In fun and faith, Sheen Family Day shows life worth living, faith worth having

Volunteer Sarah Hogan, principal of St. Vincent de Paul School in Peoria, conducts a guided tour of St. Mary’s Cathedral. She touched on Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s ordination there, and the time he dropped a wine cruet on the marble floor, causing it to shatter, while serving Mass for Bishop John Lancaster Spalding. The bishop predicted that one day young Fulton would study at Louvain University in Belgium, as he had, and be “just as I am” -- a bishop. (The Catholic Post/Paul Thomas Moore)

By Paul Thomas Moore of The Catholic Post

Since the mid-20th century, Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen has been celebrated as a master of popular media for the purpose of inspiring faith. When they met in 1979, Pope John Paul II said of him, “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus. You are a loyal son of the church.”

At the Fulton Sheen Family Day in Peoria on July 8, a passport to the spirituality of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen — rooted in the Eucharist, the love of the Blessed Mother and her rosary — was accessible to the youngest of God’s children.

Katie Bogner (left) and Bonnie Engstrom, organized the Fulton Sheen Family Day, which drew 250 children and as many as 50 parents, grandparents and other interested adults to the Spalding Pastoral Center and St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria. (The Catholic Post/Paul Thomas Moore)

The return of the event after a hiatus of eight years was welcomed by more than 250 children and about 50 parents, grandparents and other adults from across the diocese and as far away as St. Louis, according to Bonnie Engstrom, who organized the day with Katie Bogner.

Working with the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Foundation, and the staff of the Sheen Museum, Engstrom said they wanted to provide “a joyful encounter for children and entire families, an encounter with the Lord and with their faith that is really lived out in a powerful, engaging, beautiful, fun way.”

When they arrived at the Spalding Pastoral Center, children were given Pilgrimage Passports, which they used to collect stamps for participating in activities at the pastoral center and nearby St. Mary’s Cathedral throughout the morning.

Along with goody bags and snacks, there were scavenger hunts and crafts, and tours of the Sheen Museum and cathedral, all designed to touch on the living legacy of faith bestowed by Sheen.


That living legacy continues to inspire and surprise. The “restoration” of James Fulton Engstrom, the son of Bonnie and Travis Engstrom, to full life and health after 61 minutes without a pulse or taking a breath at birth is a miracle that has been recognized by Pope Francis. On Fulton Sheen Family Day, there were indications that the venerable archbishop, who once served as the national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, continues to be a fruitful intercessor in terms of propagation of the faithful.

Francis Thurman, 7, and his sister Lillian, 5, of St. Philomena Parish in Peoria, display their monstrance craft art at the Fulton Sheen Family Day. (The Catholic Post/Paul Thomas Moore)

Fulton Taggart, 4, of St. Patrick Church of Merna in Bloomington, was at the event with his parents Joe and Lizzy and younger brother Cody. Lizzy said that after being told it would take a miracle for her to become pregnant without medical treatment, “Joe asked Fulton Sheen to pray for us to conceive Fulton. I got my positive pregnancy test seven weeks later — after three and a half years of infertility!”

After Fulton’s birth and a subsequent miscarriage, she had an operation to assist in having more children, while also being enrolled in natural family planning training. The happy result was son Cody, now 22 months.

Lizzy’s NFP teacher, Erica Miller of Epiphany Parish in Normal, a FertilityCare practitioner at OSF HealthCare Women’s Health and FertilityCare, was also on hand at the Sheen Family Day with her five children. Among them was her own Fulton, 7.

“Fulton Sheen has been our family’s patron since the beginning of our marriage,” she said of herself and husband Chris. “I often pray for Venerable Fulton’s Sheen’s intercession for my patients, especially those who are grieving miscarriage or infertility.”


The morning closed with a Mass at the cathedral celebrated by Bishop Louis Tylka. Concelebrating were Father William Miller, rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral and pastor of St. Bernard and Sacred Heart in Peoria; Msgr. Jason Gray, executive director of the Fulton Sheen Foundation and pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle in Peoria Heights; and Father Eric Bolek, administrator of St. Mary of Lourdes, Germantown Hills.

In his homily at the closing Mass for Fulton Sheen Family Day at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, Bishop Louis Tylka reminded attendees of one of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s favorite blessings, “God Loves you.” (The Catholic Post/Paul Thomas Moore)

During his homily, Bishop Tylka said that Fulton Sheen used his media pulpit to point out how we should “live our life for Jesus by living for others.” Sheen stressed that to help us do that, “what is most important is to stay close to Jesus in the Eucharist.”

Earlier in the morning at the Spalding Pastoral Center, one of the art stations focused on “Jesus in the Monstrance.” Children cut and pasted the face of Jesus onto a construction paper monstrance in order to help them “lift the veil” and see the reality of the Lord in the Eucharist.

To inspire them, Allan Smith, the visiting founder and director of the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Mission Society of Canada, loaned a rendering of the face of Jesus that is itself a relic — an 1879 linen print of a painting of Veronica’s veil that had been touched to the actual veil, as well as the wood of the true cross, and the spear that was thrust into Jesus’ side at the crucifixion.

Smith was on hand as part of the personal pilgrimage he makes annually from Ontario, Canada, to pray at the tomb of Archbishop Sheen in St. Mary’s Cathedral and visit the museum. He is one of approximately 300 pilgrims from around the world who does so each month.


Bogner said they wanted to ensure St. Mary’s Cathedral was an integral part of Fulton Sheen Family Day.

“We need that integrity of the Gospel which Sheen witnessed to in his life and even in his sufferings, especially in his sufferings.” — Msgr. Jason Gray

“He attended there as a child, he was an altar server, he was ordained a priest there, so there are lots of stories,” she explained.

Bogner said helping to tell those stories and facilitate activities at the cathedral and pastoral center were about 40 volunteers, including priests, seminarians, teachers and teens from neighboring schools, tour guides from the cathedral and staff from the Sheen Museum.

Msgr. Gray said that even though Sheen’s television program, “Life is Worth Living,” was first broadcast in the 1950s, its message is still as relevant today.

“It’s not just nostalgia,” he said, adding, “We need that integrity of the Gospel which Sheen witnessed to in his life and even in his sufferings, especially in his sufferings. . . . Life is worth living is just as true today as it was 65 years ago.”

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