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St. Fultie, The Next American Saint?

Monday, 13 December 2004 12:00 AM

Twenty-five years after he was entombed in a crypt at New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral, a "long line of priests, nuns, deacons, relatives and fans," - as described by the New York Times - attended a Memorial Mass for the archbishop and visited his burial site. According to the Times they gathered at St. Patrick's hoping to jump start a campaign to persuade the Vatican to canonize him.

"It's like a kickoff, so to speak, with a liturgy," Msgr. John E. Kozar, told the Times. The national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, which includes the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, a group led by Bishop Sheen, added, "It's a public announcement in the most fitting way."

Best known for his TV appearances in his Emmy Award winning half-hour program, "Life is Worth Living," the archbishop regularly drew an astounding 25 million viewers of all faiths, getting higher ratings than Milton Berle, then host of one of one of the most popular TV shows of the times.

Highly persuasive, Bishop Sheen, as he was then known, also won many converts to Roman Catholicism including such prominent Americans as Henry Ford II.

His program mixed solid theology with homespun wisdom along with his pixyish Irish sense humor, for example telling audiences the script writers who helped him win his Emmy were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Bishop Sheen died in 1979 at his home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at the age of 84.

According to the Times, twenty years later the Rev. Andrew Apostoli, a Franciscan friar Bishop Sheen had inspired as a boy, began the push for his canonization.

In 2002 the Vatican declared Bishop Sheen a servant of God which allowed his supporters to make a case for sainthood. The process is rigorous, requiring a detailed report about his life, teachings and writings, and the documentation of at least two miracles attributed to him.

Msgr. Richard Soseman, the delegate for the canonization cause for the Rev. Daniel R. Jenky, the bishop of Peoria, Bishop Sheen's birthplace, told the Times: "The Mass is meant to be a public manifestation of the public enthusiasm for Archbishop Sheen, a showing of devotion, which could build more enthusiasm." Supporters of Bishop Sheen's canonization say that starting the canonization effort in Peoria, where he was ordained, rather than in New York will improve their chances of success because more canonization campaigns originate in New York.

The Rev. John J. Coughlin, an expert on Roman Catholic Church law at the University of Notre Dame, told the Times canonization often involves politics, making it difficult to predict if any individual will be so recognized.

Bishop Sheen attracted a large and fervent following, in part because he was able to make complex theological concepts understandable, Father Coughlin said. But, he added, it would be hard to predict the influence of that popularity on the Vatican.

His supporters are now compiling testimony on possible miracles that could be attributed to the archbishop. Joan Cunningham, 77, a niece of the archbishop's who lives in Yonkers, told the Times that the recovery of a sick young boy may have been one such miracle.

Standing in the crypt, Monsignor Soseman told the Times he was encouraged by the large turnout but was reluctant to predict whether Bishop Sheen might be declared a saint - a person proven to have lived a life of heroic sanctity worthy of emulation and, as a result, now eternally in the presence of Almighty God.

"We'll all know," he said, "in anywhere from two years to 50."

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Twenty-five years after he was entombed in a crypt at New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral, a "long line of priests, nuns, deacons, relatives and fans," - as described by the New York Times - attended a Memorial Mass for the archbishop and visited his burial site. According...
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2004-00-13
Monday, 13 December 2004 12:00 AM
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