NEW YORK -Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, whose radio and television programs made him one of the Roman Catholic Church's best-known figures in the United States, died Sunday night at the age of 84.
The archbishop was an El Paso native.
He died at his home on Manhattan's upper East Side after a long battle with heart disease. The body was taken to a New York City funeral chapel.
His religious commentary program, “The Catholic Hour," began on radio and eventually spread to television as "Life is Worth Living.”'
“The Catholic Hour” was begun in March 1930 by the National Council of Catholic Men, and Sheen was selected as its first preacher. The council estimated that the radio show reached 7.6 million listeners.
As national director of the Society for the Propogation of the Faith, Sheen was known as the instructor of some of the country's most famous converts to the Catholic faith.
Before his retirement in 1969, Sheen was credited with bringing into the Catholic faith, Heywood Broun, a newspaper columnist; automaker Henry Ford II; and Clare Boothe Luce, the playwright.
He also brought back into the church Louis F. Budenz, a former editor of The Daily Worker, the communist newspaper, and Elizabeth T. Bentley, a self-styled former communist spy.
A progressive on many social and church matters, Sheen was a relentless foe of communism. However, he drew a distinction between the ideology and its adherents.
"The ideology is wicked, the people are good,”' he once said. "One may hate communism as an evil system, but still love the communists as creatures made to the image and likeness of, God and capable of Divine redemption."
In 1967, Sheen urged that then-President Lyndon Johnson unilaterally withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam. The next year, he touched off a howl of protest within the church when he offered a parish church and other buildings for use in housing the poor, calling it a $68,000 "sacrificial gift."
Sheen was appointed bishop of Rochester, N.Y., in October 1966, and initially it appeared that he was giving up his national position for a small diocese in upstate New York.
But within a week of his arrival, Sheen became involved in a dispute between black militants and the management of an Eastman Kodak Co. plant in Rochester involving the hiring of 600 blacks.
During the dispute, he declared that, "Stained-glass windows are apt to becloud our vision of poverty and distress. “
His concern over poverty marked his numerous books and in his 15 years of service as director, on Catholic foreign mission fund-raising.
He moved to New York in 1969 from Rochester.
In July 1977, Sheen underwent open heart surgery for replacement of a defective heart valve.
Archbishop Sheen was born May 8, 1895, in El Paso, above the hardware store run by his father.He was a son of Newton Morris and Delia Fulton Sheen. The archbishop was baptized Peter Sheen, and he took the name John at confirmation. He later adopted his mother's maiden name.
The farm-background family moved from El Paso to Peoria when the archbishop was young. He attended parochial schools in Peoria and graduated from Spalding Academy in 1913. He completed his theological studies from St. Viator College in Bourbonnais and St. Paul 's Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.
He was ordained in Peoria on Sept. 20, 1919.
"I have no earlier recollections than a desire to be a priest," he once said.
After he was ordained, he did graduate work at the CatholicUniversity of America in Washington, D.C.Sheen then went to the University of Louvain in Belgium, where he later became the first American to be awarded the Cardinal Mercier prize for international philosophy. He also attended Angelico University in Rome.
While in, Europe, he taught at St. Edmund's College at Ware, England, and art several occasions engaged in public debates with leading European philosophy teachers.
In 1926, be returned to the United States to do parish work at St. Patrick Church on Peoria's south side. It was his first and only parish.
"For all intents and purposes, that was to be my life and I was happy about it," he said.
But less than a year later, he left Peoria after being assigned to teach philosophy at Catholic University.
The archbishop will not be remembered in El Paso as a man who was a high hat. When a small group of El Paso natives attempted, in the rnid-1970’s, to restore the building that is believed to be his birthplace, the then-bishop humbly discouraged the attention.
George Drake, El Paso, said Sunday that although the building was torn down, the group owns the land and still, hopes to honor the El Paso native.
Sheen returned to St. Patrick in Peoria in 1966 for the parish's 100th anniversary.He also returned to Peoria for the 75th anniversary of Spalding Academy in October 1972.
Sheen returned to Peoria for the last time in 1977 to receive the Order of Lincoln Award, which is the state's highest honor.
In 1934, Sheen was named a Papal Chamberlain of Pope Pius XI with the title of very reverend monsignor. Two years later, Pius XI made him a Domestic Prelate with the title of right reverend monsignor.
For years, he was an associate professor of philosophy at Catholic University, where he maintained small office.
On his desk, he kept a small religious statue and two books - "'Legends of Saints and Sinners" and "Irish Humour.”
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