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America's Bishop: The Life and Times of Fulton J. Sheen Paperback – November 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

It is hard to believe that this is the first and only full biography of Fulton J. Sheen, perhaps the most important American priest of the 20th century. Sheen was an enormously popular figure in his day, hosting radio and television programs that introduced and explained his faith to millions of listeners and viewers. (He even won an Emmy Award, and the actor Martin Sheen took his stage name from the man.) Thomas C. Reeves, author of the JFK biography A Question of Character, offers an absorbing account of Sheen's life and times. He uncovers fascinating details, including a phony academic degree and the particulars of a bitter dogfight with Francis Cardinal Spellman. Although this is not a hagiographic account, it is an admiring one: Sheen comes across as an astoundingly smart, charismatic, and generous man. No wonder he was such a successful evangelizer: he converted thousands, including Henry Ford II and Claire Booth Luce. He gained some notoriety for his strong anticommunism; reading America's Bishop, in fact, provides a concise history of Catholic anticommunism in the United States. It is an outstanding book that will appeal to fans of George Weigel's Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II and anybody else attracted to this fascinating figure. --John Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

One of the most influential American Catholic churchmen of the 20th century, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) here receives overdue historical and biographical attention. Reeves (history, Univ. of Wisconsin, Parkside), the author of various studies on U.S. presidents, liberal Christianity, and 20th-century U.S. history (e.g., A Question of Character: The Life of John F. Kennedy), applies meticulous scholarly investigation to his subject. He shows how Sheen influenced millions of people, teaching theology and philosophy at Catholic University (1926-50) and preaching on radio and television broadcasts that drew many converts, both high-profile and ordinary. A careful reading of Sheen's books which numbered over 60 reveals the staunch faith and proven scholarship underlying his media popularization of religion. Sheen also raised millions for the world's poor and publicly opposed communism, racism, and the Vietnam War. Differences with New York's Cardinal Spellman led him into "exile" as Bishop of Rochester, NY (1966-69), after which he continued to preach, travel, write, and maintain a voluminous correspondence. Reeves has done a yeoman's service in gathering fragmented sources and pointing out archival deficiencies on his subject. Highly recommended for most libraries. Anna M. Donnelly, St. John's Univ., Jamaica, NY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 479 pages
  • Publisher: Encounter Books (November 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1893554619
  • ISBN-13: 978-1893554610
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,245,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 47 people found the following review helpful By James H. Toner on October 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Thomas Reeves's biography of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) is superbly crafted. This is not hagiography, for Bishop Sheen had faults and flaws--pride and an inclination to luxury chief among them, Reeves tells us. But Reeves's balanced and thoroughly researched study reveals a man of whom it truly is not too much to say that he, Sheen, was holy. For Archbishop Sheen, Reeves explains, "believed himself driven by the Holy Spirit, loved by a Savior, supported by a Holy Mother, inspired by the Vicar of Christ" (348). A brilliant lecturer, prolific author, and passionate defender of the Catholic faith, the Archbishop was also persuaded that "the closer we get to Christ the closer [Protestants and Catholics] get to one another" (349). Here is the story of a priest-bishop who gave away millions of dollars to charity, traveled millions of miles to spread the Gospel he loved, and wrote millions of words (and hundreds of books and pamphlets), dedicating his life and extraordinary talents to the service of Christ. Although Bishop Sheen was given to bouts of vanity, he was at the same time intensely devoted to spiritual excellence, and he modeled his deep devotion for decades as, arguably, the best-known (and, no doubt, the best educated) preacher of his time. Reeves tells us, correctly of course, that the actor Martin Sheen took his last name from Bishop Sheen with his permission. Bishop Sheen converted to Catholicism numerous well-known people, including atheists and communists, and countless ordinary people who were seeking a spiritual center for their lives. Reeves's book is as clear, concise, and cogent as it is well documented. This book is a major contribution, not just to Church history, but to American history and biography.Read more ›
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Eric Barr on August 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Thomas Reeves deserves kudos and credit for a very fine biography of a man much admired by millions. The high points of this book are as follows: the meticulous gathering of much information simply unknown by his admirers; the careful balancing of sanctity and human frailty of Sheen's character; the fascinating recreation of the Golden Age of Catholicism in America; the personal relationship between Cardinal Spellman and Bishop Sheen; a superb ability to synthesize and bring new insight from the wide variety of materials cited; a great bibliography and excellent notes. The weaknesses are minor: a tendency to repeat some stories, and the maddening tendency of Sheen himself to destroy and misplace correspondence or simply not document his personal life. Despite these minor drawbacks in the book, I was deeply moved by much of this biography and, indeed, brought to tears by the account of the last years of Sheen's life, his meeting with Pope John Paul II, and his funeral. Few will be disappointed in this book; it is a true accomplishment. Many thanks to Professor Reeves for this profound and necessary commentary on the life of a truly great person of the 20th century.
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26 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Thomas J. Burns VINE VOICE on September 30, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Fulton J. Sheen will never be canonized a saint in the Roman Catholic Church for two obvious reasons: his sins are bright scarlet and we know them too well. Sheen established a television intimacy with the American public in the 1950's that only a few individuals have achieved-Walter Cronkite and Johnny Carson come to mind-through his apostolic use of that explosive new video medium. I was a lad in Catholic elementary school when Sheen delivered his prime time homilies from 1952 through 1957. While I remember little of the content of those shows, I was captivated by the style. Sheen, I noticed, paused to let the audience think. None of my local priests did that, nor did they have Skippy the angel to erase the blackboard.

Thomas Reeves is to be commended for the manner in which he tells the truth, the whole truth, about Sheen without defacing the Bishop's many good works and his positive influence upon a wide and diverse American public. Sheen's life was indeed a message "written with crooked lines" and one is reminded of Christ's words to the penitent woman, "her sins, many as they are, will be forgiven because of her great love." Though haunted by the pride and ambition that would seem to stalk nearly all television evangelists who followed, in the final analysis Sheen did love his God, though he himself ran a close second.

Born in 1895 on a farm in rural Illinois, the youthful Peter John Sheen was devout, smart, and disdainful of manual labor and farming. He was hardly the first country boy to see the cloth as a step up from shoveling manure. We forget that he was originally a priest of the Peoria, Illinois, diocese, possibly because of his distinguished academic record at the Louvain.

There is an air of mystery about Sheen's academic status, though.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Peter J. Berger on December 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
I really enjoyed this book. I thought that it did a number of things well. For one it helped me to get to know Fulton J. Sheen, a name I had heard about from the past and brief mentions from my parents, but had never known except the author of one book on my shelf ("The Life of Christ"). I felt that I not only got to know who he was, but also about the times he lived in. Reeves seamlessly blends the historical reality of Sheen's time with Sheen's actions as well as his thoughts.

I felt that Reeves had presented Sheen as entirely human, he did not try to portray him as a distant saint, nor try to deconstruct him in a voyeuristic way. He attempted to accurately present the man and his message. Based on his liberal number of interviews and sources I think he did a good job. He stated that there was simply a lack of a good biography on Archbishop Sheen and I think that he filled it.

I appreciated Reeves working in numerous quotations from Sheen's writings and talks which sent me to to see if many of these books were still in print. However, many are not, which seems a shame, because Sheen seems to me (as a 26-year-old) to have much to say about the current age.
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