Illinois natives and ‘brothers in faith’ envision 12-part TV series on Fulton Sheen

Both natives of central Illinois and sons of permanent deacons of the Diocese of Peoria, Dieterich Gray (left) and Sean Patrick Fahey (right) didn't really get to know each other until they moved to Los Angeles for work in television and film. Now they're a creative team hoping to bring Venerable Fulton Sheen to a new generation. (Provided photo)

Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen will be introduced to a whole new generation if Sean Patrick Fahey and Dieterich Gray have anything to say about it.

Venerable Fulton Sheen
(Photo courtesy of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith / Missio.org)

The central Illinois natives have spent the last six years getting to know Fulton Sheen and developing “Wolves & Sheep,” which they envision as a 12-part series that will explore his life. The pilot is written, as is much of the second episode, and they have a detailed breakdown for the rest that could be translated into scripts easily, said Fahey, who grew up in Peoria and is now a filmmaker based in Minneapolis.

“What I’m passionate about Fulton Sheen is his ability to appeal to a wide audience — cast a wide net that appeals to everyone,” he said of the sainthood candidate’s work on “Life is Worth Living.”

“He wasn’t relying on dogma to drive his story. He was appealing to the common man, the common woman, using the eloquence and wit that he had naturally with his well-honed ability to be a great orator,” Fahey said.

Gray, who is from Galesburg and now works as an actor in Los Angeles, called Sheen “an empire builder,” noting that as the director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith he literally built churches and schools, as well as fostering the faith of the people he served.

“There hasn’t been a week since 2014 when we haven’t had a conversation about Fulton Sheen,” Fahey said.

While their research and writing has produced thousands of page of work, he said it doesn’t feel like an effort. “It feels like fun.”

IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF SHEEN

The “fun” will continue from March 15 through the end of May, when Fahey and Gray travel to New York City for an artists’ residency that will allow them to walk the same streets Sheen walked, visit the places that would have been important to him, and get more details about the media culture there.

What I’m passionate about Fulton Sheen is his ability to appeal to a wide audience — cast a wide net that appeals to everyone. . . . He was appealing to the common man, the common woman, using the eloquence and wit that he had naturally with his well-honed ability to be a great orator,” – Sean Patrick Fahey

At the same time they’ll be talking to people in New York and Los Angeles to begin casting the roles of Archbishop Sheen, Cardinal Francis Spellman, and Clare Boothe Luce, the playwright and political figure who would be received into the Catholic Church due to Sheen’s spiritual guidance. Gray said interest is also building in Los Angeles, even outside the circles one might expect.

“The fact that we are where we are now is a blessing,” Fahey said.

Part of that is how their creative relationship and connection as “brothers in faith” developed.

The son of Mary Ann Fahey-Darling and the late Deacon Dennis Fahey, Sean attended St. Vincent de Paul School in Peoria and was an altar server there and at St. Martin de Porres Church (now St. Joseph). He attended the University of Illinois to study finance, but soon got involved in the independent film scene in Toronto and has worked as a writer, producer and director in Chicago and Los Angeles.

Gray is the son of Deacon Rod and Idalee Gray of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Galesburg. He went to Illinois State University and earned a degree in fine arts with a focus in theater, film and television.

They both moved to Los Angeles at the same time for work, but didn’t really get to know each other until they attended a housewarming party for a mutual friend.

FAITHFUL INTERCESSOR

When the work dried up for Fahey, he went through a “dark night of the soul.” In need of guidance and a listening ear, he called his mother. “If there was ever someone in your field, if there was a saint you could pray to for their faithful intercession, it would be Fulton Sheen,” she told him.

Two days later he picked up Sheen’s book, “Treasure in Clay,” and read it in a day. Soon he was learning everything he could and writing “aggressively” on a project he thought might be a feature film originally. At that point Gray reached out and they started working together.

Eventually they connected with Julie Enzenberger at the Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation in Peoria, who directed them to even more resources.

A bigger story emerged as they did their research and the project soon grew into a series about the man Fahey said was “doomed to fail” when he started “Life is Worth Living.”

“There had never been televangelism before Sheen,” Fahey said. “He was put into a time slot intentionally against the biggest show in America, the Milton Berle Texaco Star Theater, because of an FCC mandate.”

He explained that at that time, broadcasters had to present programming for the public good, so Sheen’s show was an effort to meet that requirement.

“Religious programs had never worked before Sheen,” Fahey said. “What does it do? At the end of the first season it’s the number one show in America.”

Archbishop Sheen would go on to be “a voice of reason” in a turbulent time, he said, adding that people today need that same wisdom.

In an effort to support themselves while they are doing their residency in New York, Gray and Fahey have started a crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo that will run through the end of February. For more information on the project and how to help, visit https://igg.me/at/sheenproject.

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