Medical ruling a ‘significant step’ in Sheen beatification cause

Photo Caption: An alleged miraculous healing attributed to the intercession of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen has been approved by a team of medical experts convoked by the Vatican.

By: From Catholic Post and Catholic News Service reports

A seven-member team of medical experts convoked by the Vatican has unanimously concluded there is no natural explanation for the survival of a child delivered stillborn and whose heart did not start beating until 61 minutes after his birth.

The survival of the child, James Fulton Engstrom of Goodfield, now 3 years old and developing normally, was credited by his parents to a miracle attributable to the intercession of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, a Peoria diocesan priest who gained fame for his 1950s television show “Life Is Worth Living” and his 16 years at the helm of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

The medical experts’ report was announced March 6 in Peoria by the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Foundation, of which Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, is president.

“Today is a significant step in the cause for the beatification and canonization of our beloved Fulton Sheen, a priest of Peoria and a Son of the Heartland who went on to change the world,” Bishop Jenky said in a statement, available in full here. “There are many more steps ahead and more prayers are needed. But today is a good reason to rejoice.”

The case will next be reviewed by a board of theologians. With their approval, it could move on to the cardinals and bishops who advise the pope on these matters. Finally, the miracle would be presented to Pope Francis, who would then officially affirm that God performed a miracle through the intercession of Archbishop Sheen.

There is no timeline as to when these next steps might take place.
If the Engstrom case is authenticated as a miracle, Archbishop Sheen would be beatified, elevating him from “venerable” to “blessed.” A beatification ceremony could conceivably take place in Peoria, according to the Sheen foundation.

In general, a second miracle would need to be authenticated for canonization.

James is the son of Travis and Bonnie Engstrom of Goodfield. Writing in her blog, “A Knotted Life,” Bonnie said she “did a happy dance” after hearing the March 6 announcement.

“Please praise God today and celebrate this good and mega exciting news,” she wrote, reminding readers that her son’s healing remains “an alleged miracle” until is approved by the pope. “And then tomorrow go right back to praying for the cause.”

In an interview with The Catholic Post in September 2012 — after a tribunal of inquiry was sworn in to begin its investigation of the alleged miraculous healing — Bonnie said it gives her joy to think that Archbishop Sheen is still evangelizing through James.

“I believe it was Sheen’s intercession that played a key role in it, but it was Jesus who healed my son,” she said. “It was for his greater honor and glory.”

She described the events surrounding James’ birth at a 2012 gathering of the Midwest region of the Catholic Press Association in Peoria.

When Bonnie was pregnant with James, a feeling came over her that “God wants this baby to exist,” she said. “Maybe he’s going to be the pope. We didn’t know, but we were shooting high.”

During delivery, what caused James to be stillborn was that his umbilical cord had knotted itself, cutting off his blood flow and oxygen supply. The more he progressed through the birth canal, the tighter the knot became. “He was born stillborn,” Bonnie said, remembering how “his arms flopped by his side” when she reached for him to hold him.

Others at the home birth did CPR and chest compressions for 20 minutes waiting for an ambulance to arrive. Bonnie said she had no pre-composed prayer asking for help from Archbishop Sheen. “I just kept repeating his name over and over in my head: Fulton Sheen, Fulton Sheen, Fulton Sheen,” she recounted. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

At the hospital, James was described as “PEA,” for “pulseless electrical activity.” Medics tried two injections of epinephrine. Neither worked. A nurse held one of James’ feet in an effort to give him some measure of comfort, and Bonnie said she remarked later, “It was so cold, it was so cold. It was like in the saying ‘cold and dead.'”

Bonnie remembered that a doctor in the emergency room said, “We’ll try for five more minutes, then call it,” meaning recording the time of death. “If he had known about the previous 40 minutes” of efforts to revive him before arriving at the hospital, she said, “he would have just called it.”

She added, “They were just about to call it when his heart started beating — 148 beats per minute, which is healthy for a newborn. And it never faltered.”

Fulton Sheen was born May 8, 1895 in El Paso, located between Peoria and Bloomington. His family moved to Peoria so that Fulton and his brothers could attend Catholic school.

He grew up in St. Mary’s Cathedral Parish in Peoria where he was an altar server and later ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria. After advanced studies and service as a parish priest in the city of Peoria, Father Sheen was a professor of philosophy and religion at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.

In the 1930s he became a popular radio personality and later a TV pioneer. His weekly TV program, “Life is Worth Living,” eventually reached 30 million viewers and won an Emmy award for outstanding TV program.
From 1950 to 1966, he was the national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in the United States, the Church’s primary missionary apostolate. In 1966, he was named Bishop of Rochester of New York where he served until his retirement in 1969, when he was named honorary Archbishop by Pope Paul VI.

Archbishop Sheen died at the entrance to his private chapel in his New York City apartment on December 9, 1979.

In September 2002, Bishop Jenky officially opened the cause for the beatification and canonization of Fulton Sheen. For six years, the Sheen Foundation, the official promoter of the cause, gathered testimony from around the world and reviewed all of Sheen’s writings, before sending their conclusions to the Vatican.

In June 2012, Pope Benedict XVI affirmed the investigation that Sheen had lived a life of heroic virtue and holiness. Sheen was then titled “Venerable.”


EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about Fulton Sheen and the cause for his canonization, visit:

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