For the better part of the twentieth century, the name Bishop Fulton J. Sheen was synonymous with American Catholicism. The full impact of Sheen’s career and his influence upon the American Church will never be fully determined—and perhaps never fully appreciated. During his lifetime Sheen authored sixty-six books, published over sixty Catholic pamphlets and booklets, delivered weekly radio broadcasts for over twenty years, wrote countless syndicated articles and columns, edited two magazines, instructed thousands of converts to the Catholic faith, raised over $100 million for the Society of the Propagation of the Faith while serving as its director from 1950-1966, and participated in every session of Vatican II. His influence on the twentieth-century American Church can hardly be overstated.
Some of Fulton Sheen’s Firsts
- In 1926, Father Fulton J. Sheen spoke on the radio for the first time, giving a series of Sunday evening Lenten sermons on a New York station. Four years later, he made his first appearance on "The Catholic Hour" broadcast by NBC.
- Sheen made history on Easter Sunday, March 24, 1940, when he appeared in the world's first Catholic TV program, "The Spiritual Symbolism of Television." The program was sponsored by the National Council of Catholic Men in celebration of their twentieth anniversary as an organization and the tenth anniversary of their sponsorship of "The Catholic Hour" radio broadcast.
- In 1952, Sheen began his remarkably successful run as a TV personality with the debut of "Life Is Worth Living," a weekly program consisting of lectures on topics that blended theology, philosophy, and politics. The series ran on the DuMont Television Network from February 12, 1952 to April 26, 1955, then on ABC until 1957. Similar series followed in 1958-1961 and 1961-1968.
- Bishop Sheen won the Emmy Award for Most Outstanding Television Personality for his work in the 1952 season. "Life Is Worth Living" was aired on 169 local stations across the country, and is believed to have been the most widely-viewed religious series in the history of television. His show drew as many as 10 million viewers each week.
Making sense out life
For Sheen, the meaning and purpose of life cannot be understood apart from God, nor, he writes, “can anyone enter into contact with the whole of environment unless he enters into relationship with God.”
Education cannot be understood apart from the plastic nature of man. Taking due cognizance of it, one might say that the purpose of all education is to establish contact with the totality of our environment with a view to understand the full meaning and purpose of life.
Fulton Sheen, Old Errors and New Labels, p. 172, 1931
As the first cause, God is the source of the intelligibility of the universe and the ultimate explanation of its existence. Without God (the cause), the universe (the effect) goes unexplained and the human desire to know and understand the whole of his environment is frustrated. This, in turn, leads Sheen to claim that when God is removed, true education—that is, education that takes stock of what the human person really is—becomes impossible.
This is exactly the type of person Bishop Sheen was- he was a man who could see the future. After writing these words almost eighty years ago, they are more true today than they were then. The world is at a crossroads. Our country is at a crossroads. Did Bishop Sheen already know this when he wrote this?
The interesting part about today’s story is that Bishop Sheen has been known for many firsts. He was a great speaker, a great writer, and had a great mind. Now, perhaps the greatest accomplishment could be added- look at his words and look at the condition we find ourselves today. I would like to tell you brothers and sisters that greatest thing Bishop Sheen may be noted for is something that currently coming to pass right before our eyes today. Our education program has taken God out of the curriculum and today we are suffering for this unwise decision. We can not separate ourselves from God nor can we hide from Him.