The Priest is Not His Own
By Katie Bogner
“On Saturday, September 20, 1919, I was ordained a priest, by the grace of God, in the cathedral at Peoria. The stirrings which the Holy Spirit put in my soul in the early days were now fulfilled — or were they? I was now a priest. Yes. But is not that just half the story?” — From “Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen”
You have probably heard the story about a young Fulton Sheen altar serving at Mass in the Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria for Bishop Spalding when he dropped the cruet of wine on the marble floor of the sanctuary. Little Fulton wasn’t reprimanded, but instead Bishop Spalding predicted that he would one day become a bishop himself. The floor where Fulton Sheen broke the cruet is the same floor on which he laid prostrate before the altar the day he was ordained a priest in 1919. Spalding’s visionary statement continued to unfold and Sheen was consecrated a bishop in 1951.
This centennial celebration of Fulton Sheen’s ordination is a perfect opportunity to reflect on the profound impact Sheen made on the world through the gift of his priesthood. His unwavering devotion in bringing Christ Crucified to the masses was made manifest in his teaching and preaching, but most importantly as he administered the sacraments. He supported and inspired countless vocations through the way that he lived out his own call.
Fulton Sheen wrote, “I can never remember a time in my life when I did not want to be a priest.” He said that the flames of his vocation were stirred at a young age by his time as an altar server as well as by the example of the holy priests in his life. He often prayed as a child and asked specifically at his First Communion for the gift of a vocation, but never spoke of it to his parents. When he was entering seminary, they admitted that while they hadn’t vocally encouraged him to consider the priesthood, they had prayed he might have a calling and said, “If it is your vocation, be a good one.”
Throughout his ministry, but especially later in life, Fulton Sheen dedicated much of his time toward the formation of priests. The retreats that he gave for his brother priests were a manifestation of his love for Christ, His Church, and the gift of his own treasure in clay. In his autobiography he said, “I have loved every work to which I have been called or sent. But perhaps the most meaningful and gratifying experience of my life has been giving retreats to priests. . . . I really wonder if the priests who made these retreats received as much from me as I from them.”
LEARNING FROM SHEEN
Read Sheen’s book “The Priest is Not His Own” or the chapters in his autobiography titled “The Molding of the Clay” and “The Gift of the Treasure.” Listen to his talk called “Holy Orders” on YouTube. Make it a daily practice to pray for your priest and the priests of the world.
SHARING SHEEN WITH YOUR FAMILY
Click the following links for a printable coloring page of Fulton Sheen’s Episcopal Coat of Arms, including the meaning of each symbol Sheen chose. Have your child make a card for your parish priest encouraging him in his ministry and include a favorite Fulton Sheen quote.
Katie Bogner is the junior high faith formation teacher at St. Philomena School in Peoria. She blogs at looktohimandberadiant.com.