BY Amanda Connelly | July 19 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

9-sheen

A modern miracle worker’s Carfin call

Two weeks ago, the Vatican announced that US Archbishop J Fulton Sheen was to be made blessed after a miracle was attributed to his intercession. Here, Amanda Connelly reveals that the Catholic media pioneer had a special connection to Scotland and its national shrine.

Catholics across the world celebrated the Vatican announcement two weeks ago that a miracle attributed to Archbishop Fulton J Sheen had been approved, paving the way for his beatification.

Something of a groundbreaker and ahead of his time, Archbishop Sheen is sometimes dubbed as one of the very first televangelists. Yet this great figure, watched and heard by millions around the world, has a special connection to the UK and indeed to Scotland, namely the national shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes at Carfin Grotto in Motherwell Diocese, and the Grotto’s founder, Mgr Thomas Taylor.

 

Motherwell Diocese

Upon the announcement of Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s miracle, Motherwell Diocese released an image of the archbishop photographed at Carfin Lourdes Grotto. In black and white, flanked by men in suits, the archbishop sports more traditional-looking vestments than we are accustomed to seeing our clergy wear today.

It’s an image that gives us a sign of the times: a moment immortalised in a still, offering us a fascinating insight into life and the Faith in days gone by.

John Watts, an author who has compiled a number of books on the Catholic Church in Scotland, identified the images of Archbishop Sheen at Carfin Grotto as being from 1935.

“At the time he was, I think, Fr Fulton Sheen; he certainly wasn’t archbishop yet,” Mr Watts revealed. “It was in June 1935.”

Mr Watts surmised that the men in suits wearing sashes standing with the archbishop were perhaps Knights of St Columba or Hibernians, and that they ‘would be a sort of guard of honour if you like, or accompanying.’

 

Extraordinary links

He revealed the extraordinary link with Archbishop Sheen and the man who founded Scotland’s famous Marian shrine, through their shared love of evangelisation and important presidential roles of a pontifical society.

“Both Fulton Sheen and Mgr Taylor—Fr Taylor as he was then—were passionate about spreading the Word of the Gospel, including and especially spreading it to foreign lands,” he explained.

“They were both passionate about this and both of them were members of the Pontifical Aid Society, particularly the Association for the Propagation of the Faith (APF).

“They were both members of it for many years, and for some years both of them were their respective president: Mgr Taylor in Scotland and Fulton Sheen in the United States. As such, they went to several of the international conferences of the APF, and they met each other at one of the conferences, I think, in Rome.

“So when Fulton Sheen was visiting Britain in 1935, he wanted to come up to meet again with Fr Taylor, and to see the famous Carfin Grotto.”

 

St Margaret of Scotland

As well as his visit to Carfin Grotto, the then Mgr Fulton Sheen also participated in the pilgrimage procession in honour of St Margaret of Scotland, which took place annually until 1974, and was relaunched by Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews and Edinburgh in 2015.

Mgr Sheen gave a ‘stirring address’ to the Scots pilgrims, as described by the SCO in our cover story on Saturday June 22, 1935, hidden amid the dusty tomes of the SCO newspaper archives (an intriguing look at the changing times of the Church and the world in which it exists in its own right).

 

Dunfermline pilgrim way

20,000 people ‘trod the pilgrim way’ at Dunfermline in what was the sixth annual pilgrimage in honour of Scotland’s patroness, joining in the open-air Mass as they heard a ‘Chestertonian-like discourse on the present world crisis’ delivered ‘in striking fashion by that brilliant American orator, the Right Rev Mgr Fulton J Sheen, of the Catholic University of America.’

It was here that the archbishop drew comparisons between Scotland and America, united together with Christ and the Church.

“St Margaret is not only yours and Scottish: she is ours and Catholic,” he said.

“She belongs to that great supra-national brotherhood of mystical corporation called the Catholic Church in which we honour each others’ saints.

“By eating one Bread we are all made one Body which is the Mysterial Body of Christ. As the hand is not foreign to the foot, nor the eye to the ear, because we are all vivified by one soul, neither is the American foreign to St Margaret, any more than Scots are foreign to the Little Flower, or the whole world foreign to the Queen of Saints, Our Blessed Mother.

“Hence on this day the Church of the world rejoices with your saint because she is also a saint of the Church, in which there is neither Jew nor Turk, Scottish nor American, but all one in Christ Jesus Our Lord.”

 

Celebrations

Fulton Sheen also described the pilgrimage as a ‘celebration of the living present,’ telling those gathered that they were asked not to go back to the 11th century, but to the 20th, ’making the dead rise from their graves and preside at our pilgrimage.’

He drew comparisons with the time of St Margaret, in which the saint was ‘cut off from the full tide of Catholic life, her trade had ceased, socially she was disinherited, and economic difficulties depressed the people.’ He highlighted that she brought about peace, and return to normality for social and economic conditions due to her form of people’s consciences.

“The social and economic problems today are the result of refined barbarism,” he went on. “The soul of civilisation is sick. Political and economic remedies no more touch the core of these than face powder cures the jaundice, or an alcohol rub cures cancer.

“Never before in the history of the world was there so much power and never before have men been so prepared to use that power for the destruction of human life; never before in the history of the world have we had so much money; never before in the history of the world have we had so much poverty; never before in the world have we had so much education and never before so little giving of the knowledge of the truth; never before so much food and never before so much starvation.

“What is going to heal the world today is not social reconstruction but moral regeneration.

“We must recognise that life is not to be measured by the abundance of our possessions: that wealth is functional and the rich must become poor by giving and the poor rich by resignation, that is, we must revive the Pentecostal spirit. Our Lord has no other hands with which to labour than our own. It is something spiritual the world needs today. You may say this solution is impracticable, that Margaret was impracticable. It is impracticable. But so was the way of Christ.”

 

Rise to fame

Fulton Sheen’s visit to Scotland came at a time when he was enjoying considerable fame across the world. A man of both the written and spoken word, he finished the first of 73 books in 1925, before beginning a weekly NBC radio show, The Catholic Hour, in 1930, which amassed over four million listeners over the next 20 years.

His weekly television slot on the DuMont Television Network, Life Is Worth Living, saw him go on to win an Emmy Award in 1952, in which he acknowledged his ‘four writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.’

 

Death

Following open heart surgery, Archbishop Sheen died on December 9, 1979, with his remains interred in the crypt at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, later being transferred to Peoria, Illinois, from where the archbishop hailed.

July 6 saw the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of the Saints approve a miracle attributed to the archbishop: the inexplicable recovery of a stillborn boy in the Peoria area, who took his first breaths as doctors declared his time of death, as his mother prayed to Archbishop Sheen.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s beatification will take place at an as yet unannounced date, but will surely be a day remembered by the faithful in Scotland, reflecting on his time spent celebrating our national saint and grotto.

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