Popes Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have summoned the Church to more effectively communicate, propose, and spread the gospel message of Jesus Christ to the modern world. It’s known as The New Evangelization, and it especially encourages engagement with culture.
Its goal is to bring practicing Catholics closer to the faith, attract and accompany “lapsed” Catholics in returning to the Church, and introduce non-Catholics to the person, message, and invitation of Jesus.
The New Evangelization works by using a variety of means to express the beauty and depth of Catholicism. Here in the Archdiocese of New York, we are about to embark on a New Evangelization initiative that, I believe, is unique, without parallel in any diocese in the nation, The Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Center for Art and Culture. Allow me to tell you a little about the center, our hopes and dreams for it, and all the good it can do for the Church.
In line with the goal of The New Evangelization, the mission statement of the center is succinct, though all encompassing:
The Sheen Center is a forum to highlight the true, the good, and the beautiful as they have been expressed throughout the ages. Aware of our creation in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by Jesus, the Sheen Center aspires to present the heights and depths of human expression in thought and culture, acknowledging that “the glory of God is man fully alive.” At the Sheen Center, we proclaim that “life is worth living,” especially when we seek to deepen, explore, challenge, and uplift ourselves, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, intellectually, artistically, and spiritually.
So, why does the center bear the name Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen? Because no other American Catholic has come closer than he to having lived out the center’s mission statement. From his acclaimed and award winning radio and television programs, to his famed preaching at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Saint Agnes Church here in Manhattan, to his bestselling books, no one has better used modern means of communication to bring the Catholic faith to all, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and that is the New Evangelization. All of his addresses and writings draw upon what was best in culture, art, literature, music, drama, journalism, history—anything that enhanced the dignity and nobility of the human person. Just months before his passing, Pope Saint John Paul II met Archbishop Sheen at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral during his 1979 visit to New York, and greeted him with these words: “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus. You have been a loyal son of the Church.”
Here is a glimpse of the life of Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. He was born on May 8, 1895, in El Paso, Illinois and ordained a priest in 1919. He earned a doctorate in philosophy from The Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium in 1923, and was then assigned, for a short time, to parishes in London and Illinois before being assigned to The Catholic University of America, where he taught philosophy until 1950. From 1950 through 1966, he served as director of the National Pontifical Mission Societies (Society of the Propagation of the Faith). He was ordained an auxiliary bishop to the Archdiocese of New York in 1951, and appointed Bishop of Rochester in 1966, resigning in 1969. Archbishop Sheen died on December 9, 1979, and is buried in the crypt at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. His cause for beatification/canonization was opened in September 2002, and the Holy See has granted him the title “Venerable.”
The Sheen Center, decades ago the home to Our Lady of Loreto Parish and Catholic Charities programs, stands on Elizabeth and Bleecker Streets, now an interesting part of Manhattan where cultural and artistic endeavors are thriving. Besides an ideal location, the building is a perfect fit for the project, with ample space and an original early 1900s theatre. Now renovated, the center includes an exhibition area; several conference rooms that are able to be opened into one large conference room; a “black box” theatre, which holds 93 people and can be configured to suit the particular needs of any event; a theatre that holds 250 people; and—of course—a chapel for those who visit the center and want to sit, converse, and pray with the Lord.
The center will soon be administered by an executive director, experienced staff, and board of directors comprised of clergy and religious, executives, academicians, and those who are engaged in the arts to ensure its success, and its allegiance to the mission.
Programming is, of course, essential. It is anticipated that the center’s projects will include exhibitions (art, photography, sculpture, and the celebrations of momentous events and occasions in the life of the Church, archdiocese, and community), academic lectures and symposia (theology, philosophy, literature, history, and civic service) with proceedings published for distribution to universities and libraries, and theatrical productions (plays, operas, concerts, and dance)—all to foster thought and dialogue.
The archdiocese plans to sponsor a few dozen events per year, several each month. It will, naturally, take a few years before the center is in full operation. This is not as easy a goal to reach as it may seem. It is also anticipated that the archdiocese will co-sponsor events with other dioceses, universities, and outside organizations. Additionally, the center will rent space to outside organizations for events. Some of these will likely have religious overtones and others will not. But, there are bills to be paid, and we don’t want the center to be a financial drain on the archdiocese. However, no event will present a message unacceptable to the Church, and all programs will have the purpose of bringing the true, the good, and the beautiful to our community. The Church has for centuries been in the forefront of advancing education, art, and culture as they come from the Lord. If the center can help young and upcoming artists, that would be wonderful.
This is an entirely new work of the archdiocese, and so we will likely hit a few bumps here and there as the center grows into what we want it to be. It will take time to develop an ongoing program. An outside event, though all will be pre-screened, may at times surprise us and cause some difficulty. As with all new operations, glitches are to be expected, but they will be handled as soon as they arise.
On September 15, I am scheduled to dedicate the center and give its first address. It will, of course, be on Archbishop Fulton Sheen and his contributions to the Church. In early 2015, we are planning a week or so of events every day and evening to officially “kick off” the center. I do hope that you are able to attend one or more of them.
Please keep the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Center for Art and Culture in your prayers. We’re hopeful that it will be a blessing to the Church, the Archdiocese of New York, and the greater New York community. We are hopeful, too, that it will be America’s premier center for The New Evangelization.
P.S. Adjacent to the Sheen Center is the renovated former rectory, which will house the eight members of FOCUS serving here in the archdiocesan university apostolate at New York University and Columbia University. How blessed we are to have these enthusiastic young Catholic men and women assisting our priest chaplains at these two universities. Pray for them, too.