Volunteers offer welcome, information to all visiting cathedral, Sheen’s tomb

David and Linda Whitaker of Tinley Park, pilgrims to the tomb of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria on Aug. 27, are greeted by volunteers (from left) Kate Socha of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish, Peoria Heights; Regina Hutt of St. Philomena Parish, Peoria; and Patricia Ostaszewski of Epiphany Parish, Normal. More than 50 volunteers have staffed the welcoming table during the two months since the cathedral extended visiting hours following the transfer of the sainthood candidate’s remains from New York to Peoria. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Before they visit the new tomb of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, pilgrims to St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria first encounter a smiling face and warm greeting from one of more than 50 volunteers who take turns at a table just inside the side chapel entrance door.

“I hope to be a listening ear to those who need to share, a person to pray with them if they ask, but mostly to be a friendly face welcoming those who are coming to see the tomb of a man who was open to the Word of God and was drawn to share that with everyone around him,” said Kelly Ramirez.

“I can just envision Sheen himself standing and smiling at all of us who come searching for God and peace within our lives, and I just try to be the physical manifestation of that to others,” continued Kelly, who volunteers with her husband, Ray. They are registered both at St. Monica Parish in East Peoria and Sacred Heart, Peoria.

Recent pilgrims to the tomb of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen take a photograph. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

After the friendly welcome, the volunteers invite the visitors to sign a guest book and list prayer intentions, invite questions about Archbishop Sheen or the cathedral, offer a holy card, and direct them to the tomb as well as the St. Thomas More chapel, which houses the cathedral’s treasury of relics.

More often than not, they hear stories of what brought the pilgrims to the site — sometimes from the other side of the globe, including Poland, Russia, and the Philippines.

PILGRIMS SHARE SHEEN CONNECTIONS

“One moving testimony I heard was from a man who came with his wife from Oregon,” said Loreto Xavier, who drives from Bloomington to volunteer, often with her 13-year-old son, Jonathan. “He is an Episcopalian pastor. He was almost sobbing when he arrived, and said Sheen was the reason for his conversion, for his vocation, and all that he is today. He said that Sheen’s talks formed his faith, and that we Catholics are so blessed to have him.”

“There are so many pilgrims sharing memories from watching his show, relatives that have stopped in, but what I love the most have been the families with sons named Fulton,” said Lori Wilson, a member of St. Jude Parish in Peoria.

Kelly Ramirez told of a man who drove from Louisiana.

“He said he left work on Friday to drive up to visit Sheen’s tomb before he had to head back to work on Monday in Louisiana,” said Kelly. “He mentioned how he came across some of Sheen’s videos on YouTube and has been fascinated with his life and ministry since.”

“I have met several men who served Mass for Bishop Sheen,” said Ray Ramirez. “One was from Rochester, New York, when Bishop Sheen was bishop there. He now lives in Nebraska. Two of his children have been FOCUS missionaries.”

VOLUNTEERS RECEIVE MORE THAN THEY GIVE

Since the transfer of Archbishop Sheen’s remains from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York to Peoria two months ago, the volunteers have been needed during the cathedral’s visiting hours: Monday through Friday from noon to 2 p.m.; Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

They all claim to receive more than they give.

“I always visit at the crypt and pray,” said Deacon Roger Hunter of St. Jude Parish in Dunlap, who volunteers every Monday with his wife, Linda, adding he prays “to and for” Archbishop Sheen.

Recently, his prayers are for those taking part in a Cursillo in September. “I’m asking for Sheen’s intervention for many candidates for our weekend,” said Deacon Hunter. “I have total faith that’s going to happen.”

“All the people who volunteer at the tomb have such an enthusiasm and devotion to Fulton Sheen,” said Lori Wilson. “And being around them as well as the many pilgrims with the stories they share has greatly increased my appreciation and motivated me to make sure I read all of Fulton Sheen’s books!”

Xavier, who is a Secular Franciscan, knew she wanted to be among the volunteers, even though her health was not good this summer.

“The first day that the tomb became open to the public, my son and I met Bishop Jenky seated on the first pew and we thanked him for his efforts to bring Venerable Sheen’s remains to Peoria,” said Xavier, a member of St. Patrick Church of Merna in Bloomington. “The bishop pointed us to the spot at the altar where Sheen was ordained. That inspired Jonathan very much,” she said, and also encouraged her to pray during each visit for her son’s vocation.

The hardest part about volunteering?

“To close at 2 p.m.,” said Deacon Hunter. “We never get out much before 2:30.” While the doors lock at 2, those already inside may remain “and they leave when they leave,” he said. “I can’t imagine kicking people out.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: For the latest information on the anticipated beatification of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, visit celebratesheen.com

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