Inspired by Bishop Sheen

His zeal and charisma continue to stir hearts

It was 1953 when I found myself at 11 years old tuning into Bishop Fulton J. Sheen’s weekly Tuesday night commentaries on our black and white television. I don’t know how I got motivated to watch him every week, because my parents weren’t into Catholicism. I was raised a Catholic, baptized, confirmed, received holy communion, but my parents didn’t encourage us much. Every Sunday I’d grudgingly walk the two miles from our home to St. Mary’s of the Assumption.

My father was a Grand Mason, a 33rd degree Shriner, and Worthy Master of two lodges in the Boston area. My mother was agnostic because of her mother’s disgust with a philandering priest back in Italy. So my avid interest in the bishop’s weekly message was curious indeed. Something about the man’s charisma gripped my soul. His words were a banquet feast after long subsisting on starvation rations.

Many remember Sheen’s presentation from February 1953, when he forcefully denounced the Soviet regime of Joseph Stalin. Sheen gave a dramatic reading of the burial scene from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, substituting the names of prominent Soviet leaders Stalin, Lavrenty Beria, Georgy Malenkov, and Andrey Vyshinsky for the original Caesar, Cassius, Marc Antony, and Brutus. He concluded by saying, “Stalin must one day meet his judgment.” The dictator suffered a stroke a few days later and died within a week.

Not long after that, my parents became alarmed that I was walking to church daily. Two weeks later, my father harshly dictated that I was to cease and desist my “irrational” behavior. He couldn’t have known, and I didn’t have the confident maturity to realize, that I was experiencing an amazing influx of grace, just before the hormonal ravages of puberty. How could we have known that a mere ten years later, while attending Yale graduate school, I would experience an acute nervous breakdown that was an “irrational” conversion to in-depth Catholicism?

Later I embarked on a penniless ministry by following Christ’s instructions to the letter. I cannot imagine the pain and suffering I must have caused my parents, worrying over their first-born. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen’s message worked an inner-conversion miracle that extends to this day.

 

Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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