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Catholic Review of: America's Bishop

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Author:  Thomas C. Reeves

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This item received 5 stars overall. (09/15/2009)

Orthodoxy: Completely orthodox.
Reading Level: Easy

 Tiber RiverBy Tiber River (CO) - See all my reviews


A Fine Mix of Biography and Storytelling

Evaluator Comments

In A Nutshell

Thomas C. Reeves here presents the very first full-scale biography of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. A powerful preacher, effective evangelizer, television celebrity, and dynamic interlocutor between the age-old Church and modern times, it is a wonder that a biography of Bishop Sheen has not appeared sooner. The life of Bishop Sheen is so wedded to the mission of the Church in America that his history is very much like the Church's own history in America: prominent, successful, and loved for so long until the advent of the 1960s, Humanae Vitae, and the second Vatican Council. Perhaps the confusion that the Church in America met with in those times explains why a biography of Archbishop Sheen was not attempted sooner. To understand the life of Archbishop Sheen one must understand, at least in part, the recent rise and fall of the Church in America, something many of us are still grappling with. In America's Bishop, Thomas C. Reeves tells an absorbing tale of a priest gifted with fierce devotion, superior intelligence, and tremendous love, all combined with an attractive face, powerful preaching voice, and a captivating personality. Reeves' brilliant historical criticism sheds light on both this remarkable man and on the times of "America's Bishop." 


Bishop Sheen was born on May 8, 1895, to parents Newton and Delia Sheen. He was baptized Peter John Fulton Sheen. He was raised on a farm in Illinois. Sheen so detested the nature of farm work that he later said, jokingly, that he chose the priesthood in order to escape it.

Indeed, Bishop Sheen was not meant for the farm. A college classmate wrote of Sheen: "His favorite pastime is the devouring of endless treatises on philosophy, art, and a hundred other topics with which we ordinary mortals have hardly more than a passing acquaintance."

After college, Sheen entered St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Sheen excelled in his studies while in the seminary and was ordained on September 20, 1919. He continued his studies at the Catholic University of America toward a doctorate in philosophy. Fulton then transferred to the University of Louvain in Belgium. He studied French at the University of Paris, and at Louvain he studied metaphysics, experimental psychology, cosmology, and was "drenched" in Aristotle, Plato, and the ancients, and "immersed" in Thomas Aquinas. On July 13, 1923, he received his Ph.D. from Louvain with greatest distinction. He spent an additional year in Europe studying casually at the Angelicum and the Jesuit Gregorian University. Sheen received the degree of Agrege en Philosophie from Louvain University in 1925. He was the first American to receive this distinguished degree. He published his dissertation later under the title God and Intelligence. Louvain then awarded this book the Cardinal Mercier International Philosophy Award, a prize awarded only once a decade.

After achieving such great scholarly success at so young an age, the Bishop of Peoria ordered that Sheen "come home." Upon returning to the United States, Sheen left behind intellectual honors and plunged himself willingly into pastoral ministry. Soon after, he began teaching courses at the Catholic University of America, where he found a divided theology staff and bitter squabbles between faculty and the administration. Sheen began at this time gaining recognition for his abilities as a preacher. He continued to accept more and more invitations to preach and was always well received. He also continued writing and publication.

Word of Sheen's abilities as a preacher soon spread. Fulton went on the radio in 1928, delivering a series of Lenten sermons. The Catholic Hour made its debut in 1930. Sheen's twenty-minute talks on this broadcast were immediately very well received and he became a regular speaker on the broadcast.

Sheen's reputation began to soar. He was fast becoming a nationally and internationally known figure. His passion for the faith, charm, and intelligence won over numerous converts, many of whom were famous politicians, writers, actors, and businessmen. Nor did he reserve his personal instructions in the faith only for the famous; Sheen reached out to all and welcomed with zeal any soul that God sent to him. Fulton's reputation and fame only grew in the next two decades and he was named auxiliary bishop of New York in May of 1951.

The well-known Life is Worth Living series made its debut in February of 1952. Competing with I Love Lucy and Milton Berle, Fulton's television series was a huge success.

Soon the glamour of Fulton's life came to a crux. After a long and bitter clash with Cardinal Spellman, Sheen was "exiled" to Rochester, New York. There he championed himself a great promoter of the change effected by the second Vatican Council, but without the support of his local priests, Sheen's efforts soon collapsed upon themselves and Sheen was forced to retire. Sheen continued to make speaking engagements until the day of his death, December 9, 1979.


Biography, in its finest form, is the presentation of a memorable person's life in order to teach, through example, the lessons of virtue and vice. In addition to selecting a good subject, the biographer must thoroughly research his subject and work to present the facts as accurately and objectively as possible. Lastly, since life is a story, the superior biographer will have some of the storyteller's art as well. Remaining always true to fact, he will be able to present his subject in a readable and enjoyable manner. In all these things, Thomas C. Reeves is outstanding. He chooses a subject that is a pivotal actor in recent history, his research and documentation are highly impressive, his objectivity is beyond questioning, and his writing is pleasant and enjoyable.

Evaluator Comments

I highly recommend this wonderful biography.   You can purchase this title here.

Companion Titles

Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen 

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