Fulton J. Sheen was known by those who are 50 or so years old and older for his appearances on the radio show The Catholic Hour and the television show Life is Worth Living, for which he won an Emmy and other awards and praises. The television show recordings can today be seen on Mother Angelica’s television network EWTN.
In his day, Sheen was the best known Catholic in the United States besides the Pope. In this short, enjoyable book, Janel Rodriguez presents the story of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s life, revealing his down-to-earth nature. He believed strongly in God and wanted to spread the Faith wherever he could, not by forcing people to convert but by persuading them by his example and through his knowledge of the Faith.
Born in 1895 in Peoria, Illionois, Fulton J. Sheen’s name was really Peter Fulton Sheen. Fulton was his mother’s maiden name, and he spent much of his childhood with his grandparents where he became known as Fulton. The “J” is for John, which was his confirmation name. Bishop Spaulding of Peoria, Illinois, prophesied that Sheen would one day be a priest and eventually a bishop, and that he would study at Louvain University in Belgium. This all came true for Sheen. Spaulding recognized something in Sheen and supported his education. Bishop Dunne, his successor, also supported Sheen in his education and allowed him to teach at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Sheen was asked to go on radio to talk about religion. At first, producers thought no one would be interested in what he had to say. They were proven wrong. Catholics - and many more non-Catholics - listened to the show. When television became popular, Sheen was asked to do a half-hour show, Life is Worth Living. He was scheduled to appear at the same time as Milton Berle (“Uncle Miltie”) was doing his show on a another network. Many people watched Sheen’s show, and Berle referred to Sheen one time as “Uncle Fultie.” Sheen became a celebrity and was called upon to give lectures, conferences, and retreats for laity, clergy and religious.
Rodriguez shows through many examples from the life of Sheen that he had a great impact on people’s lives. One example is that of actor Martin Sheen, born Ramon Estevez, who was so impressed by Bishop Sheen that he changed his own name to Sheen. Fulton Sheen was also known for having the gift of reading souls or hearts. He was able to read that a person was in grave sin and that he was to help them by convincing them to confess their sins or even to convert.
In 2002, Sheen’s cause for canonization was begun. The vice postulator, Fr. Andrew Apostoli, C.F.R., provides a foreword to this book. Fr. Apostoli was ordained a priest by Sheen, and this story is included in the biography. This biography reveals some of the possible miracles connected with Sheen’s life. It does not, however, mention a miracle after his death. Two miracles attributed to him are needed for canonization, and these miracles have to have occurred after his death, not during his lifetime.
Rodriguez discusses Sheen’s work as a fundraiser and national director for the Society of the Propagation of the Faith. She reveals that Sheen was not a great administrator; he relied on others for this. She tells the story of the conflicts with Cardinal Spellman, the Archbishop of New York City. When Sheen retired from this job, he was given the opportunity to choose a diocese of which he wanted to be bishop. He chose the Diocese of Rochester, New York, which was a diocese having problems. He did not have an easy time with this diocese.
Rodriguez records that when Pope John Paul II visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, he asked where Archbishop Sheen was expecting him to have a seat in the sanctuary. Sheen was at the back of the cathedral. When he came up to the Pope, the Pope hugged him and said to him, “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus. You are a loyal son of the Church.” This sums up well the ministry and life of Fulton J. Sheen.
Janel Rodriguez is a freelance writer. She has written two books for children, Nely Galan (1997), which is part of the Contemporary Biographies series, and Gloria Estefan (1996) which is part of the Contemporary Hispanic Americans series. This present biography is not a children’s book, but it is recommended to those interested in the life of Fulton J. Sheen.