More than 100 fans, friends and family members of the late Catholic television evangelist and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen attended a Mass to support his cause for sainthood at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola in Palm Beach Gardens last night and more are expected to gather in a Boca Raton church tonight. Sheen, who grew up in Peoria Ill. and died in 1979, is one of a handful of Americans that the Vatican is considering for sainthood. If selected, he will be the first American-born bishop to become a saint.Sheen hosted a Sunday evening radio program, The Catholic Hour, beginning in 1930, and a popular television show, Life is Worth Living, from 1951 to 1957. The Catholic network, EWTN, still shows reruns of the charismatic Sheen, dressed in his black cassock and red cape. "Millions of Americans - both Catholic and non-Catholic, felt that they had a personal relationship because he was in their living rooms at least once a week," said Monsignor Stanley Deptula, who said Tuesday's Mass and is leading Sheen's cause for sainthood.Pope John Paul II learned to speak English by listening to Sheen's show, Deptula said. By showing that you could be both loyal to the Pope and a patriotic American, Sheen helped to pave the way for John F. Kennedy to become the nation's first Catholic president, Deptula said. Sheen won an Emmy in 1952. At his peak, nearly 31 million Americans tuned in to Sheen's prime time television program, even more than his competitor, actor Milton Berle. He told Berle, "You have writers, but I have Matthew, Mark, Luke and John writing for me," his niece, Joan Sheen Cunningham, said after Tuesday's Mass. The Palm Beach Gardens mass was one of many held all over the country to celebrate Sheen's life. The church wants to gauge public devotion to Sheen, and spread the word about his possible canonization. Pauline Kolb Beckham, of Port St. Lucie drove down with her family to attend the Mass. Beckham, 89, remembers her family gathering around the table for Sunday supper while listening to his radio show. Beckham said she was also lucky enough to meet Sheen in person. She was introduced through her sister and ate dinner at Sheen's home when she was a young teen and he was at the Catholic University in Washington D.C. Though Sheen met many celebrities, he was kind and down to earth, she said. For more than half a century, she has saved a letter that Sheen wrote her in 1952. "He was so human," Beckham said. "He talked to anybody, the lowest person or the highest person." Mary Murray of Jupiter said she remembers watching Sheen with her mother when she was a girl."He was one of the greatest communicators for the Catholic Church. He brought the Catholic Church into the 20th century," said Murray, 60. "I remember people just being mesmerized by his charisma, his charm, his God-given gifts of writing and speaking." In order for Sheen to become a saint, The Vatican must certify that he performed at least two miracles. Deptula says that prayers to Sheen helped save the life of a little boy in Pittsburgh and a woman in Champaign (Ill.) who was bleeding to death on the operating table. A doctor told her husband that there was nothing more that he could do, so the man said a prayer to Sheen. Soon after, the doctors came out to say that the bleeding had stopped, Deptula said, and the woman lived for another decade.Catholics are not supposed to worship saints but to look up to them, Deptula said. "Why do we need saints?" Deptula said at Tuesday's Mass. "To give us hope, to pray for us, to inspire us." Some saints are canonized hundreds of years after they die, but Sheen would be "a saint of our country. A saint of our time," Deptula said. Another event to spread the word and gather support for Sheen will be held at St. Joan of Arc Church, 370 S.W. 3rd St. in Boca Raton on Wednesday. Praise and worship begins at 7 p.m., followed by a Mass, adoration, talk and reception beginning at 7:30 p.m. For more information or to support Sheen's cause, go to www.diocesepb.org or www.archbishopsheencause.org.
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