U.S. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen is pictured preaching in an undated photo. (CNS photo)
On June 28, 2012, Pope
Benedict XVI promulgated a decree on the heroic virtues of Archbishop Fulton Sheen. The
full text of the decree was subsequently published in 2013 in Acta Apostolicae Sedis (vol. 6, pp.
519-22). What follows is an unofficial translation of that text: the Vatican
typically does not release official translations of these decrees.
As discussed in “Making Saints,” a
summary of the process of beatification and canonization published by the
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the declaration of heroic virtue
allows a Servant of God to be given the title “venerable.”
The decree inaccurately states that Archbishop Sheen was
appointed bishop of Rochester in 1967; he was actually appointed the previous
Cause of the Beatification and Canonization of the Servant
of God Peter John Fulton Sheen, titular Archbishop of Newport [Wales] and at
one time Bishop of Rochester in America (1895-1979)
A DECREE ON THE VIRTUES
“But even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you
will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts
reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who
calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pt. 3:14-15).
In this exhortation of the Apostle Peter is found almost the
whole existence of the Servant of God Peter John Fulton Sheen, who was a priest
and bishop devoted to the glory of God and the salvation of souls. A genuine
apostle of the modern age, the Servant of God spread the Gospel message, employing
the most recent means of technology, energetically occupied with the
instruction of America’s societyand he fulfilled his office with the generous
strength of charity.
The Servant of God was born on May 8, 1895, in El Paso in
the State of Illinois in the United States of America, from parents who were Irish
in stock and who ran a small tool store. Five years later, for the sake of the
family interest, they moved to the nearby city Peoria. There the boy successfully
attended schools, both of childhood education and of liberal learning.
In 1913, Fulton, a young man, wished to pursue higher studies
and was enrolled in St. Viator College in Bourbonnais in Illinois, a college
that was directed by the Parochial Clerics of St. Viator. In those years, he
clearly foresaw a priestly vocation. He renounced a yearly scholarship that was
offered him for the sake of studies and was accepted at Saint Paul Seminary in Minnesota.
When the course of studies was completed, he was ordained a priest on September
In 1920, Father Fulton obtained a baccalaureate of canon
law and of sacred theology at the Catholic University of America, and afterwards
also was declared a doctor of philosophy at the University of Leuven. In the
academic year 1924-1925, he received the mandate of delivering a course of
dogmatic theology at St. Edmund’s College in Britain. On July 6, 1925, he
passed, in the best manner possible, the final examination at Leuven (agrégé) for teaching philosophy, with
the status of professor. He was named professor at the Catholic University of
America, a position that he held until 1950.
Father Fulton Sheen, in March 1930, became moderator on the
radio broadcast whose name was The
Catholic Hour, which he directed for 20 years, gaining in a short time a
very great number of listeners and also the singular support of the people,
with the result that there were not a few who converted to the Catholic faith.
For this reason, the Supreme Pontiff Pius XI named him Domestic Prelate. From
1950 to 1966, he was assigned the direction and care of the whole National
Society of the Propagation of the Faith; fostering particularly the missionary
activity of the Church, he carried out this duty.
On May 28, 1951, he was named auxiliary bishop of New York.
In the ensuing years, the Servant of God continued his apostolate with new
fervor through the means of social communication, and he moderated a program
whose name was Life Is Worth Living, which,
moreover, was broadcast by almost 500 television and radio stations, reaching
three million listeners in a week. In this role, he distinguished himself with supreme
diligence and care, explaining with effective simplicity even the more
difficult things of faith. In this noble service, he gained in 1952 the
television prize of the greatest importance, commonly called the Emmy Award.
In those years of fruitful apostolate, the Servant of God
also encountered not a few impediments, difficulties, and disagreements.
Nevertheless, he began to undertake very many journeys around the world for
accomplishing his duties. Because of this effective activity, the Blessed
Pontiff John XXIII named him to the Pontifical Commission for the Evangelization
of Peoples and noted that he was a more engaged and constant leader in the
preparatory sessions of the Second Vatican Council. The Servant of God, the
Pontiff Paul VI, also employed him after the Council on the Commission on the
On October 21, 1967 [sic], the Pontiff entrusted to him the
Diocese of Rochester in the State of New York. There, Bishop Fulton reorganized
and renewed all the institutions. He encouraged the activities of the Church,
the care of souls; supplying for the education of pupils, seminarians, and
clerics, he arranged the greatest support and care for the needy and sick. In
every matter, the Servant of God applied the proposals of the Council and
proclaimed them, especially toward the weaker rank of society, in this manner
bringing about a true pastoral outreach to the marginalized. The Pontiff Paul
VI greatly esteemed his apostolate.
In October 1969, the Holy See accepted the Servant of God’s
resignation, naming him titular archbishop of Newport. In this way, he was able
to return to New York, where he wanted to live in a small and humble residence,
carrying out domestic matters by himself. And moreover, in this last period of
life, he was able to resume the service of teaching and preaching, both in the
United States of America and in European nations.
His singular pastoral activity is established on, and
guided by, a most solid interior life, which was sustained daily by the
Eucharist, liturgical prayer, and Marian devotion. The presence of God was
constantly perceived in his life; in this manner, the exercise of the virtues
naturally flowed forth in his life, and in many incidents, there was in him an
example of virtue and sanctity.
On July 15, 1977, he suffered when he underwent heart
surgery, at the risk of life, and thus his health was greatly diminished. On October
2, 1979, neglecting his own circumstances of health, he wanted to be present at
the discourse with the Blessed Pontiff John Paul II, who was conducting an apostolic
journey through the United States of America. On this occasion, the archbishop
arrived at the Cathedral of New York by ambulance, and the Pontiff, embracing
him, greatly praised his constant and intense dedication in the diffusion of
the words of God and his singular faith in the Church. On December 9, 1979, in
New York, the Servant of God piously departed from mortal life.
Because of his reputation of sanctity, a diocesan inquiry was
held at Peoria’s curia from 2004 to 2008; the inquiry’s juridical validity was
approved by this Congregation for the Causes of the Saints by decree on October
17, 2008. When the Positio [biographical
summary] was written up, the question of whether the Servant of God cultivated
the virtues in a heroic manner was discussed according to the norms. On October
28, 2011, a Particular Congress of Consultor Theologians was held, with a
positive conclusion. With me, Cardinal Angelo Amato, presiding, on May 15, 2012,
when the relatio [report] of the Ponens [Proposer] of the Cause, Cardinal
Francis Arinze, was heard, the Cardinal Fathers and Bishops in Ordinary Session
declared that the Servant of God cultivated the theological, cardinal, and connected
virtues in a heroic manner.
Finally, after an accurate report about all these things
was made to the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI by the undersigned Cardinal
Perfect, His Holiness, welcoming the wishes of the Congregation for the Causes
of Saints, and regarding them approved, declared today: that there is certainty about the theological virtues Faith, Hope, and
Charity, both toward God and toward neighbor, and in addition about the
cardinal virtues Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude, along with the virtues
connected to them, in a heroic degree, of the Servant of God Peter John Fulton
Sheen, titular archbishop of Newport, at one time bishop of Rochester in
America, in the cause and for the effect under discussion.
Moreover, the Supreme Pontiff ordered that this decree be
made a matter of public authority and that it be recorded in the Acts of the
Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.
Given at Rome, on June 28, in the year of the Lord 2012.
Angelo Cardinal Amato, S.D.B.
Titular Archbishop of Mevania, Secretary