Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s remains have been transferred from the Archdiocese of New York to Peoria, Illinois, after three years of litigation, clearing the way for the former archbishop’s sainthood cause to go forward.
Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria announced today that Sheen’s remains had been transferred from St. Patrick Cathedral, New York, to the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria.
“Church law requires that the transfer of the remains of one considered for beatification must…be done without any solemnity,” a June 27 release from the diocese explained.
“As a result, the transfer could not be publicized in advance. Also, no liturgical ceremony or public gathering could be held during the transfer. Therefore, the transfer of the remains was done without prior public notice.”
According to the diocese, Joan Sheen Cunningham—Venerable Sheen’s niece and closest living relative— and Patricia Gibson, chancellor and attorney for the Diocese of Peoria, along with funeral home and cemetery personnel, gathered early in the morning June 27 at St. Patrick Cathedral in New York, where Sheen’s remains were taken out of the cathedral to LaGuardia airport and flown to Chicago O’Hare.
The diocese also announced that Sheen’s Cause for Beatification, the next step on the road to sainthood, had resumed.
“Bishop Jenky has notified the Vatican indicating that civil litigation has ended and that Sheen’s remains have been transferred. The Vatican has confirmed that the Cause for Beatification has now resumed,” the release continues.
The next step will be for the Congregation of the Causes of Saints in Rome to present the alleged miracle attributed to Sheen’s intercession— the miraculous healing of an infant declared to be stillborn— to Pope Francis for his decree authenticating it.
Sheen’s remains will be encased into a marble monument inside the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, located at the side altar dedicated to the Blessed Mother Mary, Our Lady of Perpetual Help— on whose feast day, June 27, the archbishop’s disinterment took place.
Venerable Sheen was born in 1895 in Illinois and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria at the age of 24. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of New York in 1951, and he remained there until his appointment as Bishop of Rochester in 1966.
Sheen served as host of the “Catholic Hour” radio show and the television show “Life is Worth Living”.
In addition to his pioneering radio and television shows, Archbishop Sheen authored many books, with proceeds supporting foreign missions. He headed the Society for the Propagation of the Faith at one point in his life, and continued to be a leading figure in U.S. Catholicism until his death in 1979.
The Peoria diocese opened the cause for Sheen’s canonization in 2002, after the Archdiocese of New York said it would not explore the case. Jenky had suspended the beatification cause in September 2014 on the grounds that the Holy See expected Sheen’s remains to be in the Peoria diocese. A lengthy legal battle followed.
Sheen’s will had declared his wish to be buried in the Archdiocese of New York’s Calvary Cemetery. Soon after Sheen died, Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York asked Joan Sheen Cunningham if his remains could be placed in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, and she consented.
However, Cunningham has since said that Sheen would have wanted to have been interred in Peoria if he knew that he would be considered for sainthood. In 2016, she filed a legal complaint seeking to have her uncle’s remains moved to the Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria.
An initial court ruling had sided with Cunningham, but a state appeals court overturned that ruling, saying it had failed to give sufficient attention to a sworn statement from a colleague of Archbishop Sheen, Monsignor Hilary C. Franco, a witness for the New York archdiocese.
Msgr. Franco had said that Sheen told him he wanted to be buried in New York and that Cardinal Cooke had offered him a space in the crypt of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The appeals court ordered “a full exploration” of the archbishop’s desires.
The Superior Court of New York ruled in June 2018 that Sheen’s remains be transferred to Peoria. The New York Court of Appeals unanimously agreed during March 2019.
The appeals court dismissed New York’s appeal of the decision in May 2019, and again earlier this month. The New York Archdiocese ultimately agreed to cooperate with the transfer after all its civil law options were exhausted.
“Although the date of Beatification is not known at this time, Bishop Jenky hopes and prays that these decrees from Rome will be issued in the coming weeks,” the release continued.
“Bishop Jenky continues to be hopeful that Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen will be Beatified during this 100th anniversary year of his ordination to the priesthood in Peoria.”
“Everyone is encouraged to continue offering prayers for the Beatification of Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen. Bishop Jenky invites everyone to visit the new tomb [in Peoria],” the release concluded.
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