In every age, God raises up saints who best exemplify the virtues so needed in their own day. Archbishop Fulton Sheen (I895-I979) was one of the most loved and influential teachers in America in the 20th century. With wisdom coupled with a wonderful sense of humor, Bishop Sheen was a master communicator who showed the way to be authentic, down-to-earth and holy.
Bishop Sheen was the eldest of four boys, who grew up in Peoria, Illinois. After his ordination in I9I9, he continued his studies at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He acquired a degree in canon law. This was followed by a Doctorate in Philosophy in Belgium and later by a Doctorate in Theology in Rome. In I926 Bishop Sheen joined the faculty of philosophy in Catholic University where he taught till I950.
“The Hour that makes my day”. These words of Bishop Sheen introduce us to a beautiful practice that he had. He writes: “On the day of my ordination I made this resolution. I resolved to spend a continuous Holy Hour each day in the presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. In the course of my priesthood I have kept this resolve. This had its origin in a practice I developed a year before I was ordained. The practice is now well over 60 years old”.
Bishop Sheen continues: “One reason I keep the Holy Hour is to grow more and more into His likeness. As St Paul put it: “We are transformed into His likeness, from splendor to splendor”. We become like that which we gaze upon. Looking into a sunset, the face takes on a golden glow. Looking at the Eucharist for an hour transforms the heart in a mysterious way as the face of Moses was transformed after his companionship with God on the mountain”.
As a popular instructor, Bishop Sheen wrote the first of 73 books in I925 and in I930 began a weekly NBC Sunday night radio broadcast, the Catholic Hour. Two decades later the broadcast had a weekly listening audience of 4 million people. Time Magazine referred to him in I946 as the “golden voiced Msgr. Fulton Sheen” and reported that his radio broadcast received 3 to 6000 letters weekly. In I95I, Msgr. Sheen was made a Bishop
Bishop Sheen was very successful on the radio series, The Catholic Hour, for 20 years from I930-I950. With his hypnotic gaze, his disarming smile and dramatic delivery, he was a natural for television. So was born ‘Life is Worth Living’. It ran from I95I-57. ‘Life is Worth Living’ was an inspirational American television series. Hosted by Bishop Sheen, the series consisted of the Bishop speaking to the camera and discussing moral issues of the day. Often he would use blackboard drawings and lists to help explain the topic. When the blackboard was filled, he would move to another part of the set and request one of his ‘angels’ (one of the crew) to clear the blackboard.
The charismatic Bishop became one of the early stars on television winning an Emmy Award for the Most Outstanding Television Personality in I952. During his acceptance speech, Bishop Sheen gave credit to his four writers-Matthew, Mark, Luke and John-for his success.
Life is Worth Living held the distinction of being aired on more stations (I69) than any other regularly scheduled DuMont program and is believed to have been the most widely viewed religious series in the history of television.
From I950 to I966, Bishop Sheen was Director of the Propagation of the Faith. He presented the inspiring stories of the Missions and told of the love and joy of those serving the poor in those areas of the world. In that way he was able to supply practical support as well as prayers for the poor mission territories of the world.
In I966 Bishop Sheen was made bishop of the Diocese of Rochester, N.Y. He resigned in I969. In his letter of resignation he wrote: “I am not retiring, only retreading”.
On October of I979, Pope John Paul II met Bishop Sheen at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Embracing the Bishop, Pope John Paul said to him: “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus Christ. You are a loyal son of the Church. You have touched the lives of millions of men and women of our time”. Bishop Sheen responded: “I bow in humble gratitude for the Pontifical approval of my ministry of the Word”.
Bishop Fulton Sheen taught us all-“Life is Worth Living”.
Fr. Theodore Walsh, C.P.