New Evangelization? Look to Fulton Sheen
Archbishop Fulton Sheen never missed an opportunity to show the world that life is, indeed, worth living. The Servant of God was born on May 8, 1895, and was ordained a Catholic priest at the age of 24. He went on to study at Catholic University in Washington D.C., and then pursued a doctorate at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. In 1923, the young and assiduous Sheen was the first American recipient of the Cardinal Desire-Joseph Mercier award — a distinguished honor “awarded once a decade for the best philosophical treatise,” according to a 1952 Time magazine article. Moreover, he was granted a further doctoral distinction, which was described as a “kind of PhD plus.”
Along with the degrees and accolades, the Archbishop may be best remembered for his brilliant television career. Built upon the widely acclaimed The Catholic Hour radio program, the television endeavors of Fulton Sheen garnered over 30 million viewers at its peak. His rare blend of philosophy and personality earned him an Emmy for Most Outstanding Television Personality during his first show, Life Is Worth Living. The Archbishop is accredited with leading millions to the Catholic faith, and is universally regarded as the first TV evangelist or televangelist.
Without a doubt, Archbishop Fulton Sheen blazed a bright Catholic path into the media of his day. It is difficult to entertain the idea of Pope Benedict XVI’s call for a New Evangelization without the Archbishop leaping to the mind’s eye. With a fierce fidelity and a loving heart, he was able to reach millions of people in a truly authentic manner: an unmistakable lesson that new media avenues do not require a watering down of the Gospel.
And we cannot forget the human aberration to which the good Archbishop continually offered his most vitriolic verses: communism. Whether in print, on radio or in front of the television camera, Archbishop Fulton Sheen denounced communism, Stalin and the crimes against humanity of his day. In fact, his indefatigable crusade in this area was observed and monitored by the FBI, as demonstrated by the declassified dossier on the Archbishop. In a strange apogee between communism and Sheen, the Archbishop read a part of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar on television — and in the traumatic burial scene replaced the characters’ names with names of communist leaders. He then went on to forcefully remind the world that Stalin would stand in judgment before God for his crimes. A few days later Stalin, was crippled by a stroke — and died within a week of Sheen’s statement.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen is a beacon within the Church that reminds the faithful not only to take advantage of new media resources, but to also utilize them with virtue and vigor. As when we look at all great men of the Church — such as St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas — the brilliance and astute faithfulness of the Archbishop is best seen in his grapples with the world around him. The auguries of the Archbishop reveal to us a call to go, to witness, and to win a world over to the love and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet, this great man of God is still a Servant of God waiting to be declared Venerable. Among those campaigning for the Archbishop and bringing to light his significant deeds is Fr. Andrew Apostoli. His writings and efforts serve to further the cause of Archbishop Fulton Sheen so that the whole Church may discover his life of faithful example — and may someday come to know him as a saint.
EWTN’s literary program Bookmark will host Fr. Apostoli on the cause of sainthood of Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Bookmark airs on Sunday at 9:30am ET and then again at 11:30pm ET. If you miss these you can catch them again on Monday at 5:30am ET and then Wednesday at 5:30pm ET.