Archbishop Sheen remembered, celebrated around the world

NEW YORK — Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, whose radio and television programs drew audiences in the millions, was in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Oct. 2, 1979, when the visiting Pope John Paul II stopped there. The pope embraced the archbishop, who was frail but still possessed an inner intensity, and called him “the preacher to the world.”

Archbishop Sheen died in New York two months later at age 84.

On the 30th anniversary of his death Dec. 9, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, and a contingent from the Diocese of Peoria were in St. Patrick’s Cathedral to join Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York and others for a Memorial Mass on behalf of the sainthood candidate.

It was one of more than 1,000 Masses remembering Archbishop Sheen — a native of the Diocese of Peoria — celebrated in all 50 states and in 35 countries throughout the world to mark the anniversary of his death and to promote his canonization cause.

ARCHBISHOP Dolan spoke about the man who had used his formidable gifts —- and the mass media — so skillfully to spread the Gospel message.

“He wanted to get to heaven,” Archbishop Dolan said, “and he wanted to bring the whole world with him.”

Archbishop Sheen is interred in St. Patrick’s Cathedral crypt, which was open before and after Mass for anyone who wished to visit.

Archbishop Sheen was born in El Paso in the Diocese of Peoria, which opened his cause of canonization in 2002. Bishop Jenky spoke briefly at the conclusion of the Mass and presented the Angel Award, given by the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Foundation, to Joan Sheen Cunningham of Yonkers, the archbishop’s niece, who attended the Mass with other family members.

Bishop Jenky said that the award honors those who do good works and promote the canonization cause “in hidden ways.” It is named for the never-seen “angel” who used to erase the blackboard that the archbishop–then Bishop Sheen–used on his television set to write down the points he made.

BEFORE HE came to prominence as a brilliant communicator and a pioneer in using mass media for evangelization, Archbishop Sheen already had earned prestigious academic degrees and was an exceptional scholar and author. Bishop Jenky said in an interview that the archbishop “was one of the greatest minds in the Catholic Church in the 20th century,” yet his writing “tended to be for priests and people” rather than academics.

“I think the Lord put on his heart to build up the faith of the faithful,” he added. He said that Archbishop Sheen “had a huge impact on the deepening of spirituality in the priesthood and constantly preached retreats all over the world,” and also conducted an extensive prison ministry until late in his life.

For Msgr. Stanley Deptula, the 30th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was a “weeklong celebration” of the diocese’s sainthood candidate.

While in New York City, Msgr. Deptula — in his role as executive director of the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Foundation — was interviewed by Father Benedict Groeschel for an EWTN broadcast, preached at a parish in New Jersey, attended the premier of a new documentary on Archbishop Sheen’s life, and of course was present at Wednesday evening’s Memorial Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The documentary, titled “Servant of All: Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen,” was produced by the Sheen Foundation. Msgr. Deptula said the foundation is working with a national Catholic marketing group to explore distribution options, including EWTN and PBS affiliates.

In addition to Msgr. Deptula and Bishop Jenky, the contingent from the Diocese of Peoria included Msgr. Richard Soseman, John Gibson, Bill Engelbrecht, Jane Peverly, Karen Fulte, and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

MEANWHILE, in Peoria, a Memorial Mass was celebrated in the Peoria cathedral where Archbishop Sheen formerly was an altar boy and where he was ordained a priest.

“Thank you for being here, and God love you,” said Father Don Roszkowski, echoing a favorite Sheen phrase to close his homily at a Mass Dec. 9 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria.

Father Roszkowski told about 200 people attending the Mass that Archbishop Sheen’s life was about “bringing people to heaven.” His considerable skills as an orator, writer and media pioneer were only “part of the story.”

“He became such a wonderful evangelizer because he had this burning desire to help people grow in their love of God,” said Father Roszkowski.

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