommended you to our school page editor, Jack Jacowitz, to cover sports for him. Can you be in New York Monday morning?”
Could I! I wrapped my last pot and pan that Saturday night, caught an express train to Port Chester and home. That same night I was proudly showing to my mother, father, three sisters, and brother that letter and its offer of a job on a big New York daily.
On Monday morning, I went to work on the Mail, and for weeks afterwards was staring openmouthed at all the big-name newspaper by-liners along Park Row.
All of my life I’ve been blessed, first with a wonderful father and mother, sisters and brothers. Later with an exceptional wife, special daughter and splendid son-in-law. My TV show dropped into my lap by complete accident.
It is my deepest belief that all of these things have resulted from prayer—not so much my own—but prayers of priests and nuns I have known and with whom I’ve been privileged to work. And certainly the prayers and intercession of those close to me who have died.
So I know about the power of prayer. I know it keeps you steady, unshaken and able to take pain. I know it will guide you to your place—the place that will best help you grow.
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