Martin Tobin is a co-founder and current chairman of the Fulton J. Sheen Society Inc, established in Perth, Western Australia, in 1999, and teaches at Trinity College, East Perth. He has given a number of addresses promoting the life and works of Archbishop Sheen and is currently completing a Masters degree at the University of Western Australia.
December the 9th of this year will be the 25th year since the Archbishop's death, and the Fulton J. Sheen Society will be celebrating this event in a number of ways, including a Mass on 10 December at Trinity College Chapel, East Perth, followed by a video presentation. All interested persons are invited to attend at 7.00pm. Refreshments will be provided.
Much has been written on Archbishop Sheen, Servant of God, since his cause for canonisation was formally proposed in 1999, including three biographies, the latest being Fulton J. Sheen: An American Catholic Response to the Twentieth Century by Kathleen Riley, Associate Professor of the Ohio Dominican University.
This book deals with among other things an aspect of Sheen's influence which may not be as well appreciated as his impact in the areas of evangelisation, the missions, teaching and preaching, the fight against communism and promotion of Eucharistic Adoration (the expression Holy Hour is usually attributed to him).
This aspect was the breaking down of the deeply-entrenched bigotry of many in the US towards the Catholic Church and its members. There was a widespread suspicion that Catholics were un-American due to their allegedly divided loyalties.
There was also a prejudice born of ignorance of the true nature and teachings of the Catholic Church which still exists today. Sheen stated that people didn't hate the Catholic Church, they only hated what they were told about the Church. He added that if he were to believe the same things he would hate it ten times as much as its critics.
lt was Sheen's Life is Worth Living Emmy Award winning television program in the 1950s which was paramount in overcoming much of this prejudice (though he did the same on radio as spokesman for the Catholic Hour from 1930-1952) by presenting an accurate image of the Catholic Church in such a warm and interesting manner that he became to millions of Americans the face of the Catholic Church.
Even though the subject matter he used was very diverse and not overtly Catholic (for his intention was not to proselytise), the fact that he always appeared in full episcopal regalia and was always priestly in his manner left no doubt as to whom he was representing.
Sheen's extraordinary gift of communicating the realities of life without coming across as a religious zealot was greatly appreciated not only by Catholics but also by Protestants and Jews. He took Christ to the world in such easily understood and clear terms that he taught the Way, the Truth and the Life without his audience realising it.
This was the technique Our Lord used when speaking to the woman at the well, where he took a topic of interest to both parties (the need to quench a thirst) and then led her towards religious truth. Sheen did this so successfully that these electronic broadcasts are unmatched in the history of the industry.
He also used the newsprint media with a similar effect in his "God Love you" column which appeared in the Catholic press throughout the US and the "Bishop Writes" syndicated column for the secular press. Some of these writings appeared in the Catholic Weekly in Australia in the 1960s.
Fulton J. Sheen Society
The Fulton J. Sheen Society has been very active in promoting the life, works and methods of evangelising and re-evangelising used by Sheen. It has done this throughout Australia and other countries by using radio, television, newsletters and public forums.
The written and recorded works, both on CDs and video tapes, reproduced by the Society have been made available to a number of seminaries and seminarians, priests and religious, as well as members of the Society and the public at large.
The Society has been instrumental in having a large quantity of Sheen's books reprinted through a Catholic publishing house in America and is also attempting to have some high-profile Catholics take on the challenge of presenting Christ to the world by using the secular print media to include Sheen's articles in their publications.
These cover such areas - still relevant today - as "The cause of violence", "Breakdown of honesty", "Manners", "Courtesy", "Teenagers and parental relationships" and a host of other subjects on which Sheen wrote with great insight.
The Society is endeavouring to carry out Pope John Paul II's directive to all concerned: "The special message before you is to find ways to ensure the voice of the Church is not marginalised or silenced in the modern era of the media. Jesus Christ must be proclaimed to the world and therefore the Church must enter the great forum of the media with courage and confidence. It is not enough for things to happen or to act in a random way ...".
Inquiries are invited from persons who could assist in this area. We believe a greater focus should be placed on getting the Catholic message out to the populace at large using Sheen's material and methods which worked so effectively in the past and can still work today if sufficient zeal and energy are applied.
In the words of Archbishop Sheen: "The audience is always there, the opportunities are ever-present. There is a need to take hold of tortured souls like Peter, agnostics like Thomas, and mystics like John, and lead them to tears, to their knees, or to resting on His Sacred Heart."
The Society can be contacted on 08 92918224, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or mail to 30 George Road, Lesmurdie, WA 6076.