Fulton J. Sheen

Fulton J. Sheen

Fulton J. Sheen (1895–1979) Fulton John Sheen was born in El Paso, Illinois, in 1895. In high school, he won a three-year university scholarship, but he turned it down to pursue a vocation to the priesthood. He attended St. Viator College Seminary in Illinois and St. Paul Seminary in Minnesota. In 1919, he was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois. He earned a licentiate in sacred theology and a bachelor of canon law at the Catholic University of America and a doctorate at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium. Sheen received numerous teaching offers but declined them in obedience to his bishop and became an assistant pastor in a rural parish. Having thus tested his obedience, the bishop later permitted him to teach at the Catholic University of America and at St. Edmund’s College in Ware, England, where he met G.K. Chesterton, whose weekly BBC radio broadcast inspired Sheen’s later NBC broadcast, The Catholic Hour (1930–1952). In 1952, Sheen began appearing on ABC in his own series, Life Is Worth Living. Despite being given a time slot that forced him to compete with Milton Berle and Frank Sinatra, the dynamic Sheen enjoyed enormous success and in 1954 reach tens of millions of viewers, non-Catholics as well as Catholics. When asked by Pope Pius XII how many converts he had made, Sheen responded, “Your Holiness, I have never counted them. I am always afraid if I did count them, I might think I made them, instead of the Lord.” Sheen gave annual Good Friday homilies at New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, led numerous retreats for priests and religious, and preached at summer conferences in England. “If you want people to stay as they are,” he said, “tell them what they want to hear. If you want to improve them, tell them what they should know.” This he did, not only in his preaching but also in the more than ninety books he wrote. His book, Peace of Soul was sixth on the New York Times best-seller list. Sheen served as auxiliary bishop of New York (1951–1966) and as bishop of Rochester (1966–1969). His two great loves were for the Blessed Mother and the Eucharist. He made a daily holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, from which he drew strength and inspiration to preach the gospel and in the presence of which he prepared his homilies. “I beg [Christ] every day to keep me strong physically and alert mentally in order to preach His gospel and proclaim His Cross and Resurrection,” he said. “I am so happy doing this that I sometimes feel that when I come to the good Lord in Heaven, I will take a few days’ rest and then ask Him to allow me to come back again to this earth to do some more work.” The good Lord called Fulton Sheen home in 1979. His television broadcasts, now on tape, and his books continue his earthly work of winning souls for Christ. Sheen’s cause for canonization was opened in 2002, and in 2012 Pope Benedict XVI declared him “Venerable.”
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