At the Mass marking the 30th Anniversary of Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s death, Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan thanked God for the life of the “magnetic” television and radio personality. He said Sheen’s talent and wisdom were at the service of his key goal of getting himself and the world to heaven.
In attendance at the Mass, celebrated in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, were many of Sheen’s friends and admirers who still look to him with “love and gratitude,” Archbishop Dolan said in his homily.
Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, representing Sheen’s home diocese, was present as was Msgr. John Kozar, who succeeded Sheen as national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.
In his homily Archbishop Dolan noted that Pope John Paul II had embraced Archbishop Sheen and praised him as “the preacher to the world” in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on October 2, 1979. Sheen himself was interred in the crypt below the main altar, beside Ven. Pierre Toussaint and the previous archbishops and bishops of New York.
“As members of a supernatural family, the Church, we gather to thank God for him, eager to swap stories about a particular episode, a witty comment, a word of advice, a particular quote, his hypnotic eyes, his soothing yet challenging voice, or an occasion when we were with him,” the archbishop’s homily began.
Archbishop Dolan recounted his own meeting with Archbishop Sheen while a seminarian in Rome. Walking through St. Peter’s Square, the seminarian saw a crowd gathered around Sheen.
Sheen told the crowd he had come from an audience with Pope Paul VI. Asked what the Pope had said to him, he “blushed a bit” and replied:
“The Holy Father looked at me, took my hand, and said, ‘Fulton Sheen, you will have a high place in heaven.’”
Someone in the crowd asked him what he said back.
According to Archbishop Dolan, Sheen replied with “that familiar sparkle and grin.”
“I replied, ‘Your Holiness, would you mind making that an infallible statement?’”
Archbishop Dolan remarked that this encounter showed the “key message” of Archbishop Sheen: “He wanted to get to heaven; he wanted to bring the world with him.”
Through his radio and TV shows, his “avalanche” of books and articles, his talks and conferences were all to help us discover the purpose of life, “eternal union with God.”
“Fulton J. Sheen wanted to get to heaven. Fulton J. Sheen wanted to bring all of us with him. Fulton J. Sheen wanted to be a saint. Fulton J. Sheen wanted us to be saints, too,” the archbishop summarized.
For Sheen, Jesus was “alive, still active, still powerful, still teaching, still healing, still leading us to heaven” because the Incarnation was “still going on.” Jesus is as alive in His Church as He was “on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.”
Archbishop Dolan closed his homily with praise for Archbishop Sheen.
“Would that we could return to that innocence and simplicity extolled by the Master in this evening’s gospel, as we gratefully recall listening to him on the radio or watching him on TV as children or youth, a man who, while indeed clever and wise, still realized he was at his best when but a child in the arms of his blessed mother, or on his knees for an hour before the Real Presence of the Way, the Truth, and the Life, magnetic eyes closed, and renowned voice reduced to a sigh.”