By Michael Gresham
The Texas Catholic
Applause from a standing room crowd echoed throughout the ballroom at the Hilton Anatole as Jack E. Pratt Sr. received the Catholic Foundation Award during the 40th Annual Catholic Foundation Award Dinner on Feb. 4.
“He has lived his life in a manner that has positively impacted people in multiple countries,” said Matt Kramer, president and CEO of The Catholic Foundation. “Jack Pratt has never met a challenge that he could not outwit or outsmart. He is truly one of the great servants of our time.”
Pratt is the founder and retired chairman and CEO of Hollywood Casino Corporation and the developer of multiple successful hotels, casinos, commercial and residential buildings and restaurant chains in the U.S., Mexico, South America, Australia and the Caribbean.
In accepting the award, Pratt said he was extremely honored, especially considering the legacy of its past honorees such as Lydia and Dan Novakov, Mary Templeton, Raul Estrada, Mike and Mary Terry, Jim Moroney, Jerry Thompson, Marianne Staubach and Cardinal Kevin J. Farrell.
“I have always left this event with tremendous admiration for all that these past recipients have accomplished. They have inspired me to try to do more service in my own life,” Pratt said. “Never did I imagine that I would be here among their company. I salute each of them and all of the past recipients and I thank them for all they have done and continue to do for our community.”
‘A very blessed life’
A native of Joplin, Mo., Pratt served as a master sergeant in the U.S. Army’s Inspector General’s office during the Korean War and handled parts logistics that aided helicopter pilots in Korea while based at Fort Wolters in Mineral Wells, Texas.
Professionally, he achieved success in a wide variety of ventures including T.G.I. Fridays, and as one of the nation’s largest developers and owners of the Holiday Inn franchises, with more than 40 hotel properties including Hiltons, Crowne Plaza and Sheraton Hotels in the U.S., Mexico and Caribbean.
Pratt and his wife, Aileen are parishioners at Christ the King Catholic Church and have four children, nine grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.
Pratt told those in attendance Feb. 4 he has led “a very blessed” life.
“I’ve been blessed in my family life, both in my childhood years, by having very loving and hard-working Christian parents, and now with my wonderful wife, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren,” Pratt explained. “I’ve been blessed in my life of faith. I was raised as a Christian and I didn’t become a Catholic until I married Aileen 42 years ago. My decision to embrace the Catholic faith has enriched my life more than I can say. I’ve been blessed in my business life, and my friends and community life and I am very grateful for each facet of my life.
“Because of these many blessings,” he added. “I have always believed so strongly that it was incumbent upon me to share my blessings and to help those less fortunate.”
Over the years, Pratt has shown a servant’s heart, always ready to help where needed. He served as a member of the Leadership Council “Innovation in Medicine” campaign for Southwestern Medical University, the committee for Advanced Gifts – capital campaign fund for Ursuline Academy, the founding committee of John Paul II High School in Plano and the Leadership Committee for the “Our Faith Our Future” capital campaign for the Diocese of Dallas as well as several other diocesan councils.
In addition, he was the initial investor for the now nationwide Young Catholic Professionals, a nonprofit that brings together young business professionals in a variety of events to foster Catholic identity.
Founding a parish
In the Diocese of Dallas, Pratt’s philanthropic work has impacted many faith communities. His efforts with helping to establish San Juan Diego Catholic Parish is one such example. After witnessing a Mass celebrated by the early members of that community in the rain with people kneeling on soggy ground and a priest holding an umbrella above his head, Pratt was inspired to help find those families “a proper church.”
“Monsignor [John] Meyers was the person who first made me aware of the handful of families who were worshiping outside in all kinds of weather at the Catholic cemetery because they didn’t have a church building to say Mass in,” Pratt recalled. “I was fortunate to have had the means, and the determination, to provide a church for them, and to be one of the founders of what was to eventually become the parish of San Juan Diego.
“But it was the parishioners of San Juan Diego who contributed their time and talents to help renovate their church and who dug deep into their earnings to do these renovations and to make it their spiritual home,” he added. “I saw carpenters, painters, electricians, stone workers and plasterers, all donating their time and materials. They would come to work on the church after they finished their regular jobs. They and their families worked very hard to create a beautiful church.”
Father Jesus Belmontes, former pastor of San Juan Diego, said Pratt celebrated the parish’s growth as much as its community.
“I think that was one of the things that brought him joy — to see the seeds that he sowed giving fruit,” Father Belmontes said.
More recently, Pratt has been working on a new sanctuary for the parishioners of St. Augustine Catholic Church in southeast Dallas, which is expected to begin construction later this year.
“These projects take a great deal of time from inception to fruition,” Pratt said, “but what a joy it is for the parishioners when these churches are completed.”
While he was the one receiving the honor Feb. 4, Pratt was quick to recognize what he called the “unsung heroes” of the Diocese of Dallas.
“They work tirelessly behind the scenes for the good of our Catholic community,” he said. “They do this work, not for recognition, and certainly not for money, but out of a true love of church and community and a genuine desire to give back.”
Joe Ackels Sr., a close friend who introduced Pratt on Feb. 4, noted that much the same could be said about the night’s honoree.
“Jack has always invested himself in an effort to improve the lives of others,” Ackels said. “Most often, he did this for the benefit of those who did not dare to hope for a future that he made a reality.”
Ackels said Pratt shuns the spotlight, adding that Pratt’s inconspicous benevolence can be best described in a passage from Matthew, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets.”
“Well, sorry Jack,” Ackels said, “your secret it is out.”