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Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s beatification expected to come soon

Martin M. Barillas Martin M. Barillas Follow Martin

PEORIA, Illinois, July 8, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria announced with “overwhelming joy” that Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, moving the famed television catechist a step closer to beatification.

"Now that the miracle has been confirmed by Pope Francis, the Diocese of Peoria can formally begin planning for the beatification of Archbishop Sheen, which will take place in Peoria,"  Bishop Jenky said in a July 6 release from the diocese after the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints promulgated the decree approving the miracle attributed to Sheen’s intercession. 

The miraculous healing of James Fulton Engstrom of Washington, Illinois, is credited to Sheen, who was the most celebrated television personality in the early era of television. 

The prognosis was dire for young Engstrom, who was believed to be stillborn during a planned home delivery on Sept. 16, 2010. Immediately invoking the intercession of Archbishop Sheen for their baby’s healing, parents Bonnie and Travis Engstrom asked others to beg for the famed archbishop’s intercession once little James Fulton was transferred for emergency treatment at a local hospital.

Having noted that the baby was without a pulse for 61 minutes, physicians prepared to declare him dead. But the baby’s heart went into motion at a normal rhythm. 

Despite doctors’ assertions that he would never see, walk, or feed himself, the boy has grown to be a thriving 8-year-old who likes “Star Wars” and riding his bicycle.

"It is truly amazing how God continues to work miracles," Bishop Jenky said in his statement. "I am so grateful that the Vatican acted so quickly after last week's transfer of Sheen's remains from New York to the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria." 

The cause for beatification officially began in 2003. Pope Benedict XVI recognized Sheen’s heroic virtues and gave him the title "Venerable" in 2012.

During a July 5 audience, Pope Francis affirmed the miracle attributed to Archbishop Sheen’s intercession and also recognized the heroic virtues of six men and one woman. In most cases, unless martyrdom is involved, two miracles attributed to the intercession of the prospective saint must be researched and accepted by the Church for canonization. One more recognized miracle is needed for Archbishop Sheen to be considered a saint.

According to Peoria’s diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Post, Bonnie Engstrom affirmed that God produced a miracle as evidence of his glory.

"I really don't think it was given to us, for us," she said. "I think it was given to the church, for the church."

Bishop Jenky "hopes and prays" that the beatification will come this year, the 100th anniversary of Archbishop Sheen's ordination to the priesthood.

Archbishop Sheen died on December 9, 1979, at age 84. His body was laid to rest in a crypt beneath the main altar of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. After lengthy and costly legal wrangling, the archbishop’s remains were transferred to Peoria on June 27 at the request of his niece, Joan Sheen Cunningham, and put to rest in a new marble tomb in Peoria’s cathedral.

When the New York archdiocese declared that it would not explore the archbishop’s beatification, the Peoria diocese started the process in 2002. Bishop Jenky suspended the cause in 2014, acknowledging that Vatican authorities expected Sheen’s remains to be in the Peoria diocese.

Sheen’s niece filed a legal complaint in 2016, asking that the archbishop’s remains be transferred to Peoria. The New York diocese repeatedly appealed the request in court. However, on June 7, the New York Court of Appeals denied further appeal of a decision by the New York Supreme Court that upheld the niece’s petition, thus allowing the transfer of remains.

Born in El Paso, Illinois, on May 8, 1895, the future archbishop and television show host was baptized Peter John Sheen. Ordained to the priesthood on Sept. 20, 1919, at age 24 at St. Mary's Cathedral in Peoria, he later taught at The Catholic University of America and led the Society of the Propagation of the Faith.

In the 1950s and 60s, he was known to millions for his Emmy Award-winning television show, "Life Is Worth Living," as well as a series of books on the Catholic faith. Appointed auxiliary bishop of New York in 1951, he was later named bishop of Rochester, New York, in 1966. Upon his retirement in 1969, he returned to New York City, where he died in 1979.  

Besides Archbishop Sheen, the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints also recognized the heroic virtues of seven Servants of God: Lebanese Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites Elia Hoyek (1843-1931); Archbishop Giovanni Vittorio Ferro (1901-1992); founder of the Institute of  Missionaries of Charity Ángel Riesco Carbajo (1902-1972); Father Ladislao Korniłowicz (1884-1946); Father Angelico Lipani (1842-1920); Sister Francisca del Espíritu Santo (1647-1711); and Etienne-Pierre Morlanne (1772-1862), the lay founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of Maternal Charity.

Pope Francis also approved inscribing the name of Blessed Bartholomew, a 16th century Portuguese Dominican Archbishop of Braga, in the book of the martyrs.

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