Former Catholic University professor and alumnus Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen will be beatified Dec. 21, 2019, in Peoria, Ill. His beatification deems Archbishop Sheen “Blessed,” and signifies the Vatican acknowledging that he is one step closer to sainthood. The Diocese of Peoria has been pursuing sainthood for Archbishop Sheen since 2002.
Perhaps no other alumnus or professor has publicly portrayed Catholic University’s mission to serve the Church, nation, and world more than this formidable scholar and prolific author, who served as a professor for 23 years beginning in 1927.
“The Catholic University of America is proud to claim soon-to-be Blessed Fulton J. Sheen as both a former student and professor,” said University President John Garvey. “We pray that his legacy of teaching, scholarship, and evangelization will continue to bring grace to our campus and our country.”
Archbishop Sheen was a pioneer of the new evangelization. A charismatic radio and television personality and a zealous preacher of the Gospel, his wholehearted embrace of modern means of communication gave him access to millions of American homes and, arguably, made him the most influential American Catholic of the 20th century. From 1930 to 1950 he appeared regularly on The Catholic Hour radio program, and after becoming a bishop in 1951 he began his famous television series, Life is Worth Living.
Maria Mazzenga, curator for the American Catholic History Research Center at Catholic University, came to the University in the 1990s to study history at the graduate level. When she learned that a priest from the University had won the 1952 Emmy for “Most Outstanding Television Personality,” beating out Jimmy Durante, Lucille Ball, and Edward R. Murrow, she was puzzled. “I figured I’d ask my mom if she’d ever heard of him,” she says. “After all, she grew up Catholic in the 1950s and watched television. Had she seen him when she was growing up?”
She says she was unprepared for her mother’s emotional response. “Oh, I loved Fulton Sheen. I watched Life is Worth Living every week! I thought he was very saintly. He was mesmerizing when he talked, and he had this stare. His sermons were very deep. My faith was stronger after I listened to him.”
In 2015, the University celebrated Archbishop Sheen’s contributions to the University and broader Catholic community. The University created a website chronicling his time at CatholicU and extensive archives related to his work. A panel discussion featuring the heads of major Catholic television networks discussed evangelization. And as a part of the celebration, the classroom where he often taught (McMahon 112) was dedicated to Archbishop Sheen, and a plaque was installed.
At that time, Victor David, a current residence life staff member, was an undergraduate student at CatholicU, and viewed the archbishop as a role model.
“Archbishop Sheen had made a great success of his time at CatholicU. If he could do it, so could I,” David says. “Knowing that I could walk the same halls, learn in the same classrooms, and pray in the same chapels filled me with a great sense of pride.”