PEORIA, Ill. — With joy and thanksgiving, officials and faithful throughout the Diocese of Peoria and around the globe welcomed the announcement Nov. 18 that Pope Francis has called for the beatification of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in Peoria Dec. 21.
“It was a surprise, an early Christmas present from the pope, and it is truly a great blessing for our diocese, for so many people who have worked and sacrificed and prayed,” said Msgr. Stanley Deptula, executive director of the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Foundation. “I’ve believed for a long time that Fulton Sheen is a gift to the Church, a hero that we Catholics need in our day.”
The beatification ceremony will occur during Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, where the famed media evangelist and author was ordained to the priesthood 100 years ago.
Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky announced the beatification date the afternoon of Nov. 18 after the diocese received a document sent by email from the office of the Vatican secretary of state confirming Pope Francis’ directive.
In an interview the following day with The Catholic Post, Peoria’s diocesan newspaper, Bishop Jenky described Archbishop Sheen — who died Dec. 9, 1979, at age 84 — as a kind of “American St. Paul the Apostle” because of his “endless zeal” for evangelization.
“It’s hard to think of anyone, except among the saints, so involved in bringing the world to Christ,” said Bishop Jenky.
Calling Archbishop Sheen “a model for all of God’s people,” Bishop Jenky, who petitioned the Vatican on behalf of the Diocese of Peoria to open the canonization cause 17 years ago, said he was “happy to see this step finally arrive.” The archbishop was declared “venerable” by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.
When he learned of the Dec. 21 date, less than five weeks away, “I simply said ‘yes’ and we’re going to make it happen,” the bishop said.
Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, prefect for the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes, will preside at the Rite of Beatification and represent Pope Francis. It will be only the fourth such ceremony to take place in the United States. Archbishop Sheen will be the first bishop from the U.S. beatified; he’ll be declared “Blessed,” the step in the sainthood process prior to canonization.
Local planning for the beatification began in July when Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Archbishop Sheen. It concerned the healing of James Fulton Engstrom of Washington, Illinois, who was considered stillborn when he was delivered during a planned home birth Sept. 16, 2010.
His parents, Bonnie and Travis Engstrom, immediately invoked the prayers of Archbishop Sheen and encouraged others to seek his intercession. Just as doctors were preparing to declare that he was dead, James Fulton’s heart started to beat at a normal rate for a healthy newborn. He had been without a pulse for 61 minutes.
An evening Holy Hour will be observed at the cathedral Dec. 20. Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles — who, like Archbishop Sheen, uses modern media to spread the Gospel — will preach.
A Mass of Thanksgiving will be celebrated at the cathedral on Dec. 22.
“It’s going to be an intimate celebration in Fulton Sheen’s home parish church,” said Msgr. Deptula. “But more importantly, the world is invited to the beatification via the media.”
“What better man to celebrate in this way?” he asked. “In a beautiful church, in his church. But millions of people may truly feel present, truly participate in this beatification via the media world we live in and that’s very Fulton Sheen.”
In general a second verified miracle is required for canonization.
Further information regarding beatification events around the
beatification of Archbishop Fulton Sheen will be posted