Bishop Fulton Sheen: The First "Televangelist"

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Bishop Fulton Sheen

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Since taking over the U.S. branch of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith (the telephone operators, shortening the name, simply say: "Propagation, good morning!"), the bishop has carried a work load that might break a less dedicated or energetic man. In addition to his TV show, his radio show, his Sunday sermons at St. Patrick's during Lent, his speaking engagements and his religious instruction, he guides the work of the society's 128 diocesan directors in the U.S., writes or edits all the society's promotion material, carries on correspondence with many of the society's 100,000 missionaries (Sheen's office gets as many as 2,000 letters a day), sees any visiting missionaries in New York, edits two magazines and writes two syndicated columns. One of his columns, "God Love You" (his standard greeting), runs in 25 U.S. Catholic newspapers. It consists largely of items like: "Why not give up cigarettes for a month and use the money for a catechist in Africa? Be Happy, Go Missions!" Sheen has also shown unexpected talent as a magazine editor; his pocket-size Mission is well-printed, dramatically laid out and bristling with snappy or funny picture captions, all of which Sheen writes personally (e.g., under a picture of a wise-looking Negro tot pointing to an open book: "That's where the King James version is wrong").

He has a staff of 30 helpers, who work in a small, cramped red-brick house on Manhattan's East 38th Street (where Sheen lives, with two other priests), but he runs pretty much a one-man show. The society's receipts are up, but Sheen is not satisfied. Says he with official gloom: "We are not doing as well as the Protestants."

Bishop's Day. Sheen's day begins at 6:15. He spends a "holy hour" of meditation and preparation for Mass at 8, which he reads in his private chapel. He breakfasts frugally (usually orange juice, hot water and a piece of toast). From 9 to 10 he does his writing, from 10 to 1 he answers letters, while his receptionist and secretary keep bringing in a stream of callers. At 1 he lunches in his upstairs apartment, at 1:30 he reads his breviary. Between 2 and 6 he tackles business chores and sees callers in his airy, green-walled office, where he sits in front of a large statue of the Virgin Mary and beside a big air conditioner whose gentle hum vainly competes with the bishop's vigorous purr. At 6 he dines, usually in his apartment, but rarely eats more than what a friend describes as a "corner" of a steak or chop with some vegetable (Sheen has suffered from ulcers). He sometimes supplements this meager diet with chocolate, for energy. He neither smokes nor drinks, but at a party (he goes to few) he will nurse a small drink so as not to make people uncomfortable. Between 6:30 and 11, more work and study.

For exercise, Sheen plays tennis once a week on the subterranean courts of the River Club, where his partners report that he has a fierce will to win. He also used to play an occasional game of golf. (Once, visiting a friend in Texas, he gamely went riding, but had to eat his dinner that evening standing up; he loved dressing like a cowhand, and called himself "Two-Gun Sheen.")

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