Archbishop Fulton Sheen was known, not just as a Catholic media personality, but also as a spiritual director who always had time to meet with people, individually, often for hours at a time. While any number of unexpected people were converted thanks to his work, he was modest about his efforts. “I am only a porter who opens the door,” Sheen said. “It is the Lord who walks in and does the carpentry and the masonry and the rebuilding from the inside.”
Many of the archbishop’s converts were famous people, and what they all had in common when they came to him was an acute intelligence. Some were atheists, Communists, Protestants. They were writers, spies, actors, business people. And all of them embraced Catholicism because they found it to be the pinnacle of the journey of faith on which they had already embarked.
- Clare Booth Luce (playwright, congresswoman, ambassador): “Well, I suppose that the over-all reason, the only one that includes all the others and, therefore, one might say the real reason is that upon careful examination, Catholic doctrine seemed to me the solid objective Truth. I never knew a teacher who could be at once so patient and so unyielding, so poetical, so practical, so inventive and so orthodox.” This was a woman whose great mind, and not just her heart, needed to be embraced. Are there people you know who need the intellectual stimulation of the Church?
- Henry Ford Jr. (automobile executive): Was a member of the Episcopal Church until he met with Fulton Sheen in individual spiritual direction, after which he converted to the Catholic Church. What did he find in the Catholic Church that had been missing in the way he and his family had worshipped for generations?
- Louis Budenz (editor, The Daily Worker): As a Communist, Budenz targeted Fulton Sheen, who invited him instead to make his confession. Louis and Margaret Budenz both engaged in a long series of meetings with the archbishop over the following years until they publicly denounced Communism and professed Catholicism. Fulton Sheen recognized the danger they were in and hid them, finally securing a teaching position for Louis at the University of Notre Dame. He was Catholic when he joined the labor movement but left the Church when he became a Communist, feeling that the political party better represented workers’ rights. Are there ways in which we can reach out to people who feel their voices aren’t being heard, so they don’t leave the Church?
- Jackie Gleason (comedian): His conversion was not perfect! When asked his religion, would always say “Bad Catholic.” Once asked by a Paulist priest to appear on television to talk about religion, Gleason agreed, saying Catholicism was strong enough to withstand an advocate even as bad as he was. Fulton Sheen was close friends with both Gleason and Milton Berle. Sometimes we don’t realize that comedy is another vehicle for telling the truth. Is there a way to reach out with laughter?
- Gretta Palmer (journalist): “I found that there is no fact or hypothesis or modern physics or astronomy which cannot be comfortably accommodated inside the ample arms of the Church. . . . Many men have abandoned Rome because they wished to worship at the altar of man’s self-sufficient intellect; nobody ever left the Church because the best in him could not find fulfillment there.” The Church is not anti-science or anti-intellect, as Sheen and his converts demonstrate. Humility and generosity are hallmarks of the true Catholic. How can we gladly accommodate those who question, so that they can find their answers in God?
Sometimes all it takes is a new perspective to freshen our own faith. We can learn about being Catholic from these "new" Catholics—and the hundreds more that Archbishop Sheen brought into or back to the Church. Just as others helped them on their journey, they can help us on ours.
Fulton J. Sheen is available now, the first volume in the new Ex Libris series and filled with the gentle wisdom of a man who converted so many disparate people to the faith. Let him become your spiritual director through this book: we know that he will help you on your journey, too!
(Sometimes it's more difficult to reconnect with the Church after a long absence than it is to connect in the first place. That was the case for Louis Budenz. If you know someone who is struggling, or who could use some encouragement, send them to Fulton J. Sheen; but for yourself, pick up a copy of The Prodigal You Love for practical advice on helping them.)