Abp. Fulton Sheen honored in Mass of Thanksgiving
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"Fulton Sheen was a lion's voice roaring out against the evils and corruption of his own day," said Msgr. Stanley L. Deptula, during a homily at a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated Sept. 9 in Peoria, Ill., in the cathedral that was the home parish of the famed televangelist.
The cause for canonization of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen marked its 10th anniversary this year with the declaration of his heroic virtues and life of sanctity by Pope Benedict XVI.
Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, who opened the official diocesan inquiry into Archbishop Sheen's cause, celebrated the Mass in the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception. Results of the inquiry were presented to Pope Benedict XVI last May. Since then they have been undergoing study by the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints. The Church recognized Archbishop Sheen's heroic virtues in June and gave him the title venerable, the first step in the canonization process. Now the cause for his beatification — the second step — continues, as the Vatican scrutinizes the alleged miraculous healing of a stillborn baby through his intercession.
'Model of virtue'
A native of El Paso, Ill., the future archbishop was ordained a priest in his home parish of the Cathedral of St. Mary. At his ordination, he made two resolutions: to offer Mass every Saturday in honor of the Blessed Mother to solicit her protection on his priesthood and to spend a continuous holy hour every day in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. As it turned out these two promises were not just the zeal of a young priest, but relationship of love that deepened throughout his life.
"He could roar from the pulpit because he listened to the small, still voice of that merciful and just King of the Universe," said Msgr. Deptula, vice chancellor of the Diocese of Peoria and executive director of the Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation. "He is a model of virtue our world needs today."
Archbishop Sheen served the Church as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York and the bishop of Rochester, N.Y., and for many years as national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. "His role was tremendous in raising support for the missions for the Holy Father," said Msgr. Francis Xavier Blood, director of the Mission Office of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. "There has been no greater advocate for the missions in the history of the United States of America than Archbishop Fulton Sheen."
But he is best known to the public as a radio and television evangelizer. His weekly TV show, "Life is Worth Living," ran from 1951-57. On it, Archbishop Sheen spoke out against communism and Marxism while preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to modern atheists and agnostics. His orator skills, joyful charisma and good looks captivated American audiences, earning ABC two Emmy Awards while beating out the likes of Lucille Ball, Edward R. Murrow and Milton Berle. Upon accepting his Emmy, Archbishop Sheen said, "I wish to thank my four writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John."
Archbishop Sheen died in December 1979 at age 84 and is entombed in the crypt at St. Patrick's Cathedral surrounded by the other deceased archbishops of New York.
Present at the anniversary Mass was the Engstrom family of Goodfield, Ill. What they consider the miraculous healing of their newborn baby, James Fulton Engstrom, has been submitted to the Vatican for Archbishop Sheen's beatification cause.
The baby's mother, Bonnie Engstrom, had prayed to the late televangelist all during her pregnancy. When the baby was born, in a home delivery two years ago, the umbilical cord was knotted and the child was stillborn, according to the parents. The baby was rushed by ambulance to the local hospital where, after 61 minutes of trying to revive him, the medical team stopped to call time of death. Bonnie, her husband, Travis, and a friend prayed for Archbishop Sheen to intercede for them.
The hour that the baby lay motionless was a tense hour, said Bonnie Engstrom. "Either you had to choose hope or choose despair," she said. But as soon as the medical team stopped their intervention, the baby's heart began to beat again on its own.
Today baby James Fulton Engstrom is almost 2 years old, and his mother reports him perfectly normal and healthy. "He loves trains, Pop-Tarts and playing outside with his brother and sister," she said.
If Pope Benedict XVI confirms the boy's healing as a miracle through the intercession of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, a beatification would follow.
Marlene Brownett was a little girl of 12 when she first met then-Msgr. Sheen at one of his speaking engagements in New Jersey. She took a seat in the front of the hall and when the handsome Msgr. Sheen raced down the aisle, causing his violet colored robes to flow behind him. As he made his way to the stage he stopped and said, "Little girl, where are your Mommy and Daddy?" "In the back," the youngster replied. "Well," he said, "you are my FRR — Front Row Rooter!" Years later Archbishop Sheen changed his acronymed title for her, after she took the habit as a sister with the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. Archbishop Sheen now dubbed the young nun his "FPS" or "Front Pew Sister."
The two remained lifelong friends, working together at the Society for the Propagation of the Faith together in New York. Sister Marlene works zealously for the beatification cause, wearing the religious ring of her community on her hand which was molded in part from gold from one of Archbishop Sheen's own rings. The milestone of him being proclaimed venerable is just another step in the process she hopes will one day result in his canonization.
Learn more about the cause for sainthood for Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen:
The Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation: archbishopsheencause.org
Archdiocease of St. Louis Mission office: archstl.org/missions/
Society for the Propagation of the Faith: onefamilyinmission.org/
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