“The Woman He Loved”: Fulton Sheen and the Blessed Mother

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary was an ever-present grace in the life of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Like the sun that sends its rays of light upon the earth from its rising to its setting, so the love of Our Lady shone like a bright light over the life of the future Archbishop, from its very beginning right through to its conclusion. It left an indelible impression on his life. This devotion began with his Baptism, at the very time his life in Christ began. He describes what happened in his autobiography:

When I was baptized as an infant, my mother laid me on the altar of the Blessed Mother in St. Mary’s Church, El Paso, Illinois, and consecrated me to her. As an infant may be very unconscious of a birthmark, so I was unconscious of the dedication—but the mark was always there. Like a piece of iron to the magnet, I was drawn to her before I knew her, but never drawn to her without Christ. (Treasure in Clay, p. 316)

We can judge how much this consecration to Our Lady meant to young Fulton from the fact that he spontaneously renewed it at the age of twelve when he received his First Holy Communion. His First Communion book contained a copy of the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, which he began to recite every night as a boy and kept the practice up to his death. Later on, when he was ordained a priest, he made a resolution to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass every Saturday—when the Liturgy permitted—in honor of Our Lady. He saw it as a way to renew his love for her and to seek her powerful intercession. As he looked toward the end of his earthly life, he felt that his love and devotion to Our Lady would be an important part of his encounter with Christ at his final judgment. He felt Our Lord would say to him: “I know all about you; my Mother told me all about you!” Archbishop Sheen’s filial love and trust in Our Lady is expressed very clearly in the motto he chose for his coat of arms as a bishop: “Da per Matrem me venire,” “Grant that I may come to You through your Mother.”

This devotion expressed itself in his visits to some of the greatest shrines of Our Lady, especially Lourdes and Fatima. He visited Lourdes over thirty times. He experienced many special signs of Our Lady’s love and care for him there. On one such occasion, when he was without money, he stayed some ten days in a rather nice hotel. He asked Our Lady to send him someone to pay his hotel bill. On the tenth and final day, a man came up to him and asked if he would accompany him and his family on a tour of Paris. When the then Fr. Sheen agreed, the man added another question, “Have you paid your hotel bill yet?”

The Archbishop made about ten visits to Our Lady’s shrine in Fatima. Unlike Lourdes, where the place of the apparitions of Our Lady was the focus, at Fatima the message of Our Lady was stressed. She had come with a message of hope for world peace, as well as a plan from Heaven on how to obtain it. He saw four things in Fatima. First, he came to realize on the authority of Our Lady that Communism was an evil that was trying to conquer the world as it sought to destroy the Catholic Church. This conviction led him to be an unrelenting opponent of Communism in the West. His voice was often the only one to be heard opposing Communism because so many in the West did not see its dangers. He would often say, “We do not need a voice that’s right when everybody else is right, but we need a voice that’s right when everybody else is wrong.” Fatima impelled him to be that voice!

Secondly, the Archbishop saw in Our Lady of Fatima a hope of converting the Muslim people. He held that Our Lady did not appear in the only place in Portugal with a Muslim name (Fatima was named after a Muslim princess who converted to the Catholic faith), simply to convert Russia. She came also for the conversion of the Moslem people because, as he believed, unless a great number of Muslims were converted, there would never be peace in the world. He said:

“I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as “Our Lady of Fatima” as a pledge and a sign of hope to the Muslim people, and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her Divine Son too!”

Thirdly, Archbishop Sheen saw in Fatima a call to greater conversion of o