Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen died in 1979 when I was still a rather small child. I had heard of him and knew that he had hosted a television show in the 1950s, but I had never read anything he wrote or heard him speak. In fact, I dismissed him as just part of the “feel-good” 1950s. What relevance could he possibly have to a woman living in the 21st century? I was wrong.
My mother can't read for any length of time, so she often asks me to read books for her and then summarize them. She recently requested that I read “From the Angel's Blackboard: The Best of Fulton J. Sheen.” She had heard about it on EWTN and wanted to learn more. “From the Angel's Blackboard” is a summary of Sheen's work, a collection of essays on a variety of topics ranging from sanctifying the moment to working on getting rid of bad habits to love to almsgiving and bringing up children. I was very impressed by the depth of his thought.
As it turns out, Sheen was very highly educated, possessing multiple doctorate degrees. He served on the faculty of Catholic University for over twenty years. He also was a master of using modern media to spread the good news. He embraced radio with “The Catholic Hour” and television with his “Life is Worth Living” series. He also wrote 66 books and numerous articles. He was a great evangelizer. He received more mail from non-Catholics than he did from Catholics! He was responsible for the conversion of many souls. He also attended all of Vatican II and worked to implement the reforms it put in place. While some of his work deals with issues of the day, such as communism and Freud, many of his ideas are much more lasting and do, indeed, have relevance for us today. He also serves as a role model for all of us who continue to use modern media to speak about what it means to be Catholic. I have no doubt that if he were alive today, Sheen would be blogging and posting video on the internet.
Sheen spoke with kindness and humor and understanding. He never wanted his audience to feel inferior. Rather, he wanted to meet people where they were and bring them hope and meaning for their lives by pointing them to Jesus. At the very end of his life, he met Pope John Paul II. The Pope privately told the 84-year-old Archbishop that he had been a loyal son of the Church. On September 14th, 2002 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints officially opened the Cause of Archbishop Sheen, and conferred on him the title Servant of God.