In the late 1950s, a young priest from New York was befriended by the renowned TV personality Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Young Fr. Hilary Franco soon became Bishop Sheen’s most trusted collaborator and friend. For several years, they even shared a house and chapel, served each other’s Masses, ate meals together and traveled the world together on Sheen’s many mission trips. Bishop Sheen even brought Fr. Franco as his assistant to Vatican Council II. Later, when their different assignments sent them to different continents, the two remained in close contact by letter, phone and visits until the archbishop’s death in 1979.
Now a monsignor and a Vatican representative to the UN, Msgr. Franco shares for the first time his warm and lively memories of this unique friendship and some observations drawn from his treasured collection of letters handwritten to him by the now-Venerable Archbishop Sheen. These memoirs have never before been published.
An additional section of the book contains an exclusive and far-ranging interview with Msgr. Franco, who reveals more memories and shares many of Ven. Sheen’s prophetic insights into the state of the Church following the Council.
Throughout this informal, conversational-style book, the joy, the wit, and the sanctity of the Venerable come alive in a powerful way. This new account will add a unique view into the character of a man who will undoubtedly be one of America’s most-beloved saints.
Sheen Cause Halted
On March 6, 2014, the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of the Saints announced its approval of a miracle related to the cause of the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen—the revival of a stillborn baby, attributed to his intercession. This decision signaled a significant step forward for the cause. Many anticipated that the ceremony could happen as early as 2015.
Unexpectedly, however, the cause was indefinitely suspended on September 3rd by Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, the official Actor (director) of the cause.
Venerable Fulton J. Sheen was born and ordained in the diocese of Peoria, IL, and is buried at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, the city where he was an auxiliary bishop for many years and also died. In 1998, Cardinal John O’Connor gave permission for the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Foundation, then based in New York, to begin groundwork for the opening of a cause. Four years later, Bishop Daniel Jenky, CSC, bishop of Peoria, consulted O’Connor’s successor, Cardinal Egan, who turned down the Sheen cause. Bishop Jenky then officially petitioned the Vatican to open the cause for beatification and canonization in his own diocese. The permission granted, the Foundation relocated to Peoria, functioning as the “promoter of the Cause” under Bishop Jenky.
Pope Benedict XVI declared Sheen Venerable in 2012 and, when a miracle was approved earlier this year, the beatification seemed near. Thus, many were stunned by the announcement that Bishop Jenky had indefinitely suspended work on the cause, which had appeared to be moving smoothly.
The controversy, however, is not new. In 2002, when Cardinal Egan had refused to open the cause in New York, he allegedly told Bishop Jenky that he would work with him to transfer the body to the Peoria diocese “at the appropriate time.” In 2004, Egan once more voiced his support of the cause (as long as it was shouldered by Peoria) and the transfer. Accordingly, in 2005 Bishop Jenky petitioned the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints for the transfer. He was not refused, but was told that it was not yet the appropriate time (since the cause had been so recently opened).
(Customarily, before the ceremony of beatification, the body of the blessed is examined; relics can be taken, and then the body is moved to another site for veneration.)
In 2009, Timothy Cardinal Dolan succeeded Cardinal Egan and almost immediately raised doubts regarding the transfer of the body to Peoria, citing the express desire of Sheen to be buried in New York. On his blog in 2011, Dolan posted a letter by his chancellor to the Peoria diocese, stating that his study “revealed there was in fact no evidence of such a verbal promise.”
In 2010, Bishop Jenky formally requested clarification from the New York archdiocese. Cardinal Dolan, according to Bishop Jenky, gave no assurances. In response, Bishop Jenky called for a pause in the Foundation’s work because of questions regarding the cause. It was later stated by a Peoria representative that “Bishop Jenky would never have begun this if he weren’t personally assured that the tomb of Fulton Sheen would come home to Peoria.” Three months later, Bishop Jenky responded to worldwide encouragement and once again allowed the work to go forward, while noting that “unsettled questions” remained.
Obviously, these questions remained when Pope Benedict declared Sheen Venerable in 2012 and when a miracle was approved in 2014. Bishop Jenky once more sought clarification from New York. A press release from Peoria, dated September 3, related that Bishop Jenky, “heartbroken” and “with immense sadness,” had suspended the cause for the foreseeable future. It related that on June 27, 2014, the diocese of Peoria had received a letter from the archdiocese of New York, and that “this letter from its lawyer definitively stated that it would not allow the examination of the body, the securing of relics or the transfer of the body.” Bishop Jenky called for prayer. He cited the work and expectations of so many in his own diocese, which had shouldered the considerable expenses of the cause.
New York’s director of communications, Joseph Zwilling, responded in a press release on September 4, affirming a union of prayer with Peoria but also reaffirming the archdiocese’s decision regarding the remains of the Venerable—that in New York they will remain. The foremost reason cited was the “expressly stated” desire of Fulton Sheen to be buried in New York and the desire of his nearest living relatives that this wish be respected.
The press release also stated that since 2005, when permission to move the body was denied Peoria, no further direction or request has come from the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints regarding the matter. It stated that the Congregation had asked the two dioceses to dialogue to find a way to keep the process moving forward.
The archdiocese of New York stated that it would welcome the opportunity to assume responsibility for the cause if this were in accord with the diocese of Peoria and the Congregation for the Cause of the Saints. If no agreement is reached, the cause will be assigned to the Vatican historical archives.