Pope Pius XII once asked Bishop Fulton Sheen how many converts he had made. He answered: Your Holiness, I have never counted them. I am always afraid if I did count them, I might think I made them, instead of the Lord.
Such were the words of one of the most prominent Americans of the 20th century, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.
He was born on May 8th, 1895 in El Paso, Illinois, the child of moderately prosperous farmers whose four sons were all gifted intellectually and all expected to work hard. The family was very devout and their Catholic faith was a centerpiece of their lives. The boys attended Catholic schools and church regularly and said the rosary together daily. Sheen excelled in school where he was a skilled member of the debate team and the valedictorian of his class.
The Papal Artifacts’ Collection of Items Belonging to or Associated with Venerable Fulton J. Sheen
Three Letters Written by Bishop Fulton Sheen to the Actress, Patricia Morison, Recovered from Her Estate
Patricia Morison (born March 19, 1915) is a retired American stage and film actress and singer. She made her feature film debut in 1939 after several years on the stage. She was lauded as a beauty with large eyes and extremely long, dark hair. During this period of her career, she was often cast as the femme fatale or “other woman”. It was only when she returned to the Broadway stage that she achieved her greatest success as the lead in the original production of Cole Porter‘s Kiss Me, Kate. She lives in Los Angeles, California, where she celebrated her 100th birthday on March 19, 2015.
What follows are three letters written by the Bishop to Patricia Morison, who had recently become a convert and attributed her faith to his help. The first letter, dated June 16, 1952, is his acknowledgment of a gift she sent him for which he tells her he is very grateful. It is a beautiful expression of his gratitude to her and is able to be read here. All the letters are on letterhead paper, depicting his coat of arms as a Bishop.
The second letter, dated June 17, 1952, continues his sentiments from the letter of the previous day. It is especially rare in that it was hand written and included the envelope in which it was sent, attesting to the importance with which it was preserved by Pat Morison in her estate.
The third letter, dated April 28, 1953, seems to be an acknowledgement of flowers sent to the Bishop by Pat Morison upon his return home to New York. His thank you note letter was sent to her in Hollywood, California, while the others were an address, the Hotel Savoy Plaza, in New York.
Note: The correct spelling of Patricia Morison’s last name is with one, not two, “r’s”. The Bishop corrects this mistake on the last letter written to her.
These letters are an incredible addition to this Collection and a phenomenal acquisition considering Patricia Morison is still alive at close to 102 years old.
An Inscribed & Signed Copy of a First Edition of Go To Heaven
The book was a gift to Patricia Morison for Christmas, 1960. It was published by McGraw-Hill in 1960. The inscription reads, “To my dear friend, Pat. Merry Christmas 1960. +Fulton J. Sheen
And on Row 2 of This Section: Two Inscribed & Signed Copies of +Fulton Sheen’s Works
The first is Life Is Worth Living, a first edition, published in 1957, and inscribed to Pat Morison. The inscription reads, To my dear friend, Patricia, with the blessing of +Fulton J. Sheen.
The second is This Is Rome, a first edition, published in 1960, and inscribed to Isabelle Borchert, who was Patricia Morison’s closest friend, and the widow of Morison’s vocal coach, who lived in the same apartment complex as Pat. The inscription reads, To Isabelle with the assurance of prayer and blessing. Yours Faithfully in Christ, +Fulton J. Sheen
Additional Artifacts of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen
A Word about the Letter Written by Bishop Sheen to Professor Ellis (Above), A Translation of His Coat of Arms on the Program for His Installation as Bishop (Above), & The Two Tickets to a Lecture (Above):
In the acquisition of an autographed letter, not only is the signature of importance, but also the subject matter of the content. In this letter, it is Bishop Sheen’s reference to the II Vatican Council and his participation in it that contribute to the value of this item.
This is a very gracious response to a university professor who has requested an article for a publication. In the correspondence, Bishop Sheen declines the invitation, because he is so busy with preparations for the II Vatican Council as well as with his many other projects. Here is the text of the letter:
My dear Professor Ellis:
You have honored me by your kind invitation to
contribute an article to the December issue of the Teachers College Journal.
I am in the midst of a tremendous amount of work preparatory to the Council, as well as a series of telecasts, which co not permit me the leisure necessary for additional writing before leaving in a few weeks for Rome. In your charity I am certain you will understand and hold me excused.
Wishing you every blessing and assuring you of my prayers, I remain
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
The Coat of Arms Motto, Da Per Matrem Me Venire, on the Program for His Installation as Bishop:
Grant that I may come (to You) through the mother (Mary)
Two Tickets to the Lecture, The Signs of Our Times, in 1946
The lecture was held in St. Louis at the Kiel Auditorium on September 26th. Please note the you tube included here that is an audio presentation of that topic.
Further Information about Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
Upon graduation from college in Illinois, Sheen attended St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota and was ordained in 1919. Further studies were at the Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where he earned two degrees in 1920, and at Louvain University in Belgium. While there, he became the first American ever to win the Cardinal Mercier award for the best philosophical treatise, which he then transformed into a prize winning book. Even G. K. Chesterton admired and respected this work.
Fulton Sheen was a parish priest briefly but soon became an instructor at the Catholic University where he taught philosophy and theology from 1926 until 1950. Fairly soon he was publishing both scholarly and popular books and articles that earned him praised throughout the country. In 1925 he began hosting a popular radio program, the Catholic Hour. This was the beginning of his career in the media. He was soon in demand everywhere as a preacher, retreat leader and teacher.
In 1948, Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York invited him to join a worldwide tour and be responsible for preaching. The two men admired each other’s talents. Spellman soon made Sheen the head of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Church’s principle source of missionary funds. In 1951 he was consecrated bishop at a ceremony in Rome.
Bishop Sheen will be most remembered for the series of lectures he gave on television that won him an Emmy, an appearance on the cover of Time magazine and a place on the most admired Americans list. Life Is Worth Living was presented without notes or cue cards and his humor, charm, and intelligence captivated millions. His skill at oratory is said to have brought thousands of people into the church.
A student of Freud, Sheen was critical of his psychology and presented his views on this subject in Peace of Soul. The Collection has a signed copy, which you may view with this biographical material.
A dispute occurred between Cardinal Spellman and Bishop Sheen over the distribution of funds for the Society for the Propagation of Faith. So chaotic did this struggle become that the two of them had a private audience with Pope Pius XII who sided with Bishop Sheen. The end result was that Cardinal Spellman terminated Sheen’s television series, made him a local outcast and drove him from the archdiocese. In 1966, Sheen became the bishop of Rochester.
Bishop Sheen was an active participant in the Vatican II sessions and thoroughly endorsed the reforms that followed. He was, however, unable to be the bridge between the old and new Catholicism and his sweeping reforms often alienated his people in Rochester. In 1969 he resigned as bishop. He also publicly denounced the Vietnam War and participated in political activities connected to his anti-war sentiments.
During the course of his fifty years in the Church, he wrote over seventy books and countless articles. He estimated that he gave ten million dollars in royalties to the organization he headed.
In October 1979, Archbishop Sheen met Pope John Paul II at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The Pope told the eighty-four-year-old Sheen that he had been a loyal son of the Church. Fulton Sheen died on December 9th in his chapel before the Blessed Sacrament.
Fulton Sheen always believed the source of his strength were the hours of intimacy he spent with the Lord, an hour daily before the Blessed Sacrament, which he never once missed from the day of his ordination. In 2002, Sheen’s Cause for Canonization as a saint was officially opened. As a result, he is now referred to as a Servant of God.
The definitive biography of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen is America’s Bishop by Thomas C. Reeves and published by Encounter Books.