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US Archbishop Fulton Sheen to be beatified in December

Martin M. Barillas Martin M. Barillas Follow Martin

PEORIA, Illinois, November 20, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) -- The Venerable Fulton Sheen, famed bishop, author and media personality, will be beatified on December 21 at the cathedral of Peoria, Illinois.

The Diocese of Peoria released a statement noting that the beatification ceremony will take place at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception, where Sheen was ordained to the priesthood on September 20, 1919. 

The statement read: “It seems entirely fitting that the Beatification will take place at the end of this 100-year anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.” 

"The Cathedral is also the current resting place for Sheen, who is entombed in a marble vault next to the altar where he was ordained," the statement added. 

A verified miracle was needed for Sheen’s cause to advance toward beatification and eventual canonization: a recognition that he is a saint. Attributed to Sheen’s intervention was the unexplained recovery of James Fulton Engstrom, who was apparently stillborn in September 2010. When he showed no signs of life despite ministrations by medical professionals after his birth, it was after his parents prayed to the archbishop that their baby son recovered. 

It was the Diocese of Peoria that opened the cause for his canonization in 2002. Pope Benedict XVI recognized Sheen’s heroic virtues and moved to name him “Venerable” in 2012. The upcoming beatification was made possible after civil court wrangling was settled between the bishops of New York and Peoria over where Sheen’s mortal remains would rest. 

According to Sheen’s will, he wished to be buried at the Calvary Cemetery of the Archdiocese of New York. After his death, Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York asked Sheen’s closest relative, niece Joan Sheen Cunningham, if Sheen could be placed in the crypt beneath the main altar of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. The niece consented.

Then in September 2014, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria suspended Sheen’s cause, arguing that the Vatican had expected Sheen’s remains to be kept in the Peoria diocese. Despite her earlier affirmation, Cunningham said that her uncle would have wanted internment in Peoria if he knew that he would be considered for sainthood. Cunningham filed a legal complaint in 2016 that sought to have Sheen’s remains removed to the Peoria cathedral. In June of this year, three years of litigation concerning the disposition of the remains ended when the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, rejected the appeal filed by the Archdiocese of New York. 

According to a statement by Bishop Jenky, Cunningham joined Patricia Gibson, Chancellor and attorney for the Peoria diocese, and other personnel at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to disinter Archbishop Sheen’s remains. They were immediately taken to an airport on June 27 and flown to the Peoria cathedral. There they will rest in a marble tomb near the main altar. 

Born in El Paso, Illinois, in 1895, John Fulton Sheen was 24 when he was ordained a priest. After receiving a doctorate of philosophy from the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium, he was given pastoral assignments but also became a popular professor in England and at the Catholic University of America. In 1951, he was appointed auxiliary bishop of New York City. Following an appointment as Bishop of Rochester, New York, Sheen retired 1969 and was designated Archbishop of the titular diocese of Newport, Wales. He moved back to New York City, dying in 1979. That year, just two months before his death, he was embraced by Pope John Paul II at a Mass celebrated at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Building on his reputation as a teacher and radio show host, Sheen became a popular television personality in the 1950s and ‘60s in the United States. His television show “Life is Worth Living” reached millions of viewers of all faiths, supplementing more than 50 books. 

In 1947, Archbishop Sheen in a memorable radio sermon laid out the dozen or so tricks the anti-Christ will use to destroy Christians. 

Like the devil, whose trademark signature is to twist the truth to sell sin, so the anti-Christ, according to Sheen, will twist the minds of men to make them believe he is the “Great Humanitarian” who will “talk peace, prosperity and plenty.”

According to Sheen, the antichrist will come disguised as the Great Humanitarian; he will talk peace, prosperity, and plenty, not as means to lead us to God, but as ends in themselves. 

“He will write books on the new idea of God to suit the way people live. He will invoke religion to destroy religion. He will even speak of Christ and say that he was the greatest man who ever lived,” he said. 

“In the midst of all his seeming love for humanity and his glib talk of freedom and equality, he will have one great secret which he will tell to no one; he will not believe in God. And because his religion will be brotherhood without the fatherhood of God, he will deceive even the elect,” he continued.

“He will set up a counter-Church, which will be the ape of the Church because, he the devil, is the ape of God. It will be the mystical body of the anti-Christ that will in all externals resemble the Church as the mystical body of Christ. In desperate need for God, he will induce modern man, in his loneliness and frustration, to hunger more and more for membership in his community that will give man enlargement of purpose, without any need of personal amendment and without the admission of personal guilt. These are days in which the devil has been given a particularly long rope,” he added. 

A critic of Nazism and Communism, Sheen was also an effective proponent of racial harmony. During the Second World War, he wrote: “For a Catholic to be anti-Semitic, is to be un-Catholic.” He deplored nuclear weapons as immoral and also, for a time, advocated for an American withdrawal from the conflict in Vietnam.

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