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Artist hopes statue of Archbishop Fulton Sheen will inspire a new generation of devotees

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin blesses the statue of Archbishop Fulton Sheen (CNS)

An Irish artist commissioned to make a statue of Archbishop Fulton Sheen for New York’s famous St Malachy Church, also known as The Actors’ Chapel, hopes the work will inspire a new generation of devotees to the archbishop.

Dublin-based sculptor Dony MacManus is working on the 10-foot-tall piece, which it is hoped will be installed in the chapel in Manhattan’s theatre district in early 2016.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin blessed the work in progress during a ceremony at the artist’s Dublin studio on Thursday.

MacManus told Catholic News Service he initially felt apprehensive revealing the work before it was finished, but that he has been delighted by early reactions.

Fr Richard Baker, chapel pastor, traveled to Dublin with a delegation of parishioners for the ceremony. He said he felt inspired to commission the monument because of Archbishop Sheen’s “special interest in the acting community” and the parish’s vicinity to Broadway.

MacManus described the project as “really exciting”.

“This is the first job that I’ve done where I’ve really been excited by the subject because of his dynamic and the video footage,” the sculptor said. “One of the beauties of this (project) is that this gives new people access to the work and ministry of Archbishop Sheen.”

He said he hopes the image will be “a point of ignition for people who view it to ask themselves ‘Who is this guy?’ and go and check him out.”

Fr Baker said that the parish felt that Archbishop Sheen was the “perfect person” to be commemorated at St Malachy.

“We hope he will inspire spirituality in a community that needs that support, a community that works in an atmosphere that is severely anti-Catholic and drawing people away from the Faith rather than strengthening it,” he said.

Fr Baker remains close with the late archbishop’s family. He revealed that he hopes to have one of Archbishop Sheen’s two Emmy awards included as part of the statue’s installation on loan from the Sheen family.

Archbishop Sheen, born in 1895, was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, in 1919. He began his broadcast career in radio in 1930. In 1952, his famous television show Life is Worth Living began airing and quickly gained a large audience with many non-Catholics becoming regular viewers. He died in 1979 at age 84 and was declared “venerable” by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.

His sainthood cause was suspended indefinitely in September, when the Archdiocese of New York denied a request from Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, president of the Archbishop Sheen Foundation, to move the archbishop’s body to Peoria.