Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen is pictured at a pulpit in an undated file photo. CNS file photo

Venerable Fulton Sheen's niece continues to fight for his body, progress his sainthood cause

  • February 13, 2018
NEW YORK – The case involving the transfer of the remains of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen from New York to Peoria, Illinois, has been sent back to the original court by the New York Court of Appeals for an evidentiary hearing.

Archbishop Sheen, a Peoria diocesan priest, gained fame in the 1950s with a prime-time television series called "Life is worth living." He died in New York Dec. 9, 1979.

The transfer of the archbishop's remains is seen as a key factor in the continuing progress of his sainthood cause, officially opened in 2002 by the Diocese of Peoria. The causes was suspended by the diocese in September 2014.

"We are confident that the new hearing and ruling will be completed in short time," Msgr. James E. Kruse, vicar general of the Diocese of Peoria, said in statement. He predicted the court will rule in favor of Joan Sheen Cunningham, Archbishop Sheen's niece and closest surviving relative.

Cunningham is seeking to have the prelate's remains removed from St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York and transferred to St. Mary's Cathedral in Peoria, where a crypt is being prepared for his re-interment.

Fulton Sheen NieceJoan Sheen Cunningham, niece of the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, prays with her family during a memorial Mass for her uncle at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City in 2009. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The Archdiocese of New York said in a statement it hoped the Peoria Diocese will reopen the cause for the beatification and canonization of Archbishop Sheen. "There is no impediment to his cause progressing, as the Vatican has told us there is no requirement that the earthly body of a candidate for sainthood reside in a particular place," it said.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arlene Bluth had granted Cunningham's request in late 2016, but the Archdiocese of New York appealed the decision. A hearing before the New York Court of Appeals took place last Oct. 10.

In its 3-2 decision issued Feb. 6, the Court of Appeals reversed the 2016 decision and called for an evidentiary hearing solely on disputed issues regarding Archbishop Sheen's own burial wishes.

Msgr. Kruse said Cunningham's attorneys -- working closely with Patricia Gibson, Peoria's diocesan chancellor -- "are very confident the new hearing will end in re-affirming the original ruling." He pointed out that Bluth, who had already addressed the discrepancy in Cunningham's favor, will preside at the evidentiary hearing.

Archbishop Sheen was born in the Woodford County community of El Paso, Illinois, May 8, 1885, and moved with his family to Peoria so that he and his brothers could attend St. Mary Cathedral Grade School and Spalding Institute. He was ordained to the priesthood in the cathedral Sept. 20, 1919.

After brief priestly ministry in Peoria, he went on to serve on the faculty of The Catholic University of America in Washington for nearly 30 years.

He began his broadcast career in radio in 1930. In 1952, his

had recognized Archbishop Sheen's life as one of "heroic virtue," and proclaimed him "Venerable Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen."

The first approved miracle necessary for his beatification has cleared two of the three stages necessary for Archbishop Sheen to be declared "blessed."

In September 2015, his cause was suspended indefinitely, when the Archdiocese of New York denied a request from Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, Illinois, president of the Archbishop Sheen Foundation, to move the archbishop's body to Peoria. 

Correction: In the previous version of this story, the headline refered to Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen as "Blessed". The third stage necessary for his beaitifcation has yet to be cleared. So, he is still "Venerable Fulton J. Sheen". We are sorry for the mix-up. 

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It's a shame that the civil courts have to be involved in a matter that should've been resolved amicably between the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Peoria. My late father John thought the world of Archbishop Sheen and contributed very...

It's a shame that the civil courts have to be involved in a matter that should've been resolved amicably between the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Peoria. My late father John thought the world of Archbishop Sheen and contributed very generously over many, many years to the Society For The Propagation Of The Faith that the Archbishop headed. Sheen's ability to translate religious concepts into everyday language appealed to Catholic and non-Catholic alike, and who knows how many of the latter converted to Catholicism because of him. As to the argument that he wished to be buried in New York, he probably had no idea that he would be considered for sainthood someday and if the thought did pass his mind, he most likely thought New York would have been the diocese that would pursue canonization. Since Peoria is doing what New York would not do, I think the New York Archdiocese should tell the court at the evidentiary hearing that they will no longer oppose the transfer of Sheen's remains to Peoria. If they are adamant that they are only representing his last wishes and the final court decision agrees with them, the court should order his body moved from the crypt he's in at St. Patrick's Cathedral to the regular plot in Calvary Cemetery in Queens that he himself purchased. No one disputes that that was clearly his "last wish!"

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Patrick Kleaver
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