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Fulton Sheen's family intervenes in beatification cause

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Fulton Sheen

The family of the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen has petitioned the New York Supreme Court to allow Sheen’s remains to be relocated to Peoria, an event that would expedite the cause for sainthood for the Peoria-area native.

If granted, Sheen’s remains would be removed from the crypt at St. Patrick Cathedral in New York City and placed in a crypt at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, where he attended church as a child, received his First Communion and was ordained into the priesthood.

The petition to the court was filed by Joan Sheen Cunningham, the Archbishop’s niece, who said she was extremely close to him while growing up and believes the transfer of his remains would be what he wanted.

The Diocese of Peoria, which started the Cause for Beatification under Bishop Daniel Jenky 14 years ago, said that effort can resume shortly after the transfer if it is granted by the court. The Cause was suspended nearly two years ago when the Archdiocese of New York declined to cooperate in the relocation of Sheen’s remains and the collection of relics, reneging on a promise made to Bishop Jenky 12 years earlier.

At the time it was believed the Cause for Beatification, part of the long process toward sainthood, was finished.

The Diocese, in a release Tuesday, said Bishop Jenky is “immensely grateful for the collaboration of Mrs. Joan Sheen Cunningham and her family.”

The Diocese said the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints, the office in the Vatican that oversees such matters, does not object to the transfer of the remains “and looks forward to the resumption of the cause.”

Msgr. James Kruse, the Vicar General of the Peoria Diocese, said he is confident the Archdiocese of New York will cooperate with the Sheen family. “On several occasions the Archdiocese has declared its desire to cooperate with the wishes of family. I cannot imagine that the Archdiocese would oppose the family’s petition presented to the court. It is our hope that the Archdiocese will offer their consent to this petition in order to expedite these matters,” he said.

Joan Sheen Cunningham, 88, said in her petition to the court that she was close to Fulton Sheen in her early years and later became his trusted friend and assistant. She helped care for him in his later years, until his death in New York in 1979.

Noting Sheen’s celebrity as host of a television program called “Life Is Worth Living”, for which he received an Emmy Award in 1951, Cunningham said her uncle reached countless people and became one of the Roman Catholic religion’s foremost teachers and preachers.

Bishop Jenky undertook the Cause for Beatification beginning in 2002 after receiving assurance the New York Archdiocese had no plans to do it in a letter from Edward Cardinal Egan. Cardinal Egan further assured Bishop Jenky he would consent to transferring Sheen’s remains to Peoria.

Cardinal Egan resigned as Archbishop of the Archdiocese in 2009. He died in 2015.

It was his successor, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who refused to transfer Sheen’s remains for the final steps toward beatification.

The Cause for Beatification reached the point of having the beatification ceremony after medical experts and theologians validated that a miracle involving a newborn six years ago should be attributed to Sheen. The Cause was to go before the Pope’s advisors for a recommendation and finally to Pope Francis to declare Sheen “blessed” and to permit the beatification.

The case involves a stillborn baby born in September 2010. For over an hour the child demonstrated no signs of life as medical professionals attempted every possible life saving procedure, while the child's parents and loved ones began immediately to seek the intercession of Fulton Sheen. After 61 minutes the baby was restored to full life.   

Upon the Pope signing the decree for the beatification, an additional miracle would lead to the Canonization of Archbishop Sheen, in which he would be declared a “Saint.” 

No timetable for when the New York Supreme Court will hear the petition.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).