Pastor, new club ensure that Abp. Sheen’s parents are remembered at St. Mark, Peoria

Msgr. Brian Brownsey, pastor of St. Mark Parish in Peoria, stands at the church’s high altar. He is now referring to it as “the Sheen Altar” because Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen celebrated several Masses on it, including the funeral liturgies for his parents in 1943 and 1944. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Seventy-seven years ago, Msgr. Fulton Sheen offered the funeral Mass for his mother, Delia, at St. Mark Church in Peoria.

On Saturday, March 28 — the anniversary of her death — Mrs. Sheen will be the intention when the 8 a.m. Mass at St. Mark is offered on the same altar.

Doing so is a labor of priestly love and respect, according to Msgr. Brian Brownsey, pastor.

The March 28, 1943, death of Delia Sheen is recorded in the register of St. Mark Parish in Peoria.

“Most people hear of the bond of fraternity that priests share with one another, but many people don’t know there is also a bond between priests and their brothers’ parents,” said Msgr. Brownsey. Often a first question when priests greet one another, he said, is “How are your parents?”

Msgr. Brownsey explained that Newton and Delia Sheen joined St. Mark Parish when their soon-to-become famous son was studying in Belgium following his ordination to the priesthood in 1919. Later, Archbishop Sheen’s good friend Father James Fitzgerald became pastor of St. Mark. Often when the radio and television pioneer returned to Peoria, he would stay at the parish rectory with Father Fitzgerald.

“As Mr. and Mrs. Sheen aged, Father Fitzgerald was very attentive to Bishop Sheen’s parents and visited them often when their son was not able to,” Msgr. Brownsey told The Catholic Post.


Recently, when Msgr. Brownsey was going through the parish’s death register, he saw it was signed by Archbishop Sheen on the day of his mother’s funeral in the spring of 1943.

“As a successor to Father Fitzgerald, and a diocesan brother to Archbishop Sheen,” Msgr. Brownsey told The Catholic Post, “I was struck with a sense of responsibility to see to it that Mr. and Mrs. Sheen continue to have Masses offered on their anniversaries, as their own son would have most probably done every year until his death (in 1979).”

In fact, Msgr. Brownsey is now referring to the high altar at St. Mark Church, located at 1113 W. Bradley Ave., as “the Sheen Altar.” In addition to celebrating the funeral Masses for his mother in 1943 and his father (Newton) the following year, Bishop Sheen also celebrated his first Christmas Mass on that altar at St. Mark in 1919.


On Christmas Eve of 2019, Msgr. Brownsey offered the parish’s 10 p.m. Mass on the Sheen Altar in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of that occasion.

Msgr. Fulton Sheen’s name is also in the register as the celebrant of his mother’s funeral Mass.

It also marked the beginning of the Sheen Family Christmas Club, and Msgr. Brownsey has invited parishioners and all Catholics to enroll. Masses will be offered monthly on the Sheen Altar for the intentions of club members, and funds generated by club members’ donations will also ensure that Masses will be offered every year for Mr. and Mrs. Sheen on their death anniversaries (March 28 for Delia and April 25 — the feast of St. Mark — for Newton).

The group is called the Christmas Club for a reason beyond the Sheen Mass.

“So many of the people who come home to St. Mark’s for Christmas no longer live here the rest of the year,” said Msgr. Brownsey. “And the few who do are not able to carry the entire financial burden of maintaining our wonderful family traditions.”

Those who join the Sheen Family Christmas Club are asked to make a donation to support the parish. Msgr. Brownsey suggests $7 per month — “less than a NETFLIX membership” — so that former parishioners “will always be able to come home for Christmas.”

Enrollment can be done online here. The site also supplies further information.


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