Bishop Fulton Sheen: The First "Televangelist"

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Bishop Fulton Sheen

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In the New York archdiocese, a standard Tuesday question among Catholic clerics has come to be: "Who're you going to tune in tonight? Uncle Miltie or Uncle Fultie?"

Hair Shirt & Cadillac. Some people think a television screen a strange place to encounter a bishop. Fulton Sheen sees nothing strange about it. He has been broadcasting for 25 years (22 of them on the Catholic Hour). He has spoken millions of words—at everything from testimonial dinners to Southampton weddings, from university commencements to Brooklyn communion breakfasts. He has preached in great cathedrals and on Alabama street corners; he would (in the words of Christ's instruction to the apostles) preach upon the housetops, if the occasion arose.

Bishop Sheen is a unique product of two unique historic forces—the Roman Catholic Church and the United States of America. Into the making of Fulton Sheen went St. Paul and Thomas Jefferson, Savonarola and George F. Babbitt.

Sheen is a dedicated man of God; he is also a go-getter. He can be truly moving as well as thoroughly corny. He can write a learned treatise on theology (he taught for 25 years at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.) as well as a snappy fund-raising plug.

He moves among the famous and mighty, but he gives instruction in the Catholic faith to anyone who comes to him. He tries to guide men toward the City of God, but he is a well-known figure in the City of Man. He used to ride in a big black Cadillac, but friends report that he sometimes wears a cilicio (something like a hair shirt) under his well-tailored cassock.

He has pitted himself against opponents even more formidable than Milton Berle —Darwin, Freud, Marx and Satan. He gives hell to democrats for not being democratic, to capitalists for being greedy, to all the West for giving Communism an opening by not living up to its own Christian faith. He has harangued statesmen about war & peace and young brides about their sex life. He has announced that he prays every morning for Joseph Stalin, and he has approvingly quoted a heretic (Protestant Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr) on the Catholic Hour. His influence as a preacher is incalculably great.

"The world," he says, "has suddenly become missionary-minded. The two great missionary movements which campaign for mankind are Communism and Christianity." U.S. director of the Pontifical

Society for the Propagation of the Faith, Sheen is himself perhaps the most successful missionary of them all. He brought into the Church such unlikely prospects as Colonel Horace Mann of Tennessee, credited with leading a mudslinging campaign against Catholic Al Smith; Heywood Broun, archliberal freethinker; Louis Budenz, managing editor of the Communist Daily Worker. Other notable converts: Author Clare Boothe Luce, Violinist Fritz Kreisler, Broadway Stage Designer Jo Mielziner, Motor Scion Henry Ford II. Recently, he has been giving instruction to the wife of a diplomat and to Screen Star Virginia Mayo. He has converted thousands of unknown people, including a hard-boiled bank robber. Says he: "I do not keep count. If I did, I might lose my power."

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