Becoming a Saint

Father Andrew Apostoli reveals the latest on the progress of Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s cause for sainthood.
by Dave Hartline | Source: Father Apostoli can you give the readers an update on the progress of Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s cause for sainthood?

Father Andrew Apostoli: The diocesan phase investigating Archbishop Sheen’s Cause for Sainthood began in 2002 and that was started by Bishop Daniel Jenky CSC of Peoria, the boyhood home of Archbishop Sheen. The diocesan phase of the cause is drawing to a close. Through our interviews with witnesses who knew the Archbishop, we are hopeful that we can present testimonies that demonstrate that the Archbishop lived a life of heroic Christian virtue, which is necessary for sainthood. We also believe we have two significant healings that can be attributed to the intercession of Archbishop Sheen. One healing took place in Champaign, Illinois, and the other in Pittsburgh, PA. Both were quite extraordinary. One involved a woman who nearly died from a major tear in her pulmonary artery that occurred during a very delicate operation. Doctors felt there was no hope for the woman to survive, but she did. The other case involved a newborn infant who was diagnosed with three life-threatening conditions one of which was the worst form of a blood disease called sepsis. There seemed to be little hope and yet the infant miraculously recovered to the point that the child shows no signs of his illnesses. The doctors have been amazed. Father, please explain to the readers who are similar in age to myself (born in the 1960s) and have only seen Bishop Sheen on reruns on ETWN what it was like to see him on television in his heyday. What was the public’s reaction?

Father Andrew Apostoli: NBC purposely put him on TV opposite Milton Berle. The TV networks had an obligation to show one hour of religious programming each week. Since Milton Berle was so popular (he was actually called “Mr. Television,” at the time) no one expected Bishop Sheen’s program to do very well. However, after his first show he received some twenty-eight thousand letters. Within six months the number of Bishop Sheen’s viewers increased to the point that he beat Milton Berle in the first half hour of the time slot. It was amazing that percentage-wise more Jewish people watched the Bishop than Catholics or Protestants.
I believe this point helps to explain how Bishop Sheen was chiefly responsible for helping many Protestants and Jewish people to understand what the Catholic Church was really about. On a radio interview program a Protestant man shared with me that his family always watched Milton Berle and never Bishop Sheen. One evening, however, when the TV reception that showed Milton Berle was so bad his family looked purely out of curiosity to see what Bishop Sheen was like. He told me that from then on they only watched Bishop Sheen. Another person told me that whenever her grandmother, who was a Protestant, watched Bishop Sheen’s TV program, she always wore one of her best dresses. She felt like she was in church. Bishop Sheen had a special devotion to St Therese, the Little Flower. You wrote the forward to a book entitled: “Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s St Therese” A Treasured Love Story.” It has just been released. Could you elaborate on this?

Father Andrew Apostoli: Yes, I was happy to write the forward to this beautiful new book since I knew how much St Therese meant to Archbishop Sheen. I think there were many young men and women who were greatly influenced by the writings and example of St Therese. You must remember that she died at the age of 24. This type of devotion and dedication for someone so young had a great impact on people, among them Archbishop Sheen. This book is special because it was the fruit of Archbishop Sheen’s preaching about St. Therese in which case you have a saintly person writing about a canonized Tell us about why Archbishop Sheen spent an hour in Eucharistic Adoration every day.

Father Andrew Apostoli: While still in the seminary Fulton Sheen heard about the bold faith of a young Chinese girl who during a time of persecution of the Church in China gave her life for the Eucharist. This young girl made reparation in honor of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in a small church in China where the Eucharist had been desecrated by anti-Catholic soldiers. The little girl came back several nights in a row to sneak into the Church. There she spent about an hour in prayer and reparation for the Eucharist that had been desecrated. Each night she licked up a consecrated Host (remember in those days the laity did not receive the Blessed Sacrament with their hands). One night one of the soldiers saw her entering the church, and as she was receiving the last consecrated Host the guard shot and killed her. Before his ordination Fulton Sheen said that if this young girl could give her life in reparation for the Eucharist, he could spend at least one hour of each day in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. We know he kept to this. For example once while visiting missionaries in a remote village in Africa he arrived late at night and his first request was to be brought to their chapel so he could spend his hour. Archbishop Sheen’s final years were not lived without suffering were they?

Father Andrew Apostoli: You are right; they certainly were not lived in comfort. Some claimed that when Archbishop Sheen was young he was somewhat vain. Later in life the Archbishop admitted that vanity was his main fault. But he also said that if he had to do it again he would have done some things differently. However, at the end of his life he certainly was not vain or living in ease. His health suffered greatly especially in the last year of his life when he underwent three major operations. But most of his trials at the end were related to others. During the last 10-15 years of his life some began to say that Archbishop Sheen was passé, that his ideas were no longer relevant. Well I don’t know how anyone can say that the truth is passé. What I believe he really faced was resistance from some who wanted to change the authentic teachings of the Church.
The Lord also brought individuals to him who told of experiences which he probably wished he didn’t have to know. For example the one time ardent Communist Bella Dodd was a convert of Archbishop Sheen. She told him that while she was a Communist Joseph Stalin told her and other Communists that the Catholic Church was the greatest enemy of Communism. He wanted to undermine the Church by recruiting men into the priesthood who had no vocations and who would cause havoc by confusion and bad example. Bella Dodd told the Archbishop that she had personally recruited into the priesthood between 800 and 1200 men who had no vocations. Knowledge such as this was not easy for Archbishop Sheen. Yet it caused him to pray even harder.
There is also the story of a man (actually a leper) who was greatly deformed and who hid from the public as much as possible. Archbishop Sheen noticed him on the streets of New York City. In addition to paying for plastic surgery to help the man physically, Archbishop Sheen had lunch with him twice a week to get to know the man better and see how he was coming along. These are the types of stories that people need to know about Archbishop Sheen. I find it very revealing that so many young people, who weren’t even born in the 1950s and 1960s are watching Bishop Sheen on EWTN and buying his books. Of course that is the thesis of my book, The Tide Is Turning Toward Catholicism, that is young people are embracing the traditions and devotions of the faith with great joy.

Father Andrew Apostoli: Yes, Dave your book chronicles what we have all been seeing. Isn’t it interesting that the young people are embracing Archbishop Sheen and Mother Angelica who appeal to the roots and core of our faith. Father, do you see any connection between the work of Archbishop Sheen in the 1950s and the work of Mother Angelica in the 1980s and 1990s?

Father Andrew Apostoli: That is a great question . Archbishop Sheen pioneered the role of mass communications for Catholic audiences. It not only helped Catholics but those of other faiths to better understand Catholicism. Mother Angelica knew the power that television and radio were having on our culture and felt she had to help the Church even though she never thought of herself as someone who was gifted in front of the camera However, her naturalness appealed to audiences just like Archbishop Sheen did. Two different approaches, the same goal. God always raises up men and women at the right time to accomplish His purposes. The question is: will we listen to His call? Thankfully, Archbishop Sheen and Mother Angelica both responded to God’s call for all those who would become disciples through the media.

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