Visiting Blessed Fulton Sheen at Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception
By John Tuttle
Earlier this year (2019), the remains of a saintly man were transported from the Archdiocese of New York to the Diocese of Peoria, Ill. In Peoria, where the late archbishop had spent time as a boy, his body was laid to rest in the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception.
Archbishop Sheen was an adept author, a keen professor, a commanding orator, a man of wit and charm, and above all else an individual aflame with the love of Christ. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s beatification to sainthood has been set for Dec. 21, 2019.
Sheen has had a great influence on me and my family. We still have old VHS tapes of some of the episodes of his TV series Life is Worth Living. He actually hosted several shows between the early fifties and mid-to-late sixties. He was a joyous man, often ready with an enlightening dose of humor, while simultaneously maintaining a sobering perception of reality.
My brother has read anything of Sheen’s that he can get his hands on. And, come to find out, the JMJ (representative of the Holy Family trio: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph) that I so frequently place at the top of my class notes and writing drafts, was proudly championed by Fulton Sheen in his own ministry and day-to-day labors. For instance, you constantly see him writing those same initials at the top of the chalkboard he used in his TV presentations.
The outcome of the legal battle over Sheen’s body sided with the desire to have the remains come to rest in Peoria. The transfer of the late archbishop to the new location opened up a terrific opportunity for us. Peoria is only a little over two hours away from us. So, as my brother badly wanted to visit Fulton Sheen’s burial place, one Sunday over the summer, we made the trip to the Cathedral of St. Mary.
The entire expanse of the cathedral’s interior was gorgeous, as many Catholic churches were intended to be. Lofty ceilings of deep blue were adorned with stellar clusters, a feature not uncommon to the aesthetic aspect of many Catholic churches. In such sacred places, the starry nights are often depicted in painting or in mosaics. The stained glass windows offered engaging glimpses into the lives of various saints and biblical figures.
In an enclosed side chamber, visitors were able to look over a slew of relics from Christ and from a host of saints as well as some of the objects used by Fulton Sheen in his priestly service and daily life. While perhaps not as expansive a collection as those to be seen in St. Anthony’s Chapel in Pittsburgh, PA or in the cathedrals of Rome, the conglomeration of relics there at St. Mary’s is certainly impressive.
Of course, the highlight of our mini-pilgrimage was visiting Sheen’s tomb itself. Like the reliquary chamber, his tomb has a specific space set aside for those who wish to come and pray at the resting place of this holy man. It is here that an entourage of the faithful moved steadily in and out, offering homage and silently praying for his intercession.
Inlaid in his tomb of stone sits a plate which currently reads,
Venerable Servant of God
Fulton J. Sheen, Bishop
The JMJ is a nice unique touch, that emblem of love and unity which the late archbishop was so fond of. It stands ever as a reminder to whom Sheen served during his life. He was a friend of the Holy Family, a brother to Christ, and one who was wholly attached and devoted to Mother Mary.
I would say that St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception is a great pilgrim destination, whether the spotlight is being put on Sheen or not. However, in my mind, it is a particularly awesome blessing to get to visit the resting place of this terrific Catholic figure. We hope to visit St. Mary’s again soon for Sheen’s beatification.
John Tuttle is a Catholic journalist and creative. His writing has been featured by Catholic Insight, Culture Wars Magazine, The University Bookman, Love Thy Nerd, The Christian Post, Voyage Comics, and the University of Notre Dame’s Grotto Network. He can be reached at email@example.com.