Holy Fulton: Amid Dispute Over Resting Place, Peoria Halts Sheen Sainthood
Arguably the most influential figure in the four-century history of American Catholicism, nearly a year after Fulton Sheen was celebrated anew across the globe on the 30th anniversary of his death, the iconic prelate's boyhood diocese has suddenly pulled out of leading the charge for his beatification.
In a release posted to its website late last week, the Peoria-based Archbishop Sheen Cause announced the surprise move thus:
It is with great sadness and disappointment, Bishop [Daniel] Jenky announces that after nine years of effort and sacrifice, the Diocese of Peoria is suspending its efforts on behalf of the Beatification of Fulton J. Sheen. The Archdiocese of New York has made it clear that it is not likely that they will ever transfer the remains of Fulton J. Sheen to his home diocese of Peoria. The Bishop hopes that the Archdiocese of New York, in whose Cathedral crypt the earthly remains of the Servant of God are still entombed, might now assume this responsibility. In this endeavor he would pledge the cooperation of his diocese. The bishop urges the clergy, faithful and religious of Peoria to continue to pray for the Cause of Archbishop Sheen whose heroic virtues in announcing the Gospel and serving the poor were an extraordinary blessing in the life of the Catholic Church. The bishop would also like to remind all in his diocese and all those throughout the world who have so enthusiastically supported the Sheen Cause that finally it is only God who makes saints, not men.As a former auxiliary bishop of New York, Sheen was granted burial in the crypt of St Patrick's Cathedral after his 1979 death at 84. Made a titular archbishop on his retirement a decade earlier, the prelate returned to the city following a three-year stint of debatable success as bishop of Rochester.
The Diocese of Peoria remains committed to promote the message of the great priest, Fulton J. Sheen within our Diocese and to continue to develop our museum and research center devoted to his life.
Built with space for 12 tombs, the St Patrick's crypt mostly holds the remains of the archbishops of New York, for whose burial it was built. However, one other auxiliary bishop and the cathedral's rector through the 1920s and '30s, Msgr Michael Lavelle, are likewise interred there, as is Venerable Pierre Toussaint, the freed Haitian slave who became a lay leader of the early Manhattan church; Toussaint's remains were brought to the crypt by John Cardinal O'Connor in 1990.
Given his life's journey from Illinois farmboy to Gotham mega-star, Sheen's final resting place has been a "sensitive" point amid the sainthood push; during last December's 30th anniversary celebrations, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan told the city's Times that while he "appreciate[d] that [Jenky] would dream that someday the remains of Bishop Sheen would be returned to Peoria... Bishop Sheen only spent a few years in Peoria" -- adding, for good measure, "and he loved New York."
His devotion to the great Fulton already well-chronicled, smart money says Dolan won't waste too much time before taking full charge of the cause. The blogging Big Apple prelate is on a prison visit this morning.
Until today, the New York chancery had reportedly received no prior indication of the move. A call to the Peoria communications office was not immediately returned.
As the process now stands, Sheen's heroic virtue is under investigation in Rome; the "diocesan phase" -- an exhaustive examination of the archbishop's life and writings -- was concluded in early 2008 during a celebratory Mass in the Illinois cathedral where the future TV titan served as a boy.
As ever, we'd be remiss to close without a Fulton clip: