Bishop Fulton Sheen: The First "Televangelist"

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Bishop Fulton Sheen

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Loretta Young, a friend and a good Catholic, calls him "the greatest actor of our time." Sheen's voice (with a wisp of a brogue) ranges from tremulous whispers to Old Testament rage. His hands finger the chain of his pectoral cross, or spread outward in supplication, or hammer down a point in the air, or thrust skyward. He uses no props except a blackboard on which he draws an occasional simple diagram. His serious passages are carefully balanced with anecdotes or jocular footnotes, some well worn. His favorite joke: whenever a stagehand, out of camera range, wipes off his blackboard, Sheen refers to "my little angel." Sheen has made the "angel" into what the trade calls a running gag.

Helmet of Salvation. One day last June, Fulton Sheen lay stretched out flat on his face before the high altar in the

Church of Saints John and Paul in Rome. In whispers, he prayed for divine grace. The choir sang the Litany of the Saints: ". . . St. Peter, St. Paul, St. John—all ye holy apostles and evangelists, pray for us ... St. Benedict, St. Dominic, St. Francis —all ye holy monks and hermits, pray for us . . ." Then Cardinal Piazza, poured blessed oil on Fulton Sheen's greying hair and handed him the crozier. After Solemn Mass, he placed the miter on the new bishop's head, reminding him that it symbolized a helmet of protection and salvation "that the wearer of it may seem terrible to the opponents of truth and be their steady adversary." Choir and organ struck up a Te Deum. The boy from Peoria was now a bishop of the Church.

Fulton Sheen's rise has not delighted all his fellow priests; some find him too theatrical for their taste. But he is on excellent terms with Cardinal Spellman (whom he accompanied on a 43,000-mile tour in 1948), and is held in high regard by the Vatican. A Vatican official said last week: "He is our right arm in the U.S." The Pope, whom he has known for years, follows his broadcasts. Sheen may never get a see of his own, because he lacks administrative experience, but it is generally believed that he is some day destined to wear a cardinal's hat.

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