Review: Archbishop Fulton Sheen: Servant of All
Whether you’re a long-time fan of the Church’s first television star or you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, this documentary is a great introduction to the man who, just this year, became “The Venerable Archbishop Sheen.”
I had low expectations of the video — not because of the subject or the maker, but because the words “religious video” are so often a deadly combination. But don’t hesitate to watch or purchase: the production values are top-notch, the editing and narration are excellent, and the pace is far less frenetic than anything on cable and far quicker than most things on PBS.
Filmed in the de riguer style of alternating head shots with historical photographs and footage made popular by Ken Burns, the film is both reverent and cheerful — like something filmed by Ken Burns’s happier, less self-important brother. A host of Sheen family members and acquaintances, priests, bishops (Cardinal Dolan makes several appearances), and even Regis Phillben comment — and who better than a beloved guest in millions of American homes to talk about the archbishop millions of Americans welcomed into their homes?
Most of the film documents his rise to media stardom (he hosted various television programs for nearly 40 years) and his tireless mission work. Less time is spent on his later years, after Vatican II, when his style and theology were seen as old-fashioned and his political activism made him unpopular with many. A five-year battle with his bishop is mentioned but not explored, but the iconic photograph of him being embraced by Pope John Paul II, who would not let him kneel when he walked to the elderly Archbishop’s seat to see him at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, is given an appropriate and moving spotlight.
You will not get an in-depth look at the man, but what you will get is solid, enjoyable, and intriguing. He made millions, we are told, and gave it all away. A brilliant scholar, he became a television celebrity. One of America’s most-recognized people, he sunk to relative obscurity, becoming the sort of forgotten celebrity people are surprised to find is still alive. He wrote 73 books, many of them still in print. Mother Theresa, the film tells us, carried his Life of Christ with her everywhere.
A man made for his times, he seems to have suffered much from outliving them — losing his fame, his popularity, and his adulation, he spent much of his last years repenting for not being indifferent to them when he had them. “You are a loyal son of the Church,” Bl. Pope John Paul II told him, and he died kneeling before the Eucharist. His life shows that while times change and what makes a man famous changes with it, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. A loyal son of the Church, the Ven. Fulton Sheen tried to do whatever Christ asked of him — whether it brought him fame or obscurity, friendship or trouble. We should all do the same.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen: Servant of All was developed by the The Archbishop Fulton Sheen Foundation and published by Ignatius Press. The two-DVD set includes a booklet about the Servant of God, a second DVD with five episodes of Life is Worth Living, and information about how to donate to the Cause for the Ven. Sheen’s canonization.
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