Msgr. Richard Soseman, Vice Postulator for Sheen Cause, Loses Battle Against COVID-19

“Mons” was at heart a priest of Jesus Christ who spent himself for God’s people.

Msgr. Richard Soseman in Rome in 2012
Msgr. Richard Soseman in Rome in 2012 (photo: Alan Holdren / CNA/EWTN News)

If you ever met Msgr. Richard Soseman, I'll bet you haven’t forgotten him. The kindly priest from Peoria had a storied career — serving for 10 years at the Congregation for Clergy in Vatican City, working tirelessly as vice postulator for the cause of Fulton J. Sheen, publishing a book about his reflections from Rome, then serving as pastor of three parishes in Peru, Illinois. His outreach had recently been expanded to include the weekly “JMJ Moment” — five-minute reflections which he delivered on classic rock radio station WLPO in LaSalle, and which were picked up on Catholic Spirit Radio. He was beloved by all who had the opportunity to spend time with him.

On Wednesday, Dec. 9, “Mons” died at St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, from complications of the coronavirus, at 57 years of age. He had fallen ill in mid-November, and had been diagnosed with COVID-19 several days later. On Nov. 23, he posted news of his diagnosis on his Facebook wall:

“Since the COVID Crisis began, I have been as diligent as possible at following the protocols. Sadly, history tells us that even the most careful can become infected. As have I. Late last week I developed a fever, but I have no other COVID specific symptoms.... As soon as the fever developed, I quarantined myself at St. Valentine. Sunday, it was confirmed.”

Msgr. Soseman explained for his readers that offices at St. Valentine would be closed, but that his assistant Laurie would have the parish phone with her and could answer questions. He thanked his co-workers, Father Jeffery Small and Father John Baptist Uwigaba, for shouldering the burden of all Masses, funerals and burials during his illness. He assured his parishioners that Thanksgiving Masses would continue as scheduled. His final message to the world: “Have a very Happy Thanksgiving. Please pray for me.”

And today he’s gone. Already, the Catholic world misses his vibrant good humor and thoughtful outreach to his friends across the country and across the ocean.

In his home diocese of Peoria, Bishop Daniel Jenky issued a statement acknowledging the significant role Monsignor Soseman had played in the diocese. “Monsignor Soseman’s loss will be deeply felt in the Diocese of Peoria,” Bishop Jenky wrote:

“He was at heart a priest of Jesus Christ who spent himself for God’s people. During the years that he worked in Rome for the Holy See, he committed much of his free time to pastoral ministry. Back here in the Diocese of Peoria, he was loved by his parishioners and respected by his brother priests. His contribution in our work concerning the cause of the Servant of God Archbishop Fulton Sheen was of inestimable value. Monsignor Soseman was a great man and he will be deeply missed.”

It was my privilege to meet Msgr. Soseman in May 2011, when I was in Rome attending the Vatican Blogfest. Mons came to a party on our hotel rooftop; then, he was kind enough to invite some of us American bloggers to join him for Mass early one morning in the crypt level at St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Some of the bloggers and writers who were in attendance at that event offered their reflections on Mons’ many contributions to the Church. Brandon Vogt, then a recent convert and podcaster, is today content director for Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire Ministries. It was Brandon who first introduced me to Msgr. Soseman. He recalled:

“Monsignor Soseman will be fondly remembered not only as a great promoter of Fulton Sheen, but as a priest who channeled many of Sheen’s own gifts and qualities. He was gregarious, spiritually alert, and knew how to use modern technology to spread the Gospel, pioneering evangelization with email groups, texting, and Facebook. His long labor of love, as Judge for the Cause of Bishop Sheen, will bring Sheen to generations to come and, hopefully, result in Sheen one day joining the ranks of the blesseds and saints.”

Lisa Wheeler, founder and director of Carmel Communications, also praised the joyful priest who had become such a good friend. Lisa wrote:

“He was one of the most generous and beautiful priests I have ever known. When I would go to Rome on business, he would personally escort me to meetings if they were inside the Vatican, making sure I met all the right people and had the best access for my needs. My last time in Rome while he was still there, he tried to sneak me into a private veneration of the relics of Padre Pio for only the Vatican staff. It failed because of the Vatican police security happening at the time, bu that was his heart. He wanted anyone to have access to the Church’s best mysteries.

“I met him when I began some work on the resources for the canonization of Fulton Sheen. He was the Vice Postulator for the Cause and he spent a week with me in Rome as I screened the film Servant of All for Prelates and VIP’s in Rome. He gave of his time without question. And he so believed in the sanctity of Fulton Sheen and wanted nothing more than to see him canonized. I can’t help thinking that now both Father Apostoli and Monsignor Soseman, who both advocated so passionately for Sheen’s canonization, are now with him at this moment in eternity. I miss him already, even though his absence is not fully sinking in. I can’t imagine the grief of his family and those closest to him. We have lost a true prince of the Church in so many ways.”

Alexis Walkenstein is a publicist and editor of Fulton J. Sheen, a topical collection of Sheen’s writings. She has served as a member of the Advisory Board for the Cause of Canonization of Fulton J. Sheen. Alexis worked closely with Monsignor Soseman and reflected on his life and his dedication. She said:

“There are no coincidences with God, that dear Monsignor Soseman was brought to the next life on this day, December 9, the memorial of the death of Ven. Bishop Fulton Sheen. Monsignor was a tireless and humble servant working for the Cause of Canonization of our beloved Bishop Sheen. He knew his miracles. He studied his virtue. He was a friend and an intercessor always, always championing the little works of the laity that brought visibility to Bishop Sheen. He always had a kind word, but above all loved being a priest. My prayers extend to all those who knew and loved him and thank God for his witness.”

Dr. Peter Howard, S.T.D., President of the Fulton Sheen Institute, had not personally met Msgr. Soseman, but he followed his work for the cause of Fulton Sheen during its most important initial stages. He noted the significance of Dec. 9 on the Catholic calendar. “The greatest takeaway from my webinar,” Dr. Howard said, referring to his webinar “The Final Hour: Fulton Sheen's Plan to Save America and the World” offered by the Institute,

“...was based on Sheen’s statement that ‘nothing happens out of heaven without the greatest finesses of detail.’ So why would God choose to bring Venerable Fulton Sheen to his heavenly reward on the anniversary of the same day that He would send His Immaculate Mother to begin the evangelization of the Americas and the ‘new world’ at Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City in 1531? As the United States is at its most critical moment in its history, when its very survival is on the line, why would God providentially coincide Sheen’s death (and chosen feast day, once he’s beatified) with the date of the original feast of the Immaculate Conception in the eastern Church (Dec. 9) and the day Mary’s evangelization for the conversion of the America’s began? What connection is heaven wanting us to make?

“It’s clear to me that God chose Fulton Sheen to be the most important prophet and general for bringing America back to God in its final hour of the great confrontation for its very soul. I believe Monsignor Soseman understood this; and all the work he did to bring Sheen and his teaching back to the forefront of the Church’s reflection is something we Catholics in America need to be thankful for and pray and spiritually fight for in order to remove the devil’s attempt to keep Sheen from being beatified. We hope to see finished what Monsignor helped us start, because America needs Sheen now more than ever!”

Dr. Howard cited Fulton Sheen's quote that nothing happens out of heaven without the greatest finesse of detail. “What a gift to Monsignor Soseman,” Dr. Howard noted,

“...that he died on the same day Sheen did. That day will eventually be Sheen’s feast day... a day that Msgr. Soseman's tireless work for his cause brought about for the Church, especially in the United States. What a gift, and what a divine stamp of approval on the life of Our Lord’s faithful priest-victim who lived a life in the footsteps of Venerable Sheen.”

Myself, I've enjoyed being connected to Msgr. Soseman these past nine years. I was with him on that Roman rooftop, and I am still in awe over the deeply prayerful Mass in the crypt chapel at St. Peter’s Basilica, just across the aisle from the bones of Peter. And among Mons’ many talents was photography; he permitted me to use several of his outstanding photos from Rome on my blog.

Several years ago, I talked with him about his work with the Fulton Sheen Foundation and the lengthy research process that goes into preparing the positio, the collection of evidence obtained by a diocesan inquiry into Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s heroic virtues in a form suitable for presentation to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The positio for Fulton Sheen was, according to Msgr. Soseman, nearly a foot thick, and was carefully packaged in a handmade wooden case for shipment to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

But perhaps my favorite encounter with him was through the pages of his memoir, Reflections from Rome: Practical Thoughts on Faith and Family, because it was in that book that I got to see his heart. The book is a collection of brief reflections, two- or three-page stories, like a modern-day Aesop’s Fables (or a brief yet poignant weekday homily). Each vignette can help the reader to discover something, to appreciate something, to understand something, to become something that will help to improve his disposition and strengthen his faith.

I chuckled over some essays: “French Fried Bird Beaks” and “Toothpaste, Orange Juice and the Morning Offering” and “Is Sleep Justified?” I reflected on the last paragraph in each essay, showing how the simple things in everyday life — like football and radiators and Velveeta — teach us about God.

And if my recommendation hasn’t convinced you that you need to read Mons’s book, let me mention the noted clergy who have enthusiastically endorsed it: Cardinal Raymond Burke, Bishop Joseph N. Perry (Chicago), and Bishop Robert F. Vasa (Santa Rosa). Cardinal Burke said of Monsignor Soseman and his book:

“Like Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, for whose Cause of Beatification and Canonization he has labored, Monsignor Richard Soseman has sought to use modern means of communication in the service of the new evangelization. In these reflections, originally written as web logs, he draws on his experiences as a priest both in rural Illinois and in Rome to convey the truths of the Catholic faith in an accessible and appealing manner. May those who read the present collection of reflections be inspired and encouraged in the daily living of the Catholic faith.”

May Msgr. Richard Soseman rest in the arms of the Father. Mons, pray for us as we will pray for you.