Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: Catholic Media’s Greatest Star


By Thomas Reeves

When Sheen went on television in February 1952, his Life Is Worth Living programs became extremely popular, competing effectively against shows starring “Mr. Television,” Milton Berle, and singer-actor Frank Sinatra.

As 1999 ended, there was speculation about who had been the greatest, most popular, most significant, or most influential Catholic of the preceding 100 years. When it came to the world, Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa scored high on virtually every list. In the United States, names such as Francis Cardinal Spellman, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Al Smith, and John F. Kennedy received considerable attention. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen received little notice.

It is my contention that Sheen was the most influential Catholic of 20th-century America. Indeed, it could be argued that his impact was far superior to others receiving more attention in polls and in the media.

In the first place, he was the most popular public speaker in the Church, and arguably the best. Millions listened to his Catholic Hour radio programs from 1928 to 1952. Millions also received printed copies of these talks. In 1949, Gladys Baker, a noted journalist, observed that Sheen was “the name priest in America.” She added, “By members of all faiths, Monsignor Sheen is conceded to be the most electric orator of our times.”

When Sheen went on television in February 1952, his Life Is Worth Living programs became extremely popular, competing effectively against shows starring “Mr. Television,” Milton Berle, and singer-actor Frank Sinatra. A television critic exclaimed, “Bishop Sheen can’t sing, can’t dance, and can’t act. All he is…is sensational.” In his first year on television, Sheen won the Emmy for Most Outstanding Television Personality, winning over media giants Lucille Ball, Arthur Godfrey, Edward R. Murrow, and Jimmy Durante. After winning, he was featured on the covers of Time, TV Guide, Colliers, and Look. The journalist James Conniff stated, “No Catholic bishop has burst on the world with such power as Sheen wields since long before the Protestant Reformation.” By early 1955, his programs were reaching 5.5 million households a week.

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St. Patrick calls us to live in the Heart of the Church for the Sake of the World

Patrick cultivated a lifestyle of deep, constant and abiding prayer which bore the fruits of ongoing conversion. He learned to discern the voice of the Lord in his daily life, developed the eyes of faith and received the power of the Holy Spirit through which he was able to respond to the call to become a missionary in his age. Each of us is invited to do exactly the same in our age. The Risen Lord who changed Patrick’s life still calls men and women today.

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Staunch Evangelical Missionary Decides To Become Catholic


From the time I was a kid, I was taught that in the hierarchy of careers, foreign missionary service was right at the top of the list of things that please God. Marty and I discussed the possibility of his teaching in a school for missionary children. Since he already spoke Spanish, we knew it was likely we’d end up in Latin America or Spain. We prayed that God would use us as missionaries to bring Catholics to Christ. We wanted to bring them “true Christianity.” From the time we made that decision until our arrival in Guatemala, a little over eight years went by.

Shortly after we arrived in Guatemala my tidy paradigm of “true Christianity” began to disintegrate. For more than two years, I experienced a persistent nagging at the back of my consciousness regarding several theological issues. Getting to the mission field brought those problems to the fore.

Perhaps the most distasteful of the nagging issues was what I had come to see as the cultural hegemony inherent in Evangelicalism’s mission strategy. Evangelicals were (and are) importing wholesale a specifically American brand of piety, imposing the forms and symbols and jargon of “American Christianity” on the people in other countries. This religious colonialism bothered me a lot.

There was also the problem of illiteracy in Latin America. Since childhood I had been steeped in the mindset that the Bible is the literal touchstone of all things Christian. Consequently, I had a hard time integrating the Evangelical “read it for yourself” approach with a culture in which many people couldn’t read.

And finally, the Protestant notion of sola scriptura (the Bible alone) fell apart each time I tried to test it. I began to see that Evangelicalism’s insistence on going by the Bible alone led continually into division and problems. Worse yet, claiming to go by the Bible alone didn’t really provide any certitude of belief for believers.

Because of my upbringing and theological training, I didn’t realize at first that as soon as I allowed myself to question these three problem areas I was pointing myself in the direction of Rome. I thought I was just settling some troubling issues, but it was really at this point that my journey into the Catholic Church began.

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WEST SIKKIM, INDIA — Catholic evangelization and pastoral care in its purest and most direct form


At Behga, a village of a few hundred souls scattered among small plots of terraced farmland, a plastic canopy flaps in the breeze, supported by large bamboo poles. This is the parish church. Under it sit over a hundred people, wrapped in thick jackets and blankets against the night’s chill, who rise as the bishop approaches. The bishop was scheduled to be here at 4 p.m. It is now 8. This is his yearly visit and at least the day is correct. The actual time of day has little meaning for this special occasion.

William Sherpa, 31, takes a cup from a tray, and as the bishop bends his head back, William pours the warm milk into the bishop’s mouth. This is the traditional greeting of the Sherpas, the storied mountain-dwelling tribe, best known in the West as guides and porters for Mount Everest ascents; many individuals, like William, also have this as a last name. They are traditionally Buddhist, and were all Buddhist for centuries. It was just 20 years ago that Catholicism began making slow inroads in the Sherpa communities of western Sikkim.

Far removed from the church’s current dilemmas with sex abuse and debates over stem cells, women’s roles, and procreation, Bishop Stephen serves on one of Catholicism’s final frontiers. Overcoming immense natural and man-made hurdles to bring the church to the people of Sikkim, this is Catholic evangelization and pastoral care in its purest and most direct form. I was able to witness it firsthand traveling with the bishop and the parish priest of West Sikkim, Salesian Fr. George Thirumalachalil, over three days in the spring.

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