Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895 – 1979) was a prominent leader in the Catholic Church and a modern day philosopher. His unique manner of preaching the Word of God gained him much popularity. His messages continue to be very relevant today.
Fulton John Sheen was born on May 8, 1895 in El Paso, Illinois. Fulton was educated and raised in the Catholic faith. He was ordained a priest on September 20, 1919 at St. Paul’s Seminary in Minnesota. Following his ordination, he attended the Catholic University of America to further his education. Sheen subsequently earned a doctorate in Philosophy from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium in 1923. That same year, he received the Cardinal Mercier Prize for International Philosophy – he was the first American to earn this distinction. Fulton Sheen preached and taught for several years before returning to parish life in Peoria, Illinois in 1926. His parish work was short-lived – less than one year after returning to St. Patrick’s Parish in Peoria, he moved back to Catholic University of America to teach. In addition to teaching theology and philosophy, he authored over 50 books and scholarly works in his lifetime.
In 1930, Fulton Sheen began a weekly Sunday night radio broadcast called The Catholic Hour. For two decades, this broadcast captured many devoted listeners, reportedly drawing an audience of 4 million people weekly.
From 1951 – 1965, Fulton Sheen served as the Auxiliary Bishop of New York. Concurrently, he began a catholic television program entitled Life is Worth Living in 1951. This catholic tv show was broadcast on Tuesday evenings at 8 pm, and competed for airtime with popular television stars, such as Frank Sinatra and Milton Berle. Sheen’s show held its own, and in 1952, he won an Emmy Award for “Most Outstanding Television Personality”. Fulton Sheen credited his writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – for their valuable contribution to his success. This television show ran until 1957, boasting as many as 30 million weekly viewers.
In 1958, Fulton Sheen became the National Director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. In this position, he supervised 129 diocesan directors throughout the country. He served this post until he was appointed the Bishop of Rochester, New York on September 26, 1966. During this time, Bishop Sheen hosted a nationally syndicated television series, The Fulton Sheen Program, from 1961 – 1968. This program was closely modeled after the Life is Worth Living series.
After nearly three years as Bishop of Rochester, Fulton Sheen resigned and was appointed the Archbishop of Titular See of Newport Wales by Pope Paul VI. This new appointment allowed Sheen the flexibility to continue his writing and preaching.
Fulton John Sheen received his greatest accolade on October 3, 1979 when Pope John Paul II embraced him at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. The Holy Father said to him, “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus. You are a loyal son of the Church.” With that last acknowledgement, Fulton Sheen passed into eternal life on December 9, 1979.
His contributions to the Catholic Church are numerous, most notably his discipleship of Jesus Christ. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen had a gift for communicating the Word of God in the most pure, simple way. His timeless messages continue to have great relevance today. He inspires each of us to live a God-centered life with the joy and love that God intended. His strong background in philosophy helps him relate to each of us in a most personal way.
On September 14, 2002, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints officially opened the Cause of Archbishop Sheen and granted him the title “Servant of God.” An effort is underway to have the Archbishop canonized.