On March 6, Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., president of the Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation, got word from the Vatican that a board of seven medical experts who advise the Congregation for the Causes of Saints unanimously approved a miracle credited to Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s intercession.
Upon hearing the news, Father Andrew Apostoli was elated.
Father Apostoli, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, was the original vice postulator for the cause for canonization of Archbishop Sheen. He is also an author, host of the EWTN weekly show Sunday Night Prime and speaker on both Archbishop Sheen and Our Lady of Fatima.
He shared some personal insights and indelible memories about Archbishop Sheen with the Register on March 6.
What were your first thoughts when you heard the news this morning?
I’ve been praying for a miracle. I have this booklet with Bishop Sheen’s photo on the cover. He has a big smile on his face. I looked at him last night and thought: “I hope he’s going to be very happy tomorrow.”
That experience was certainly providential. So was the way he changed the world, as Bishop Jenky has said. What were some of the ways he did that?
With his teachings, he instructed so many, many people in the media of television, where 25-30 million watched him on a Tuesday night for six years. It seems to me that people of that time seem to be good Catholics today. I often wonder if his programs and his steadfast loyalty to the Church have been a source of strength and faith in the people of that era.
Then there was his influence in the missions of the world. I remember [a story from] Msgr. [Hilary] Franco, who worked with Bishop Sheen for five years in the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
In 1999, he went to Africa for these large gatherings of priests getting ready for the new millennium. Monsignor told me a huge crowd of speakers were there, and he was simply introduced as a priest who lived and worked with Bishop Sheen for five years.
Some of the priests came up and told him, “We are being kept going by Bishop Sheen’s books and tapes.”
Even the founder of the order of the Incarnate Word in Argentina had a great love for Bishop Sheen. One priest told me one of the founder’s hopes was that wherever the missionary priests and nuns of the order went, he hoped they could translate Bishop Sheen’s works into the language, so people could learn their faith through his simple teachings, which were very clear to understand.
So Bishop Sheen had an influence all over the word. He wrote some 65 books. He spoke in so many different places.
How did you first encounter Bishop Sheen?
My own love for him started by seeing him on television as a little boy. Also, when he became bishop of Rochester, N.Y., I was in his seminary in Geneva, N.Y.
He ordained me a priest on March 16, 1967. I always remember that, in the sermon he gave that day, he said, “It is a joy for bishops to have sons in Christ.”
Now, when I pray to him, I call him my father in Christ.
How did you come to work on his canonization cause?
One of the reasons I got connected with the [Archbishop Fulton John Sheen] Foundation is because I felt we cannot let his voice grow silent in the Catholic Church. He still has so much to offer.
That’s why this cause and this approval of the miracle by the medical team to allow his possible beatification to go forward will almost guarantee his works will always be in demand. People will want to read the works of a blessed and a saint someday.
What are some exceptional memories of his influence on people — then and now?
He is an example to all of us. There was his daily Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament.
He had great love for the Blessed Virgin Mary and promoted the praying of the Rosary very much also. He was a great defender and promoter of the message of Our Lady of Fatima.
He was not afraid to say what had to be said. He said, “We don’t need a voice that’s right when everybody else is right; we need a voice that’s right when everybody else is wrong.” He was willing to step out and be that lone voice if he had to.
He also used to say, “The truth is the truth, even if nobody believes it.”
In all his writing and speaking, he was a great promoter of the Gospel. That is the New Evangelization.
For quite a while, you worked as the vice postulator for his cause for canonization. Can you tell us about that experience?
When we first opened the tribunal, I was asked to be the vice postulator, dealing with cases involving miracles, favors alleged. Some of them were rather outstanding.
One of them involved an unborn child. The mother had a tumor that threatened the life of the child. Someone who was praying said, “We need to invoke the intercession of a saintly person — Archbishop Sheen.” He touched the pregnant woman on the stomach, and the woman jumped. She went back for another sonogram two days later, and the tumor was gone. We never pursued that one because the woman never wanted to.
There were some other beautiful cases of Bishop Sheen’s intercession for people. Even now, in the office, I’ll get requests for prayer cards. (To obtain prayer cards, contact the Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation, 419 NE Madison Ave., Peoria, Ill., 61603.)
How did it come about that you were not involved with this particular miracle that was submitted for Bishop Sheen’s beatification cause and just approved by the medical board?
The original tribunal closed in 2008, when we sent all the information gathered about the virtues of Bishop Sheen [to the Vatican], and we also sent over documentation for two other possible miracles.
This [approved] miracle happened after that. They had to reopen the tribunal and [then] also assigned a new vice postulator for that case.
Can you tell us which possible miracles you sent over during the original tribunal?
One involved a little boy born with three life-threatening conditions, and he survived all of them. And the other was a woman who was operated on and had only a 35% chance of surviving. Complications occurred, and it was certain she would die. For two hours, her husband prayed continuously to Bishop Sheen [for his intercession], and she survived.
This latest one that was submitted for his beatification was so powerful. Should Archbishop Sheen be canonized, he would require another miracle that occurred after he was declared blessed.
Can you share another important memory you have of Bishop Sheen?
I met him years later [after becoming a priest], and one of the things that struck me was his great concern for the reform of the Church. He said in his homily at my ordination, “If there is any key to the reform of the Church and the salvation of the world, it lies in the renewal of the priesthood.”
He said, “I want you to become with me that beginning of a sanctified priesthood.”
What was the image of the priesthood he told priests to model themselves after ?
His image of the priesthood was that we had to be priest and victim with Christ.
This is the meaning of the Christian priesthood. He said in the Christian priesthood what is unique is that we offer ourselves. We are both priest and victim.
When John Paul II embraced Bishop Sheen, he said, “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus. You are a loyal son of the Church.”
In light of all your experience and closeness to Bishop Sheen, how do you personally think of him?
St. Francis is my seraphic father in my religious vocation, and Bishop Sheen is my father in Christ for my priestly vocation.
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.