John Willson on why, in the 1950s, everybody watched Bishop Sheen :

. . . the most popular person on the most visible proof of prosperity, television, was a Catholic Bishop. America’s Bishop, his biographer Thomas Reeves calls him. Fulton J. Sheen did “Life Is Worth Living” on the Du Mont network and ABC (in fact he made ABC) from February 12, 1952 until October, 1957 when he “retired” from television at the order of Cardinal Spellman of New York. He won an Emmy as TV’s most outstanding personality in 1952 and was heard by more people than any bishop in history, and watched by more people than “I Love Lucy” or “Gunsmoke.” The idiots who have so far written histories of the 50s often group him with Norman Vincent Peale’s feelgood version of lukewarm dishwater Christianity, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Bishop Sheen brought Thomas Aquinas to the United States in his 1925 book, God and Intelligence (an astonishing book, a critique of all of modern philosophy from the perspective of a Christian Humanist). He also devastated “Sigmund Fraud” in Peace of Soul (1949) and wrote the best book ever written on communism (except perhaps for Whittaker Chambers’ Witness ), Communism and the Conscience of the West (1948). Before TV, he had intellectually marginalized the two great evil ideologies of the twentieth century.

Nor did he on television water things down. He walked onto a spare set, dressed as a bishop, wrote “JMJ” at the top of a folding blackboard, and talked for twenty-seven minutes (he once said that a successful talk is of whatever length but best wrapped up with a two-minute memorized ending) about things that Americans knew in their hearts were important. “Why Work Is Boring,” for example; or “Fatigue”; or “How to Talk”; or “Women Who Do Not Fail; or “Teen-Agers.” He never talked politics, except to dissect the evils of ideology—about one in five of his shows, and he never identified himself as a Catholic. About 70% of his audience was non-Catholic. It can be well argued that he killed America’s historic anti-Catholicism with kindness.


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