U.S. Archbishop Fulton Sheen is pictured in an undated file photo. Pope Benedict XVI has approved the heroic virtues of Archbishop Sheen, declaring him "venerable" and clearing the way for the advancement of his sainthood cause. The announcement came Jun e 28 from the Vatican. As a priest, he preached on the popular "The Catholic Hour" radio program and went on to become an Emmy-winning televangelist.
Most Rev. John Vlazny Archbishop Emeritus of Portland
On June 28 of this year Pope Benedict XVI promulgated a decree affirming the heroic virtue of the Servant of God, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. He may now be called “Venerable.” His cause for beatification and canonization has been promoted by Most Rev. Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, Bishop of Peoria. Venerable Fulton Sheen was born and raised in that central Illinois community. We need good news about bishops these days and the Pope gave us one with that declaration.
Archbishop Sheen’s greatest love was for the missions. For many years he served as the Director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith here in the United States. He wisely took advantage of the technology of his day, television, to become a champion of the “new evangelization” back before it was in vogue. Bishop Jenky stated, “He was on the cutting edge of the pro-life and ecumenical movements.” He supported Catholics of his day in their efforts to be authentic citizens of this country as well as faithful sons and daughters of our Catholic Church. He was a prayerful man and a bishop who deeply loved the Eucharistic Lord and His Blessed Mother. A daily holy hour was a practice he began early in his life and continued until he died.
Archbishop Sheen was born May 8, 1895 in El Paso, Illinois. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Peoria back in 1919 and taught at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. from 1926 to 1950. His media ministry began with a radio program back in 1926. He was consecrated a bishop in June of 1951 and became the Bishop of Rochester, New York in 1966. He died in the Lord on December 9, 1979.
Archbishop Sheen achieved national fame through his weekly television program entitled “Life is Worth Living.” It aired on Tuesday evenings and when I was a high school student one of my teachers assigned the program as homework, just like reading a book or writing a paper. Since there was only one television in the house, our whole family tuned in on the Archbishop every week. Back then reporters wondered whether or not he would have a chance to challenge the ratings giants like Milton Berle and Frank Sinatra. He actually did rather well. When he won an Emmy Award for his efforts back in 1952, he accepted by saying, “I feel it is time I pay tribute to my four writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” Berle commented, “He uses old material too!”
It was in 1958 that Venerable Fulton Sheen became the National Director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. He worked with diocesan directors across the country in trying to promote the work of evangelization in missionary countries. He was quite successful in mounting support for these missionary activities of the church, not only in providing financial resources but also in encouraging a greater sharing of human resources in dioceses with a limited supply of clergy and religious. Probably one of the most memorable moments for the good archbishop occurred on Oct. 3, 1979 when Pope John Paul II embraced him at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. At that time the Pope said to him, “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus. You are a loyal son of the church.” It was just a little more than two months later that Fulton Sheen went home to the Lord.
On Sept. 14, 2002 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints officially opened the cause of Archbishop Sheen and granted him the title “Servant of God.” Four years later two packages containing documentation concerning two alleged miracles attributed to the archbishop were sent to Rome. There a panel of theologians, priests and doctors examined the documents to verify that the alleged miracles were truly authentic. The Diocese of Peoria closed its inquiry into the life and works of the archbishop in February, 2008. A file seal was placed on several file boxes which contained copies of Venerable Fulton Sheen’s writings as well as thousands of pages of testimony given under oath by witnesses to his personal holiness.
In April of 2008 the cause for beatification and canonization of the archbishop opened officially in Rome with a ceremony at the offices of the Vatican Congregation for the Cause of Saints. This important phase of the process resulted in the declaration by Pope Benedict XVI this past June 28. A major factor in the achievement of this declaration was the miraculous healing of a stillborn child. Back in September of 2010 James Fulton was considered stillborn. He was without pulse for the first 61 minutes of his life. It was only when the doctors were ready to signal the time of death that the child’s heart started beating. The parents believe that their baby is alive because of their prayers to Archbishop Fulton Sheen.
A tribunal of inquiry was established to investigate the alleged miraculous healing and whether or not it can be proved through medical documents and the testimony of witnesses. When the child’s mother was pregnant, she prayed to Archbishop Sheen to watch over her pregnancy. The dad used to watch Archbishop Sheen on YouTube and became familiar with his teachings. The baby’s mother remembers praying to Sheen as CPR was performed on the baby. Doctors had warned them that the baby might be blind and unable to function normally. But the child is over one year old and is medication free and laughing and playing like any healthy child. The parents believe that the Venerable Fulton Sheen played a key role in the healing of their son.
Some folks question all the attention being paid ever since the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II to the canonization of saints. What’s this all about? It’s all about achieving the goal each one of us has as a disciple of Jesus, namely, to become a saint. The good news in the case of Venerable Fulton Sheen is that bishops too can embrace holiness as a way of life and be recognized for their lives of virtue! We all receive that same call through our Baptism. Here in the United States we welcome the recognition of more and more of our sisters and brothers to the companionship of all the saints gathered around the heavenly throne.
Please join me in praying for the eventual canonization of Venerable Fulton Sheen. Through his intercession, we pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we embark upon the Year of Faith this coming October. The “old material” that Venerable Fulton used in proclaiming the good news is still available and still useful. May all these initiatives on behalf of the great former archbishop of television be for the greater honor and glory of God.