Locally produced documentary on Abp. Sheen debuts, inspires
His teaching inspired millions, and producers of a new documentary on “the holy and remarkable life” of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen are hopeful their powerful new film will do the same for this and future generations.
“Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: Servant of All,” is the title of an hourlong film biography of the famed Catholic media pioneer and author whose cause for sainthood is being promoted by the Diocese of Peoria.
The nationwide marketing of the documentary, produced by the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Foundation, begins this month. After a series of private viewings — including by more than 100 priests of the Diocese of Peoria following the recent Chrism Mass — the film had its broadcast debut on Easter Sunday on Chicago public television station WTTW.
It will be shown on Peoria’s public television station, WTVP-47, twice during April. The first broadcast will be at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 13, followed by an encore presentation at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 18.
The first public viewing of the documentary is scheduled for Saturday, May 8 (Archbishop Sheen’s 115th birthday) at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria. Two showings are planned, at 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Popcorn and soda will be available. Ticket prices for the afternoon showing are $2, and $5 for the evening presentation. Viewers may wish to attend Mass at nearby St. Mary’s Cathedral at 4 p.m.
Plans also call for it to be shown at the parish and regional levels, starting first in the Diocese of Peoria — where Archbishop Sheen was born in El Paso in 1895 and later ordained a priest — and then around the country. A DVD version of the film will be available for purchase at parish viewings.
Assisting in the distribution of the film is the Atlanta-based Maximus Group, which also marketed such major film projects as “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Nativity Story.”
To set up a viewing of the documentary at your parish, call the Maximus Group at 1-877-263-1263 or The Sheen Foundation at (309) 671-1550.
A two-minute promotional trailer can be viewed, and more information found, online at www.sheenfilm.org.
“Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen is one of the most influential voices of the 20th century,” said Msgr. Stanley Deptula, executive director of the Sheen Foundation who also serves as the film’s executive producer.
His thoughts were echoed in various ways by the 30 people interviewed as part of the documentary, which was funded by a private gift and created with production guidance and expertise from Converse Marketing, Inc., of Peoria.
“(Archbishop Sheen) really was one of the most important evangelists in the history of the United States,” says Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, of Peoria, in between plentiful photos and film clips from Archbishop Sheen’s life. “He may have more souls to his record than anyone else in our nation.”
“He was John the Baptist in the 20th Century,” added Msgr. John Kozar, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York called Archbishop Sheen not an actor, but a man of intense prayer. “For every one minute he spoke, he spent one hour in prayer,” he said.
Others interviewed included Sheen relatives, his former personal secretary, biographers, and young people inspired by his writings and recordings today.
“I thought he had tremendous impact on everybody, but especially in the Catholic family,” said television veteran Regis Philbin. “Frankly, there hasn’t been anyone to equal him since.”
Filming was done in Peoria, Milwaukee, New York and Houston, according to Msgr. Deptula, who began sharing his vision for the film after he was named executive director of the Sheen Foundation two years ago.
Plans for a 30-minute film soon expanded to an hour. The original 13 interviews grew to 30.
“And there’s still so much on the cutting room floor,” said Msgr. Deptula. “This could have been a mini-series.”
The documentary is already receiving enthusiastic reviews.
“I thought it was pretty gripping,” said Msgr. Mark Merdian, pastor of St. Matthew’s Parish in Champaign after Tuesday’s showing. “It showed his humanity. There is much about his life in the film I didn’t know about.”
“It really moved my heart,” added Father Don Roszkowski, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish, Metamora, and St. Elizabeth’s, Washburn.
It was Bill Engelbrecht, director of advancement for the Diocese of Peoria, who suggested working with Converse Marketing, which has produced films for companies such as Caterpillar, Inc., and Bradley University. The Sheen biography was written, directed and produced by Jason Salyers of Converse.
“The Sheen Foundation came to us with a vision of what this film should be, and they never lost sight of that vision,” said Amy Schlicksup, also of Converse. “They wanted to create a film that not only introduced Sheen to new generations, but also reintroduced him to those of us who may have heard of him, but didn’t really understand the impact he had, and is still having on the lives of millions of people.
“We’re proud to have helped them succeed.”
While the documentary is a “tight one-hour film,” Msgr. Deptula would be more than happy to update it in the near future should Archbishop Sheen be beatified.
“We need a saint like Fulton Sheen today,” said Father Apostoli in the film’s closing comments. He says the process “is moving along exceptionally well” and invites viewers to offer prayer and financial support.