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Ven. Fulton J. Sheen the Most Popular Man in Television

July 19, 2012

Believe it or not, but there was a time when the most watched program on television was hosted by a Catholic bishop.  Each week 30,000,000 people weekly, Catholics and Protestants alike,  tuned in to watch Bishop Fulton J. Sheen discuss spiritual issues.  He had no special effects or cut scenes.  He stood almost exposed on on a sound stage in front of a live audience armed only with a bible and his trademark chalkboard.   Strangely, he didn’t need any graphics or effects.  Even when watching his program today it is enough to just see the man talking into the camera (I believe there were three in the studio).  His words carry that much weight.

Archbishop Sheen had a way of talking.  He was a man that knew the power of a pause.  It wasn’t just his words, the cleric was handsome, square jawed, extremely quick witted, all around telegenic.

The young bishop originally hosted a national radio program ‘The Catholic Hour’ from 1930-1950,  before being offered a time slot on the Du Mont Network.  Du Mont didn’t necessarily give Sheen a time slot out of charity.  They did it because they didn’t want to waste another expensive to produce program.  You see Sheen was originally broadcast against two extremely popular shows; CBS’s Frank Sinatra, and NBC’s “Mr. Television” Milton Berle who at one point in his career commanded 80% of the total television audience.

Despite being given this graveyard of a time slot Bishop Sheen shined.  His program ‘Life is Worth Living’ was an unexpected success.  Sheen was the only person to seriously challenge Berle for his TV crown.  The good bishop even won the Emmy Award for ‘Outstanding TV Personality’ in 1952.  Sheen was so popular that when the Du Mont network folded in the mid 1950’s ABC picked up ‘Life is Worth Living’ and aired it until 1957.  Sheen then hosted ‘The Fulton Sheen Program’ in syndication until 1968.

Sheen on temptation.

Sheen was also a stanch critic of communism, particularly Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union.  In part because of this he was able to strike up a well documented relationship with FBI director J. Edger Hoover.  Hoover’s file on Sheen (Hoover keept secret files on hundreds of popular Americans) is now available online HERE.  In this document one can see how far Sheen’s fight against communism went.

Sheen on loneliness.

After his television career  Sheen served as Bishop of Rochester NY.  Prior to this Sheen earned is bishop credentials byserving as Auxiliary bishop of New York since the early 1950’s.  His time in Rochester was short lived as Paul VI saw the need for Sheen as an evangelist, an in 1969 Sheen was named Archbishop of the titular see of Newport Wales so that he could continue his work of spreading the Christian message until his death in 1979.

1979 Good Friday Sermon.

Bonus:  Sheen’s appearance on the popular panel game show ‘What’s My Line’.

We should remember to pray for the now Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, and his cause for canonization.  More information on what you can do to support the cause is available from the Fulton J. Sheen Foundation.

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From → Everyday Faith

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