Abp. Sheen’s example inspires 90 years after ordination

Photo Caption: About 60 altar servers from around the diocese took part in the Sheen anniversary Mass.

By: By Tom Dermody

Ninety years to the day after Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, 10 young men and women stood in the same spot on Sept. 20 at St. Mary’s Cathedral and publically declared an early interest in the priesthood and religious life.

The presence of the young people in the sanctuary — and the prolonged applause that accompanied their expression of interest — provided a dramatic conclusion to a joyous Mass recalling the Diocese of Peoria’s sainthood candidate.

The Mass, a key celebration in the diocese’s observance of the “Year for Priests” declared by Pope Benedict XVI, also featured the presence of about 60 altar servers from around the Diocese of Peoria who vested and took part in the processional and recessional. Seated in the front pews were several relatives of Archbishop Sheen, a native of El Paso who “truly preached and ministered to the whole world,” according to Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC.

The Sheen relatives were also applauded when asked to stand by Bishop Jenky.

The bishop used the anniversary Mass as occasion to urge all Catholics, and especially young people considering a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, to be inspired by the example of Archbishop Sheen.

“LIKE HIM, may we seek God’s will in all that we do,” said Bishop Jenky in a homily that traced the highlights of Archbishop Sheen’s life.

“And like him, may our lives be entirely grounded in the holy sacraments, in fervent devotion to Our Lady, in tireless service of neighbor, and most of all in the boundless ocean of God’s infinite love.”

While encouraging prayers for Archbishop Sheen’s sainthood cause, the bishop reminded those present that “every baptized believer, everyone in the church — faults and all — is called to be a saint.” In addition, every Christian has a God-given vocation, he said, “a personal call from God who knows them better than they know themselves.”

Every vocation — whether it is to married life, the single life, or to the priesthood or religious life — is challenging and demanding, but “if you try to do what God asks, God will give you the grace and strength to do it,” said Bishop Jenky.

WITH SO many young people in the cathedral — including the dozens of altar servers who accepted an invitation from Bishop Jenky to attend and their families — Father Brian Brownsey, diocesan vocations director, decided it was a good time to ask for religious vocation interest.

In remarks at the end of the Mass, Father Brownsey recalled his own thoughts of the priesthood as a youth and his willingness to explore them “If only someone would ask me.”

On Sunday, Father Brownsey did the asking.

After requesting that all in the cathedral close their eyes, Father Brownsey asked those who were considering the priesthood or religious life to raise their hands. A couple of dozen of hands were lifted. He then had those who raised their hands open their eyes to see how many people like them were in the cathedral.

He then asked those with their hands up if they would be willing to come forward, and 10 young people did just that.

BISHOP JENKY spoke of Archbishop Sheen’s deep love for the priesthood.

“No life is more adventurous than the priesthood,” the bishop quoted Archbishop Sheen as frequently saying. “For like a trapeze artist, he is always swinging between time and eternity, and like Jacob’s ladder, he becomes a conduit between heaven and earth.”

The bishop called Archbishop Sheen, who was host of popular radio and television programs such as “Life is Worth Living,” an “untiring evangelist” who “may well hold the record for conversions in our country.”

Chris Kerasotes, a student at St. Bede Academy and member of St. Joseph’s Parish in Peru, was glad he came to the Mass.

“I liked the music and Bishop Jenky,” said Kerasotes, who attended the Emmaus Days vocation retreats this summer. “His words really connect with me.”

The many altar servers who took part in the liturgy were also grateful for the opportunity.

“It was quite a collection of servers,” said Sean Patrick, a sophomore at Peoria Notre Dame High School who serves Mass at St. Thomas Parish in Peoria Heights. “I thought the Mass was very nice and I learned a lot about Bishop Sheen.”

Asked what he would remember most about the Mass, Ryan Hartness of St. Patrick of Merna Parish in Bloomington — who attends Holy Trinity School — answered “the whole thing. It was amazing.”

AMONG THE concelebrants of the Mass was Msgr. Richard Soseman, who was back from assignment in Rome. Bishop Jenky praised his efforts as episcopal delegate to the Sheen cause, including the extensive research that was presented to the Vatican in early 2008.

The Mass was followed by a reception with lunch at the Spalding Pastoral Center, as well as tours of the new diocesan museum featuring photographs and memorabilia of Archbishop Sheen.

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