Today is a good day to join more than 1,000 priests and an even greater number of the faithful in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in remembrance of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and with the intention of moving forward his beatification cause.
May 8 marks the archbishop’s 122nd birthday.
The beloved TV evangelist, who was friends with St. John XXIII and Blessed Paul VI, helped bring hundreds — and maybe even thousands of souls — into the Church, with notable converts such as Henry Ford II, politician Clare Booth Luce, actress Virginia Mayo and several of his day’s best-known communists. The actor Ramon Estevez took the archbishop’s surname for his stage name: Martin Sheen.
Archbishop Sheen ordained EWTN’s own Father Andrew Apostoli and is often credited with the fact that many priests make a daily Holy Hour: He constantly exhorted his priestly brethren to adore the Blessed Sacrament.
The idea of birthday Masses in honor of Archbishop Sheen came from his good friend Lo Anne Mayer.
Mayer met Bishop Sheen in 1970 at her parish church. “We just had this instant connection,” she recalled to the Register, and they developed a deep friendship. He even baptized her youngest child.
Mayer previously served on the board for the Archbishop Sheen Foundation, which promotes his canonization cause and long ago sponsored a similar effort.
A hearing this September will seek to resolve a dispute over the Venerable’s mortal remains — which has stalled the canonization caused — between the Archdiocese of New York and Diocese of Peoria, Illinois.
“The only thing that can make a change,” believes Mayer, “is prayer and a lot of it.”
It was while reflecting about the situation on New Year’s Day this year that Mayer remembered the 1,000 Masses that had been offered for the cause previously. She hoped this could be a new way to “storm heaven” in order to help move things along. She made some phone calls, and thus the process began.
The effort employed no website. Instead, it relied on simple word of mouth and people promoting it through social media. Today, what started as an idea has garnered a worldwide response.
In addition to parishes throughout North America, Masses will take place today in roughly 40 countries, including New Zealand, Pakistan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Cameroon, Australia, Turkey, India, Japan, Indonesia, Croatia, Nepal, Denmark, Ethiopia and Italy, as well as at Marian shrines such as Lourdes and Fatima. Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry will celebrate Mass. And every parish in Peoria will celebrate its Mass today for the intention of Sheen’s cause. Masses will also take place at St. Patrick Cathedral in New York and at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where Archbishop Sheen taught theology and philosophy. Indeed, many of the people who helped spread the word and who will celebrate the Masses are people whom Sheen taught. Others who have helped include those who were either converted by him or whose parents were converted by him.
Larry and Bernadette Schumann will attend Mass in Archbishop Sheen’s honor at St. Bede Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. Bernadette once served as Venerable Sheen’s secretary, and the archbishop presided over the couple’s wedding.
According to Catholic News Service, Larry Schumann, now 80, said, “It is our prayer that with these Masses on May 8, 2017, throughout the world, the Holy Spirit will move his cause forward and that his beatification and canonization will soon be realized.”
The Schumanns’ pastor, Msgr. Tim Keeney, told the Register he is happy to participate because “Archbishop Sheen is one of those whom I have read and listened to and who has sustained my priesthood. Priests also need to have the Word preached to them, and Archbishop Sheen, Bishop Robert Barron and the various Holy Fathers who have served during my 21 years of priesthood have been the principle sources that I have sought out for that ministry.”
For her part, Mayer marvels at how this effort has spread through people doing something as old-fashioned and simple as reaching out to one another, calling this priest and contacting that friend.
Reflecting on this phenomenon, she said, “We have heard that Bishop Sheen is being promoted as the [patron] saint of communication, which I think is most appropriate. Looking back, I feel I have the honor of knowing a saint.”
Brian O’Neel writes from