Book Review: Meet Fulton Sheen: Beloved Preacher and Teacher of the Word

Meet Fulton Sheen: Beloved Preacher and Teacher of the Word, by Janel Rodriguez (Servant Books, 2006) is a new biography of the life of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Fulton J. Sheen was known by those who are 50 or so years old for his appearances on radio show The Catholic Hour and the television show Life is Worth Living for which he won an Emmy and other awards and praises. The television show recordings can today be seen on Mother Angelica’s television network EWTN. In his day Sheen was the best known Catholic in the United States besides the Pope. Janel Rodriguez in her short book presents the story of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s life. It is a very readable and enjoyable book. It reveals the kind of person Sheen was — a down to earth person who believed strongly in God and wanted to spread the Faith where ever he could. He did this not by forcing people to convert, but by persuading them by his example and by his knowledge of the Faith.

Fulton J. Sheen’s name was really Peter Fulton Sheen. Fulton was his mother’s maiden name and he spent a lot of his childhood with his Grandparents and became known as Fulton. The “J” is for John which was his confirmation name. Sheen was born in 1895 in El Paso, Illinois. Bishop Spaulding of Peoria, Illinois, had somewhat prophesied that Sheen would one day be a priest and eventually a bishop and that he would study at Louvain University in Belgium. This all came true for Sheen. Spaulding recognized something in Sheen and supported his education. His successor Bishop Dunne also supported Sheen in his education and allowed him to teach at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Sheen was asked to go on radio to talk about religion. At first the producers thought no one would be interested in what he had to say. They were proven wrong. Catholics and many more non-Catholics listened to the show. When television became popular Sheen was asked to do a half hour show, Life is Worth Living. It turned out he was scheduled to appear at the same time as Melton Berle (Uncle Meltie) was doing his show on a another network. Many people watched Sheen’s show and Uncle Meltie referred to Sheen one time as “Uncle Fultie.” Because of these two shows Sheen became a celebrity and was called upon to give lectures, conferences, and retreats for laity, clergy, and religious.

Rodriguez shows through many examples from the life of Sheen that he had a great impact on people’s lives. One example is on the life of the actor Martin Sheen. Martin Sheen’s real name is Ramon Estevez. He was so impressed by Bishop Sheen that he changed his name to Sheen. Sheen was also known for having the gift of reading souls or hearts. He was able to read that a person was in grave sin and that he was to help them by convincing them to confess their sins or even to convert.

In 2002 Sheen’s cause for canonization was begun. The vice postulator Fr. Andrew Apostoli, C.F.R., who was ordained a priest by Sheen, provides a foreword to this book. This story is included in the biography. This biography reveals some of the possible miracles connected with Sheen’s life. It does not mention a miracle after his death. Two miracles attributed to him are needed for canonization. These miracles have to have occurred after his death and not during his lifetime.

Rodriguez also discusses Sheen’s work as a fundraiser and national director for the Society of the Propagation of the Faith. She reveals that Sheen was not a great administrator, so he relied on others for this. She tells the story of the conflicts with Cardinal Spellman, the Archbishop of New York City. When Sheen retired from this job he was given the opportunity to choose a diocese. He chose to be bishop of the Diocese of Rochester, New York, which was a diocese having problems. He did not have an easy time with this diocese.

Rodriguez records that when Pope John Paul II came to the United States in 1979 he was in New York at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He asked where Archbishop Sheen was, expecting him to have a seat in the sanctuary. He was in the back of the cathedral. He came up to the Pope and the Pope hugged him and said, “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus. You are a loyal son of the Church.” This sums up well the ministry and life of Fulton J. Sheen.

Janel Rodriguez is a freelance writer. She has written two books for children, Nely Galan (1997) which is part of the Contemporary Biographies series and Gloria Estefan (1996) which is part of the Contemporary Hispanic Americans series. This present biography, however, is not a children’s book. It is recommended to those interested in the life of Fulton J. Sheen.

Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., writes from St. Gregory’s University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.

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