Fulton Sheen and acceptance of the Child
No historical account of Catholicism in 20th-century America would be complete without mention of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, whose gifts were as rich as they were varied. He was born on May 8, 1895 in the small town of El Paso, Illinois and died 84 years later on December 9 in the metropolis of New York City, the day after the feast of the Immaculate Conception. He is buried in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The cause for his canonization was officially opened in 2002 in the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois.
Sheen seemed to embody, more than any other figure of his time, all that was good about Catholicism in America. He made it easy for Catholics to be proud of their faith and others to envy it. The Jesuit magazine America called him “the greatest evangelist in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States.” One journalist remarked, “No Catholic bishop has burst on the work with such power as Sheen wields since long before the Protestant Reformation.”
He won an Emmy Award for “Most Outstanding Television Personality” in 1952, beating out show-biz giants such as Lucille Ball, Arthur Godfrey, and Edward R. Murrow. Upon receiving the prize, he said, “I wish to thank my four writers: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” Between 1952 and 1956 according to a Gallup poll, he was one of America’s ten most admiredmen. From 1952 to 1957 there were 127 episodes of his “Life Is Worth Living” television program. A total of 113 television stations and 300 radio stations carried the program in 1956 to an estimated 30 million viewers and listeners.
Sheen authored 66 books and 62 booklets. He maintained a staggering work pace of 19-hour days, seven days a week. He was the head of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and involved in innumerable fund-raising programs for the Mission and for the poor. He seemed to incorporate all that was good about Catholicism within the frame of a single person.
Archbishop Sheen passed away six years after Roe V. Wade. What he had to say about the sanctity of life as an enduring truth is as timely today as it always has been… “In ancient Rome, there was a potestas patria, or the right of the father to dispose of a child. In our modern day, there is the potesta matria, or the right of the mother to dispose of a child. In between pagan Rome and today there was and still is a group of God-loving people who will protect those who are incapable of independent existence because they sense in their own frailty the mercy of God and, therefore, resolve to extend it to others.”
If defects are a basis for the destruction of life, he reasoned, then we should remember that for the first three centuries, Christians were regarded as “defective” and so were Jews in the mind of Hitler.
Excerpt by Dr. Donald T. DeMarco, from his latest book Apostles of the Culture of Life (Charlotte, North Carolina: TAN Books, 2018), “An Apostle of Many Gifts: Archbishop Fulton Sheen,” pp. 208-210.
DR. DONALD T. DEMARCO is author of over 30 books and has been an editorial advisor and regular columnist for several publications. He has served as corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and for 30 years as president of his local Birthright. A longtime professor of philosophy,heearnedhisPhDatSt. John’s University (New York).