Fulton John Sheen (born Peter John Sheen May 8, 1895 – December 9, 1979) was an American bishop of the Roman Catholic Church. His canonization for sainthood was officially opened in 2002, and so he is now referred to as a Servant of God.
Ordained a priest in 1919, Sheen quickly became a renowned theologian, earning the Cardinal Mercier Prize for International Philosophy in 1923. He went on to teach theology and philosophy as well as acting as a parish priest before being appointed Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of New York in 1951. He held this position until 1966 when he was made the Bishop of Rochester. Sheen held this position for three years before resigning and being made the Archbishop of the Titular See of Newport, Wales.
In addition to his clerical life Sheen was also a successful
broadcaster. For twenty years he hosted the night-time radio programme The Catholic Hour (1930-1950) before moving to television and presenting Life Is Worth Living (1951-1957). Sheen’s final presenting role was on the syndicated The Fulton Sheen Program (1961-1968) with a format very similar to that of the earlier Life is Worth Living show. Fulton Sheen received an Emmy Award for Most Outstanding Television Personality. His shows are still aired as recently as 2008.Sheen was born in El Paso, Illinois,
the oldest of four sons of a farmer. Though he was known as Fulton, his
mother’s maiden name, he was baptized as Peter John Sheen. As an
infant, Sheen contracted tuberculosis. After the family moved to nearby Peoria, Illinois, Sheen’s first role in the Roman Catholic Church was as an altar boy at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
After earning high school valedictorian honors at Spalding Institute
in Peoria in 1913, Sheen was educated at St. Viator College, Bourbonnais, Illinois (later closed; its campus is now home to Olivet Nazarene University).
Sheen attended Saint Paul Seminary in Minnesota before his ordination on September 20, 1919, then followed that with further studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C..
His youthful appearance was still evident on one occasion when a local
priest asked Sheen to assist as altarboy during the celebration of the
Sheen earned a doctorate in philosophy at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium in 1923. While there, he became the first American ever to win the Cardinal Mercier award for the best philosophical treatise.
Sheen then taught theology at St. Edmund’s College, Ware in England.
In 1926, the Bishop of his hometown in Peoria asked him to take over
St. Patrick’s Parish. After eight months, Sheen returned to Catholic
University in Washington, D.C., to teach philosophy.
Radio and television
A popular instructor, Sheen wrote the first of seventy-three books in 1925, and in 1930 began a weekly Sunday night radio broadcast, The Catholic Hour. Two decades later, the broadcast had a weekly listening audience of four million people. Time
magazine referred to him in 1946 as “the golden-voiced Msgr. Fulton J.
Sheen, U.S. Catholicism’s famed proselytizer” and reported that his
radio broadcast received 3,000–6,000 letters weekly from listeners. During the middle of this era, he conducted the first religious service broadcast on the new medium of television, putting in motion a new avenue for his religious pursuits.
Sheen was consecrated a bishop on June 11, 1951. He served as an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of New York from 1951 to 1965. In 1951 he also began a weekly television program on the DuMont network, Life is Worth Living. The show, scheduled for Tuesday nights at 8:00 p.m., was not expected to offer much of a challenge against ratings giants Milton Berle and Frank Sinatra, but surprisingly held its own, causing Berle to joke, “He uses old material, too.” In 1952, Sheen won an Emmy Award for his efforts, accepting the acknowledgment by saying, “I feel it is time I pay tribute to my four writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”
The program consisted of Sheen simply speaking in front of a live
audience, often speaking on the theology of current topics such as the
evils of Communism or the usage of psychology,
occasionally using a chalkboard. One of his best-remembered
presentations came in February 1953, when he forcefully denounced the Soviet regime of Joseph Stalin. Sheen gave a dramatic reading of the burial scene from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, substituting the names of Caesar, Cassius, Mark Antony, and Brutus with those of prominent Soviet leaders: Stalin, Lavrenty Beria, Georgy Malenkov, and Andrey Vyshinsky. He concluded by saying, “Stalin must one day meet his judgment.” On March 5, 1953, Stalin died.
The show ran until 1957, drawing as many as 30 million people on a weekly basis. In 1958, he became national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, serving for eight years before being appointed Bishop of Rochester, New York, on October 26, 1966. Sheen also hosted a nationally-syndicated series, The Fulton Sheen Program, from 1961 to 1968 (first in black and white and then in color). The format of this series was basically the same as Life is Worth Living.
While serving in Rochester, he created the Sheen Ecumenical Housing Foundation,
which survives to this day. However, his continuing celebrity status
led to travels outside the Diocese, preventing him from establishing a
close relationship with parishioners. He also spent some of his energy
on political activities, such as his denunciation of the Vietnam War
in August 1967. On October 15, 1969, one month after celebrating his
50th anniversary as a priest, Sheen resigned from his position and was
then appointed Archbishop of the Titular See of Newport (Wales) by Pope Paul VI.
The largely ceremonial position allowed Sheen to continue his extensive
writing. Archbishop Sheen wrote 73 books and numerous articles and
On October 2, 1979, two months before Sheen’s death, Pope John Paul II visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York and embraced Sheen, saying, “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus Christ. You are a loyal son of the Church.”
Death and legacy
Sheen died of heart disease on December 9, 1979.
He is buried in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, near the deceased
Archbishops of New York. The official repository of Sheen’s papers,
television programs, and other materials is at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in Rochester, New York.
In 2002, Sheen’s Cause for Canonization as a saint was officially opened, and so he is now referred to as a Servant of God. On February 2, 2008, the archives of Archbishop Sheen were sealed at a ceremony during a special Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria, Illinois, where the diocese is sponsoring his canonization.
Re-runs of Sheen’s various programs continue to be aired on the Eternal Word Television Network, introduced by Joseph Campanella. Re-runs are also aired on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. In addition to his television appearances, Archbishop Sheen can also be heard on Relevant Radio.
Books by Fulton J. Sheen
Bishop Sheen wrote 73 books, including:
- God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy 1925 Longmans, Green and Co.
- The Seven Last Words (1933, The Century Co.)
- Philosophy of Science (1934, Bruce Publishing Co.)
- The Eternal Galilean (1934, Appleton-Century-Crofts)
- Calvary and the Mass (1936, P. J. Kenedy & Sons)
- The Cross and the Beatitudes (1937, P. J. Kenedy & Sons)
- Seven Words of Jesus and Mary (1945, P. J. Kenedy & Sons)
- Communism and the Conscience of the West (1948, Bobbs-Merrill)
- Three to Get Married (1951, Appleton-Century-Crofts)
- Life Is Worth Living Series 1-5 (1953-1957, McGraw-Hill)
- Way to Happiness (1953, Maco Magazine)
- Way to Inner Peace (1955, Garden City Books)
- Life of Christ (1958, McGraw-Hill)
- Missions and the World Crisis (1963, Bruce Publishing Co.)
- Footprints in a Darkened Forest (1967, Meredith Press)
- Lenten and Easter Inspirations (1967, Maco Ecumenical Books)
- Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen (1980, Doubleday & Co.)
- His book Peace of Soul is:
Timeless wisdom on finding serenity and joy by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Topics include: Frustration
The Philosophy of Anxiety
The Origin of Conflicts and Their Redemption
Is God Hard to Find?
Morbidity and the Denial of Guilt
Examination of Conscience
Psychoanalysis and Confession
Sex and Love of God
Repression and Self-Expression
Remorse and Pardon
Fear of Death
The Psychology of Conversion
The Theology of Conversion
The Effects of Conversion