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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
President Thomas S. Monson speaks at the General Relief Society meeting for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013.

Editor's note: Fourth of a four-part series looking at the ministry of President Thomas S. Monson.

President Thomas S. Monson has spent most of his life in the service of God — and for the past 50 years, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, First Presidency and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

At the young age of 22, President Monson was called to be bishop of a ward with many needs, of which he often speaks.

At 31, he became president of the Canadian Mission, which he presided over for three years.

In 1963, at age 36, President Monson became the youngest man in 53 years called to the Quorum of the Twelve.

And five years ago, President Monson was called as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But it isn't the milestones of this prolific leader that set him apart as a minister among men. It's a life lived in fulfillment of the four purposes of the LDS Church: perfect the Saints, proclaim the gospel, redeem the dead, and care for the poor and needy.

Caring for the poor and needy

An attitude of service has been a hallmark of President Monson’s ministry.

In an interview for President Monson's biography “To the Rescue,” Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve told author Heidi Swinton, "(President Monson’s) whole ministry is focused on discerning the needs of an individual and offering a pat on the back — doing some simple, very gracious thing that you never would really expect the president of the church to do."

At just 22 years of age, President Monson became the bishop for more than 1,000 members, including 84 widows. As bishop, President Monson learned to quickly come to the aid of those in need.

One Sunday afternoon, Bishop Monson received a call from a local drugstore owner. A young boy from the ward had ordered an ice cream sundae and paid for his treat by reaching into a fast offering envelope — which he then left at the counter.

As Bishop Monson entered the family’s small home, Swinton writes, his “indignation left as he realized the plight of the family."

The father had been out of work, the shelves were bare and the family would soon be evicted.

The lost fast offerings were quickly forgotten as Bishop Monson went to work organizing help for the needy family.

On another occasion, he was summoned to the hospital to bless a sick sister. As he approached her bedside, he noticed another patient quickly covered her face.

As Bishop Monson turned to leave, he paused before heading back to the hiding patient.

The woman was Kathleen Mckee, another member of Bishop Monson's ward.

In a 1996 address, President Monson recalled, "When her eyes met mine, she exclaimed through her tears, ‘Oh, Bishop, when you entered that door, I felt you had come to see me and bless me in response to my prayers. I was rejoicing inside to think that you would know I was here, but when you stopped at the other bed, my heart sank, and I knew that you had not come to see me.’

"It does not matter that I didn’t know you were here," Bishop Monson responded. "It is important, however, that our Heavenly Father knew and that you had prayed silently for a priesthood blessing. It was he who prompted me to intrude on your privacy."

After being released as bishop, President Monson continued to care for the members of his ward, visiting elderly members regularly and speaking at all 84 of the widows' funerals.

As an apostle and now president of the LDS Church, President Monson has continued his care for the poor and needy.

Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, President Monson visited members in East Germany. Seeing the threadbare state of many members' clothing, President Monson began an impromptu clothing drive.

Swinton writes that President Monson gave away his shoes, a cashmere sweater, calculator, a set of scriptures and even the suit off his back. President Monson would leave behind suitcases of clothing, and members who met with President Monson often left wearing a new suit.

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In a 1986 article, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve — then the Europe Area President — said, "If it weren’t for Brother Monson, there would be little for our Saints in this part of Europe. … Tom has given everything to those people, including the shirt off his back. I mean it! I’ve seen him give away his suits and his shirts and his shoes. I’ll bet he’s given away 20 suits to those destitute Saints in Eastern Europe. He says they were used, old ones that he was going to throw away, but they always looked brand new to me."

Contributing: Emmilie Buchanan-Whitlock

Katie Harmer is a journalism graduate of Brigham Young University and writes for Mormon Times. Email: kharmer@deseretnews.com Twitter: harmerk