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 CNS Story:

SHEEN-MASSES Dec-10-2009 (830 words) With photos. xxxn

Archbishop Dolan says Archbishop Sheen knew Jesus was 'way to heaven'

Jennifer Kostyrka of Lynbrook, N.Y., presses rosary beads against the tomb of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in the crypt of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York Dec. 9. The crypt was open to the public immediately before and after Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York celebrated a memorial Mass for Archbishop Sheen. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

By Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- The purpose of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen's philosophy and theology, radio and TV programs, books, articles, retreats and conferences was "to help us discover the purpose of life -- eternal union with God," said Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York.

"His pivotal insight, central to revelation, was that Jesus Christ was the way to heaven, the truth about how to get there, the life we hope to share for all eternity," he said a homily Dec. 9 at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

The archbishop was the principal celebrant of a Mass at the cathedral to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Sheen.

Masses were celebrated in all 50 states and in 35 countries -- including Pakistan, Fiji and the Czech Republic -- to mark the anniversary and to promote the late archbishop's cause for canonization, formally opened by the Vatican in 2003.

In New York, Archbishop Dolan was joined by cardinals, bishops and priests from around the U.S. and abroad, including Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, Ill., Archbishop Sheen's home diocese; Msgr. Stanley Deptula, executive director of the Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation, based in Peoria; and Msgr. John E. Kozar, national director of the pontifical missionary societies in the United States.

The body of the late archbishop, who was an auxiliary bishop of New York from 1951-65, is interred in the crypt of St. Patrick's Cathedral. The crypt was open to the public immediately before and after the Mass.

In his homily Archbishop Dolan said it was a blessing to have in the congregation "so many of his family, friends, admirers and those we may call 'clients,' who look to him still with love and gratitude, eager for the wisdom he so effectively imparted, always in the name of Christ Jesus, whom St. Paul reminds us today, is the very "wisdom of God."

The packed cathedral included members of the Sheen family.

Archbishop Sheen "wanted to get to heaven ... wanted to bring all of us with him ... wanted to be a saint. ... wanted us to be saints, too," Archbishop Dolan said.

"With his voice Fulton J. Sheen gave us the story of Jesus, the 'greatest story ever told,' the way the stained-glass windows of the medieval cathedrals, or the brush strokes of a Raphael, a Fra Angelico, a Giotto once did," he said.

"For him, this Jesus was alive, still active, still powerful, still teaching, still healing, still leading us to heaven, because, you see, the incarnation was still going on: The word was still taking flesh; God was still becoming man," Archbishop Dolan said.

In Rochester, where then-Bishop Sheen was head of the diocese from 1966 to 1969, Father John Mulligan, celebrated a midday Mass in his memory at Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Father Mulligan, a senior pastor for the cathedral community and one of diocese's two vicars general, was a young priest during the bishop's tenure.

"He was a very dynamic individual who was full of ideas and enthusiasm," the priest said. "I think it was contagious."

Upon his retirement as bishop of Rochester in 1969, the late prelate received the title of archbishop.

"I've always felt that he brought with him a real commitment to live out the Second Vatican Council," Father Mulligan said after the Mass in an interview with the Catholic Courier, Rochester's diocesan newspaper.

Several items in the cathedral pay homage to Archbishop Sheen. One is the baldacchino, or canopy, now located over the cathedral's tabernacle. In his day, it was over the cathedra, or bishop's chair.

Other items are the pulpit he used, which is still in use today, and his crest, which is displayed along with the crests of all of Rochester's bishops.

It's important to remember "that his spirit lives on and that he continues to inspire us," said Father Mulligan.

Born in El Paso, Ill., in the Diocese of Peoria, John Fulton Sheen was ordained a priest of that diocese in 1919.

He eventually left his central Illinois roots and became known nationwide as the host of pioneering radio and television programs, including "The Catholic Hour" and "Life Is Worth Living." The latter was a television series that aired from 1951 to 1957 and attracted an estimated 30 million weekly viewers.

In addition to serving as a New York auxiliary and Rochester's bishop, Archbishop Sheen also taught philosophy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, 1926-50, and was national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, 1950-66.

In February 2008 the Peoria Diocese marked the end of five years of preliminary research into Archbishop Sheen's life and virtues.

Msgr. Deptula told the Catholic Courier that the collected information has been sent to the Vatican's Congregation for Saints' Causes. This information is being summarized, work that could be completed within six to eight months, he said.

The summaries would then be used by theologians, cardinals and bishops to determine whether Archbishop Sheen's cause for sainthood should advance.

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Contributing to this story was Amy Kotlarz in Rochester.

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Editor's Note: More information about Archbishop Sheen's sainthood cause is available on the Sheen foundation's Web site, www.archbishopsheencause.org/foundation.html.


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