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The Preaching of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: The Gospel Meets the Cold War
The Preaching of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: The Gospel Meets the Cold War
Timothy H. Sherwood
Lexington Books, 2010
168 pp., $88.00

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Kirk Farney


A Sheen on the Pulpit

Fulton J. Sheen, preacher par excellence.

Mention of the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen triggers a variety of images in the minds of those who remember his unmistakable presence on the American Christian scene. They may be recollections of his smooth voice coming through walnut radio cabinets on the Catholic Hour. They may be of the Emmy-winning television star whose screen presence and ratings on Life is Worth Living were envied by the likes of Milton Berle and Jackie Gleason. They may be of the amiable, Americanized face Sheen put on a Catholicism previously held at arm's length by the country's Protestant establishment. They may be of magazine photos showing Sheen moving comfortably amongst his celebrity pals and converts like Loretta Young and Clare Booth Luce. And, they may be of a purple-caped cleric who displayed an uncommon blend of erudition and warmth, with just a hint of vanity.

The priest from Peoria indeed attended to a "parish" whose boundaries were broader than most. Yet, the memory of Sheen's celebrity and media savvy frequently overshadows another area in which he achieved no mean prowess—that of preacher. In The Preaching of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, euphemistically acknowledging a "general lack of recognition for Catholic preaching," priest and scholar Timothy H. Sherwood endeavors to heighten appreciation for this aspect of Sheen's ministry.

Sherwood does not deny that Sheen's oratorical skills were broadly recognized during and after his lifetime, and have received considerable scholarly attention. However, most studies rely heavily on his 1950s TV programs, which Sherwood claims were "never designed or intended to be a preaching ministry." Sheen crafted messages with more generic Christian content for television audiences than he did for parish pulpits. Thus, in a study that is "not biographical, but rhetorical," Sherwood primarily focuses on Sheen's Good Friday homilies delivered over a span of five decades (1930 to 1979), often at New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral. These sermons ...

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