If Archbishop Fulton Sheen is ever canonized, the beloved evangelist and author will become the first U.S.-born bishop to be declared a saint. However, this milestone may be further away than expected because of a disagreement about the archbishop's final resting place.
From its offices in Peoria, Ill., the Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation has spent nine years working toward the canonization of its namesake. Monsignor Stanley Deptula, the Sheen Foundation's executive director, told EWTN News that the Diocese of Peoria had expected to receive Sheen's body, which is currently entombed in the crypt of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.
The transferal of the body to a tomb in Peoria, he explained, would have allowed the diocese to create a national shrine to the popular evangelist, in the city where he grew up and was ordained a priest.
But with the Archdiocese of New York ultimately declining to transfer Sheen's body, Monsignor Deptula said the Diocese of Peoria was no longer in a position to continue its work toward canonization.
Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria had originally spearheaded the cause, agreeing to allocate diocesan resources to perform the investigations and other work required by the Vatican. According to the Sheen Foundation's director, Bishop Jenky had accepted these responsibilities on the basis of an understanding between his diocese and the Archdiocese of New York that Archbishop Sheen's body would eventually return to Peoria.
Negotiations to bring Archbishop Sheen's body back to his home state continued during the Peoria diocese's nine years of work for his canonization. According to Monsignor Deptula, officials in New York repeatedly indicated the body would be transferred, although he said no promise to that effect had been put in writing.
Archbishop Sheen's history with both cities is highly significant to his life story. Sheen's boyhood home is located in the Diocese of Peoria, as is the cathedral where he first served as an altar boy. Sheen was ordained a priest for the diocese in 1919, and briefly returned in 1926 to serve as a pastor after studies that took him around the world.
However, he was consecrated as a bishop in New York in 1951, broadcast his famous program “Life Is Worth Living” from New York, and served as a bishop in the state until 1969. After his death in 1979, he was buried in the crypt of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.
There is some question as to where Sheen himself wanted to be buried, a matter the Diocese of Peoria and the Archdiocese of New York see differently. Although unable to publicize some legal details, Monsignor Deptula said the matter may ultimately hinge on Sheen's own expressed wishes.
Following the most recent negotiations between Bishop Jenky and Archbishop Dolan, the Diocese of Peoria has no plan to pursue the matter further on the basis of any prior verbal agreement.
Monsignor Deptula urged those who treasure Sheen's memory to pray that Archbishop Dolan would soon agree to take up the cause for canonization in his archdiocese. He also specified that the Sheen Foundation is still accepting donations for its own work toward the canonization, which will continue without diocesan involvement for the time being.
The Archdiocese of New York did not respond to requests seeking comment.