Fulton Sheen, Fr. Robert Barron, Mark Shea, and the New Evangelization

If you gaze up at the sky today and see someone floating in the clouds, that would be me. I just got back from an unbelievable three-day trip to Chicago and I’m still hovering three miles above Cloud Nine.

It all started when I was invited to address the priests of Chicago for their annual Presbyteral Day. They asked me to speak on new media and the New Evangelization, two of my favorite topics, so I of course said “yes.”

But then I discovered that that same weekend in Peoria, IL, hundreds of people were  gathering for a special Mass of Thanksgiving celebrating the recent Venerability of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. I had heard about the special Mass before and yearned to attend. After all, Sheen’s a great hero of mine. But I figured it was too pricey and too complicated and it probably wouldn’t happen.

However I learned Peoria was just three hours from Chicago. And that the Mass was the same weekend as my talk. The gears began turning. I planned, I schemed, I tweaked my flights, and the details eventually fell into place.

Those two events alone would have made for an incredible trip. But then I then got an email from my friends at Word on Fire. They heard I’d be in Chicago and wondered if I could visit Mundelein Seminary to participate in a new film series they’re working on. Even more, Fr. Robert Barron, the new Rector at Mundelein, invited me to stay at the seminary as his personal guest. I don’t think I breathed before uttering “yes.”

So on Saturday night (9/8) I took off for Chicago. The whole trip was a blur. All I remember is it was full of joy, laughs, great conversations, and even better people. Here were some of the big highlights I captured:

Mundelein Seminary

Staying at the seminary was a treat. The beautiful greens, lush forests, and old stone buildings make you feel like you’re stepping right into Rivendell. Cardinal Mundelein certainly knew what he was doing when he designed this oasis, far away from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Just walking the grounds puts your soul at rest.

The beautiful main chapel at Mundelein.


My cellphone camera can’t do justice to this scene pulled straight out of Rivendell.


A peek inside Mundelein’s main occasion of sin. Or what non-bibliophile residents call “the library.”


Cardinal Mundelein was a big collector of relics and artwork. In a small corner of the library I spotted Cardinal John Henry Newman’s biretta.


My quaint little room in Mundelein’s faculty building.


In the halls of the faculty building, they have large posters with each class of seminarians. I couldn’t help capturing this youthful grin in the Class of 1986.


….and then in the Class of 1973 I caught this ridiculously awesome shot of my new favorite bishop.


Mass of Thanksgiving for Venerable Fulton Sheen

The next morning, bright and early at 5:15am, I headed out to Peoria with my good friends Rozann Carter and Sean Lee from Word on Fire. The Mass was beautiful, and full of all the bells and smells you’d expect from such a reverent event. Rozann recounted the Mass at the Word on Fire blog and online-friend Nancy Piccione shared her thoughts over at Reading Catholic. After the Mass, we got to check out the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Museum a block away.

The cathedral in Peoria where Sheen was confirmed and ordained–a fitting place for the Mass of Thanksgiving.

With the ever-joyous Lisa Hendey (CatholicMom.com) and my fellow bibliophile friend and Peoria-native Nancy Piccione (Catholicbookgroup.blogspot.com).

With Msgr. Richard Soseman, a good friend who has been instrumental in Sheen’s cause for canonization. We also filmed a video interview which I’ll post soon.

With online-friend Bonnie Engstrom and her 2-year-old son, James Fulton. James is properly known as “the miracle baby”. He was stillborn, blue in the face and without a pulse, but his parents prayed to God and asked for Archbishop Sheen’s intercession. After 61 minutes his heart miraculously began to beat. He’s now the ‘official miracle’ proposed for Sheen’s beatification.

With Fr. Andrew Apostoli, one of the original Franciscan Friars of the Renewal who was ordained by Sheen himself.

Fr. Barron noted that Peoria was one of the few dioceses in Illinois that does not send their seminarians to Mundelein. So he encouraged me to confront Bishop Jenky in Peoria and change his mind.

Standing with Venerable Sheen’s iconic ferriola (or what us simple folk would call his “cape”.)

Venerable Sheen was fond of celebrating Mass under the Byzantine rite wearing these vestments.

The chair from Sheen’s private chapel where he spent many hours in prayer. Sheen was renowned for his daily holy hour which he maintained throughout his priesthood.


‘New Media, New Evangelization’ for Chicago Priests

The next morning Fr. Barron and I drove to Niles, IL for the Chicago Presbyteral Day. More than 400 priests showed up, most of them there to hear Cardinal Francis George. The meeting would be the first time Cardinal George addressed all of his priests since his recent cancer diagnosis. In the message, he didn’t dwell too much on his sickness. He was upbeat and optimistic, and that attitude seemed to reinvigorate his priests.

Cardinal George addressing the priests.

Standing with Fr. Robert Barron and Cardinal George after my talk, which was titled “New Media, New Evangelization: The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital Age.”


Dinner with Heroes

As Providence would have it, Mark Shea was staying at Marytown during my visit, which is right around the corner from Mundelein. So that night Fr. Barron, Fr. Steve Grunow, and I joined Mark for dinner and had an absolute blast (Mark wrote about it here.)

Dinner with Fr. Steve Grunow, Mark Shea, and Fr. Robert Barron.

With Mark Shea, one of my favorite writers and the closest thing we have to an American Chesterton.

So in case you couldn’t tell by the pictures, the whole trip was spectacular. It was filled with so many pinch-my-cheek moments that it will take several months to finally sink back to earth.