The saints, whose heroic witness, service and commitment to solidarity is so extraordinary that they must be formally acknowledged, seem to be crowding into our American scene more dramatically than ever before.
For example, I recently wrote in this space a piece about Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, once a public school teacher in New Jersey, whom my father, a native of New Jersey, knew. Sister Miriam Teresa’s brother, Msgr. Charles Demjanovich, attended Seton Hall College in South Orange at the same time my father did. I also knew and corresponded with Msgr. Charles, who served as pastor of St. Mary’s, in Rutherford. Sister Miriam Teresa, who can now be addressed as "Venerable," is officially on the pathway to beatification.
Moreover, two additional candidates whom I knew have recently (28 June) been recognized by the Vatican Congregation for Causes of Saints: Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and Bishop Alvaro del Portillo y Diez de Sollano.
Bishop Sheen was, of course, much "larger than life." I have clear recollections of his nationally broadcast radio sermons during the late 1930s, when every self-respecting Catholic schoolboy had a copy of a small book of prayers (named for him), which "The Catholic Hour" mailed to petitioners across the country. When television became the preferred medium, and Msgr. Sheen became Bishop Sheen, his every program became one of the most watched in the country – one year even surpassing the comedian Milton Berle’s show as the number-one TV attraction.
(I once heard Bishop Sheen tell a group of priests that his was the very first voice heard from the then-newly opened Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan. The fabled General David Sarnoff, the RCA genius, deliberately asked Msgr. Sheen to participate in the first broadcast.)
As a much younger priest, I participated in a retreat for priests preached by Bishop Sheen here in the Archdiocese. More than once I was reminded of how a prophet like Isaiah would have preached. It was absolutely unforgettable.
I came to know Bishop Sheen better (albeit on an official level) after I was elected president of the St. Bernard’s Seminary Alumni Association some years ago. St. Bernard’s, my alma mater, for which I am eternally grateful, is located in Rochester, only about two miles from Lake Ontario; and Bishop Sheen was named Ordinary there. (Later, he received the personal title of Archbishop.) Hence I had the great privilege of concelebrating Mass with Bishop Sheen at Alumni Conventions, and of listening to him anew.
Bishop Sheen’s work for the missions is legendary. He worked indefatigably all his life to help missioners in fields afar. For this alone, he merits the Church’s recognition. But he was also a loyal son of the Church; his writings (books) and sermons loudly attest to this. And he was a man of great prayer, one who made a holy hour daily.
The other candidate I have known who can now be called "Venerable" was also a Bishop. He too was a most remarkable person: the Madrid-born Alvaro del Portillo. He worked as a civil engineer and taught at Madrid University’s School of Engineering, before joining the Personal Prelature of Opus Dei in 1935. Ordained a priest in 1944, he acquired two more doctorates: in Philosophy and Letters, and in Canon Law. He also served in many Vatican offices prior to his being named a President of Opus Dei and successor to its founder, St. Josemaria de Balaguer. He was named a bishop by Pope John Paul II in 1991.
I was privileged to meet Venerable Alvaro del Portillo down in New Rochelle some years ago. He was visiting the United States, and I was invited to a small reception in his honor. The day was extremely busy for me; I had taught a three-and-a-half-hour course in the morning at Holy Apostles Seminary, and in the early afternoon I had to address some administrative problems. (I think I was Vice-Rector at the time.) I drove down to New Rochelle, met and spoke with the Bishop, then returned to the Cromwell Seminary to teach a three-and-a-half-hour evening course – all without supper, of course.
Bishop Portillo, now a Venerable Servant of God, learned about my day and never forgot it, even alluding to it on a Christmas card.
One point that needs emphasis: to have met this great man was, as in the case of Archbishop Sheen, unforgettable. Absolutely unforgettable. Peace, serenity, strength, patience and priestly kindness literally radiated from him.
Msgr. David Q. Liptak is Executive Editor of The Catholic Transcript and censor librorum for the Archdiocese of Hartford.