There was a famous priest that my grandmother, Effie Williams, loved to talk about. She was personally familiar with him because after he was ordained, he was assigned to her parish — St. Patrick’s Church in Peoria. Whenever she talked about him, her face would light up.
The one thing she talked about most was his eyes. She said that when he looked at you it was as though his eyes could see right through you — straight into your soul.
The priest was Fr. Fulton J. Sheen, later known as Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Grandma Effie told me that when Sheen spoke, everyone listened, even the people who were not Catholics. It was as though there was a magnetic force that surrounded him that attracted people to him.
If there was such a force, it came directly from the extraordinary graces he received as a result of the holy hour of adoration he made every day for more than 60 years in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord — from the time he became a priest in 1919, until the time of his death in 1979.
It was a talk that was given by Archbishop Sheen that I listened to on a cassette tape that ignited the flame that eventually turned into a burning desire within me to start the Saint Philomena Perpetual Adoration Program. I don’t remember the year I first listened to the tape, but it was sometime during the 1980s. The tape was part of an album of tapes that I purchased that were made from recordings of a retreat Archbishop Sheen had given to priests and bishops.
The title of the tape was, The Daily Holy Hour. The audio recording of the tape is posted on the home page of my website at Adoration.com. I would strongly encourage you to listen to it. I cannot do justice to Archbishop Sheen’s message by attempting to describe it to you here. You have to hear it with your own ears.
After I listened to the cassette tape, I read an article that was written by Fr. Martin Lucia. The title of the article was, Let The Son Shine Out. In the article, Fr. Lucia gave a detailed description of an interview that Sheen had given in which he was asked what person had inspired him the most. Here’s what Fr. Lucia wrote in his article:
A couple of months before his death, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen was interviewed on national television. One of the questions was this:
“Bishop Sheen, you have inspired millions of people all over the world. Who inspired you? Was it a Pope?”
Bishop Sheen responded that it was not a Pope, a cardinal, another bishop, or even a priest or a nun. It was a little Chinese girl of eleven years of age. He explained that when the Communists took over China, they imprisoned a priest in his own rectory near the Church.
After they locked him up in his own house, the priest was horrified to look out his window and see the Communists proceed into the Church, where they went into the sanctuary and broke into the tabernacle. In an act of hateful desecration, they took the ciborium and threw it on the floor with all the Sacred Hosts spilling out. The priest knew exactly how many Hosts were in the ciborium: 32.
When the Communists left, they either did not notice, or didn’t pay any attention to a small girl praying in the back of the Church who saw everything that had happened. That night the little girl came back. Slipping past the guard at the priest’s house, she went inside the Church. There she made a holy hour of prayer, an act of love to make up for the act of hatred.
After her holy hour, she went into the sanctuary, knelt down, bent over and with her tongue received Jesus in Holy Communion (because it was not permissible for laymen to touch the Sacred Host with their hands).
The little girl continued to come back each night to make her holy hour and receive Jesus in Holy Communion on her tongue. On the thirty-second night, after she had consumed the last and thirty-second host, she accidentally made a noise and woke the guard who was sleeping. He ran after her, caught her, and beat her to death with the butt of his rifle. This act of heroic martyrdom was witnessed by the priest as he watched grief-stricken from his bedroom window.
When Bishop Sheen heard the story he was so inspired that he promised God he would make a holy hour of prayer before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament every day of his life. If this frail, little child could give testimony and witness to the world concerning the real and wonderful Presence of her Savior in the Blessed Sacrament, then the Bishop was absolutely bound by all that was right and true, to do the same. His sole desire from then on was to bring the world to the burning Heart of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
Last week, on November 17, 2016, a judge in New York ordered the Archdiocese of New York to cooperate with the Diocese of Peoria in transferring the remains of Archbishop Sheen from New York to Peoria. The judge ruled in favor of Sheen’s 88-year-old niece, Joan Sheen Cunningham. In June of this year, Cunningham filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of New York, in which she asked the court to order the Archdiocese to release Archbishop Sheen’s remains to the Diocese of Peoria.
The judge’s ruling ended a dispute between the New York Archdiocese and the Peoria Diocese, which arose after the Peoria Diocese began the formal process with the Vatican to canonize Archbishop Sheen. When the Diocese of Peoria attempted to make arrangements to transfer Sheen’s remains from New York to Peoria, Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, refused to release Sheen’s remains.
On October 2, 1979, two months before the death of Archbishop Sheen, Pope John Paul II paid a visit to Sheen at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Upon seeing Archbishop Sheen, the pope embraced him and said, “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus Christ. You are a loyal son of the church.”
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen died at the age of 84 on December 9, 1979. Now, 37 years later, he’s finally returning home where he belongs. If he is canonized, he will become the first American-born bishop to be declared a saint. Home at last for the loyal son of the church. Praise be to God.