In life, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was renowned for being an Emmy-Award winning preacher who brought Catholicism into American living rooms as television became popular in the 1950s.
But in death, Sheen has attained a different kind of fame: His body has been the subject of a bitter public tussle between two Catholic bishops, each wanting to have the remains entombed in their cathedrals.
Now, 40 years after having been laid to rest in a crypt at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, the body of Sheen will have a new final resting place.
His remains will be moved, in the coming months, from New York, where Sheen rose to fame as an evangelist, to the small Roman Catholic diocese of Peoria, Illinois, where he was born, raised and ordained, and which is sponsoring his cause for sainthood.
Stemming from a decision by the New York state Court of Appeals on Friday, the move brings an end to the decadelong fight over where Sheen’s remains should be entombed. The matter has grown in urgency in recent years as the archbishop, who now bears the title of “venerable” from the Vatican, has come under serious consideration for canonization — which would make him the first American-born male saint — both for his good works during his life, and for at least one possible miracle since his death.
Sheen died in Manhattan at age 84 in 1979, and shortly after his body was entombed at St. Patrick’s. It remained there peacefully until Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, head of the Diocese of Peoria, began investigating the possible sainthood of Sheen in the early 2000s.
His closest living relative, Joan Sheen Cunningham, sued in 2016 to have her uncle’s remains moved to Peoria, with the hope that it would speed his cause to sainthood. New York church officials fought back in court, arguing that the archbishop’s final wishes were to remain in New York in perpetuity.