Sister Lea’s love for, knowledge of Sheen leads to appointment as vice postulator

Sister Lea Stefancova, FSJB, is pictured with an image of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen at the Diocese of Peoria's Sheen Museum. Sister Lea has been named vice postulator of the beatification and canonization cause of the radio and television evangelist and author. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“Humbling” is the word Sister Lea Stefancova, FSJB, uses to describe her appointment as the vice postulator of the cause for the beatification of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. That she was able to come up with that word is remarkable since she admits to being “totally speechless” when she received the news.

“It’s a work of promoting somebody for sainthood. You almost shrink thinking about it,” said Sister Lea, who has worked in the archives of the Diocese of Peoria and Diocesan and Sheen Museums in the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria for 15 years and organizes tours to the Sheen Tomb at nearby St. Mary’s Cathedral.

Msgr. Stanley Deptula, executive director of the Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation, had no doubts about her appointment, though.

“It’s a work of promoting somebody for sainthood. You almost shrink thinking about it.” — Sister Lea Stefancova, FSJB

“Over her many years of serving as the curator of the Sheen Museum, she has really become a true expert in Sheen’s life and legacy,” he told The Catholic Post. “She is quite familiar with the process of the Cause and has gotten to know many of the friends of Sheen around the world.”

He added that she would “seamlessly” continue the work of her predecessors, Father Andrew Apostoli, CFR, who died on Dec. 13, 2017, and Msgr. Richard Soseman, who died on Dec. 9, 2020.

Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka said when they were considering who might succeed Msgr. Soseman, it was Sister Lea’s familiarity with Sheen’s cause, her organizational skills, and her proximity to the central offices of the Diocese of Peoria that made her the right choice for the job.

“We want to be able to move forward in promoting the cause for Archbishop Sheen however we can and in whatever way we’re able,” he said.

Her name was forwarded to Dr. Andrea Ambrosi, postulator of the Sheen cause in Rome. He gave his approval for Sister Lea to represent him in the United States “before the diocesan Curia and others, as needed.”

“HE WAS OURS!”

Sister Lea was born in Slovakia and entered religious life in 1989. She came to the United States in 1995.

Sister Lea looks at a painting of Archbishop Sheen in the Sheen Museum, where she serves as curator. The museum is in the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

In 2006, she became one of the founding members of the Franciscan Sisters of John the Baptist, a diocesan religious community based in Peoria Heights. Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, asked them to staff the diocesan archives and museums at the Spalding Pastoral Center.

At that time, Sister Lea knew Archbishop Sheen was from Peoria and that his cause for sainthood was underway, but not much more. Thinking she needed a better understanding so she could help visitors to the museum, she started researching.

“I read his autobiography, ‘Treasure in Clay,’ and to this day that is my favorite of his books,” she said. “It’s very easy to read. It’s no high theology, if somebody is thinking of that — that it might not be understandable. He speaks very plainly.”

She added that Sheen, who was born in El Paso and became known worldwide through his media ministry, writes in a way that is funny at times and serious at others. He is always humble, however.

“It’s the greatest insight into his life,” Sister Lea said.

She has also learned about Sheen from the people who visit the Diocesan and Sheen Museums and write to her, asking for information or holy cards. Those who have met him repeatedly talk about his humility and say that when he talked to you, he gave you his whole attention.

“It wasn’t just, ‘Good to see you,’” Sister Lea said. “He gave you 100 percent. I think that’s amazing.”

She also said the Emmy Award he received for his popular television show, “Life Is Worth Living,” and all the other fame that came his way was just a byproduct of something much more important in his life.

“He had a deep relationship with God and that’s where it was coming from,” Sister Lea told The Post. “He really did put God in everything. That was his basis for everything he wrote or he taught.”

That’s also why Sheen needed no script, she explained. “Whatever he learned in his heart, in his daily Holy Hour or encounter with God, that’s what he talked about.”

What does she wish everyone knew about Archbishop Sheen?

“He was ours!” she said. “And he was really, genuinely in love with God and obedient to the church.”

RENEWED ENERGY; MASS SET SEPT. 20

Bishop Tylka said there is renewed energy around the cause for beatification and canonization for Archbishop Sheen. A Mass to celebrate the 102nd anniversary of his ordination is planned for Sept. 20 and will be livestreamed from the Sheen Tomb at 8:30 a.m., and retreats are being planned, among other things.

“I’ve been asked many times when I’m going to make Archbishop Sheen a saint. I have no authority to do that,” Bishop Tylka said. “All I have is the ability to commit my time, energy and resources to continue to promote the wonderful gift that Archbishop Sheen has been to the church and is to the church.”

Sister Lea will be a good partner in doing that, he said.

“She has a deep love for the church. She’s got a deep love for Archbishop Sheen,” he said. “Her commitment to both is important.”

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