Pope declares Archbishop Sheen “venerable;” Mass set Sept. 9

Photo Caption: With a portrait of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in the foreground, Bonnie Engstrom of Goodfield gives a reading at a Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria last December.

By: By Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI has approved the heroic virtues of U.S. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, clearing the way for the advancement of his sainthood cause.

The announcement June 28 came 13 months after Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, of Peoria presented Pope Benedict with two thick volumes about the life of Archbishop Sheen, whose home diocese was Peoria.

Bishop Jenky announced that he will celebrate a public Mass of Thanksgiving to honor Archbishop Sheen Sept. 9 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria — the same cathedral where the archbishop was ordained to the priesthood.

The decree from the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, signed by Pope Benedict, said Archbishop Sheen heroically lived Christian virtues and was “venerable.” Before he can be beatified, the Vatican must recognize that a miracle has occurred through his intercession.

Archbishop Sheen, who was born in Illinois in 1895 and died in New York in 1979, was an Emmy-winning televangelist. His program, “Life is Worth Living,” aired in the United States from 1951 to 1957.

Last September, a tribunal of inquiry was sworn in to investigate the alleged miraculous healing of a newborn whose parents prayed to the intercession of Archbishop Sheen.

The June 28 decree is prompting much rejoicing throughout the church in the U.S. and the Diocese of Peoria.

“This is a great day for the Catholic Diocese of Peoria and the Catholic Church in America,” said Bishop Jenky, who added that the “heroic virtues of a son from central Illinois and a priest of Peoria have been recognized by the Catholic Church.”

“Fulton Sheen’s zeal, wisdom, and holiness should help us build our faith,” he said.

Msgr. Stanley Deptula, executive director of the Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation in Peoria, said it was “not a coincidence that the church would render its decision on the heroic virtue of Archbishop Sheen on the same day as the Supreme Court issues its decision on the health care plan.”

He said the timing of the announcement shows how the church in the United States “needs heroes” and that Archbishop Sheen can “be an inspiration and a consolation to our bishops and other church leaders” since he was “a man of courage, and priest of prayer.”

Last September, a tribunal of inquiry was sworn in to investigate the allegedly miraculous healing of a newborn whose parents had prayed to the archbishop’s intercession.

“We are all living through this wonderful moment,” said Andrea Ambrosi, postulator of the cause for canonization of Archbishop Sheen.

“As you can tell, the cause is taking a special road — and quite quickly thus far. This is due to the importance of this cause for Fulton Sheen’s sainthood to the American church and all the faithful. We hope to go on with continued momentum,” she said.

Father Andrew Apostoli, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal from New York who is vice postulator, said he was “excited by this news.”

He similarly noted the significance of the announcement falling on the same day as the Supreme Court decision on health care law, pointing out that Archbishop Sheen was a “great leader of the faith, a defender of the freedom of religion and of our rights as Americans.”

He said Archbishop Sheen “certainly had much to say in defending religious freedom — not just in our country but around the world.”

Oblate Father Andrew Small, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, pointed out that Archbishop Sheen’s role as head of the Propagation of the Faith from 1950 to 1966 enabled him to spread the Gospel message “far and wide — from Peoria to Pretoria; New York to New Delhi.”

“He teaches us still that the church is missionary by her very nature,” he added.

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