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Former New York Bishop, TV Star Fulton J. Sheen Getting Closer To Sainthood

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Sixty years ago, New York Bishop Fulton J. Sheen was one of the biggest stars on television.

Now, he is one step closer to sainthood as a medical miracle was attributed to him.

As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported, pilgrims come to a marble crypt behind bronze doors, beneath the main alter at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, to pray at Sheen’s tomb.

“People come here all the time, asking to come down and venerate the tomb, and kneel here at his kneeler, and pray for the cause of his sainthood,” said cathedral rector Monsignor Robert Ritchie.

Five years ago in Peoria, Ill. – where Sheen (1895-1979) grew up – a baby boy’s heart stopped for 61 minutes. The baby’s parents prayed fervently to Archbishop Sheen for help.

The boy, James Fulton Engstrom, survived. And now a church committee in Rome has ruled there is no way to explain it except as a miracle.

“I think then when he heard their prayers, he went to God Himself and said, ‘Come on, let’s help the boy,’” said Joan Cunningham of Yonkers, Sheen’s niece.

Cunningham was overjoyed to learn her uncle is now one step closer to sainthood.

“I knew he was a holy man, but of course, saints were more statues in a church,” she said.

In the 1950s, Sheen was a bishop in New York, and one of the biggest names on TV. His show, “Life Is Worth Living,” aired from 1951 until 1957 and spread the Catholic faith with a mix of wisdom and wit.

When Sheen beat Milton Berle to win an Emmy Award in 1952, he jokingly credited his writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

“I used to kid him and say he was a ham,” Cunningham said.

Sheen’s humor was seen as a reflection of his humanity and a complement to his holiness.

“When we give out help, it has to pour out from our fingertips; our soul goes out,” Sheen said in a 1969 interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

Supporters believe the archbishop is well on the way to beatification – the final step before being declared a saint.

People in Peoria have asked that his remains be relocated there. But Sheen’s niece wants his resting place to remain at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

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