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Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s Wisdom Compiled in New Book

Journalist turned PR maven Alexis Walkenstein (one of the team behind our recent documentary “The Dating Project”) recently released “Ex Libris — Fulton J. Sheen,” a compilation of writings from pioneering Catholic media evangelist Venerable Archbishop Sheen, who spread the Gospel on radio and TV from 1930 until the late 1930s.

He died in 1979 and is currently interred at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

Since today, May 8, is the 123rd anniversary of Sheen’s birth, we decided to check in with Walkenstein and see what Sheen means to her, and what she’d like him to mean to others.

How did you first hear about Archbishop Sheen?

Archbishop Sheen would be an occasional topic in our Catholic home growing up, since he was really more of my parents’ generation. In my young-adult professional life as a journalist, I recall particular things about Sheen during one Christmas when my dad decided to gift my mother with a collection of his old radio broadcasts. The media connection intrigued me because I worked in TV.

More personally, I would say Sheen dramatically broke into my life around the time I accepted a new job as spokesperson and director of communications for a diocese in South Florida. I was transitioning from a secular news career in Boston, and I was flooded with all my hopes and dreams (and fears) as I was moving into new territory, career-wise and geography-wise.

I was so excited about moving and praying at the same time for a God-sent husband. I meandered into a local Boston Catholic bookstore before I drove myself south on I-95 to the east coast of Florida. I perused the shelves looking for a spiritual work to mark this time of transition. I plucked Sheen’s Three to Get Married from the shelves and was intrigued because here was this bishop teaching about marriage.

There was so much focus on vocations to priesthood, but at that time I couldn’t remember a bishop speaking about the Sacrament of Marriage with such profound pastoral care pointing to the high call of this vocation. On a practical level, I had no idea what it would be like to work for a bishop and thought Sheen could help me on two fronts, my new job and my desire for my own vocation — marriage.

Why a book, why this book, why now?

The truth is, I never imagined I would be compiling a book on the spirituality of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Ever. But I can honestly say that Heaven pressed me into service and kept me at my word.

This book is a fulfillment of a promise I made before God and Venerable Fulton Sheen 10 years ago. When I prayed inside the crypt where Sheen buried at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York a decade ago, I asked him to intercede for five intentions.

The whole experience of getting inside the crypt and being in New York was as spontaneous as my last prayer to him that December day. I ended my heartfelt string of prayer requests by saying “If you help me, I will promote you.” I never prayed that way — and was certainly not bargaining with God — but it was more of an offering of myself, almost thanksgiving in advance for what I knew he could do before the throne of God.

Immediately when I emerged from the crypt, I had an email at the top of my inbox from a priest I never met before. The priest was the executive director of the Fulton J. Sheen Foundation in Peoria, Illinois [Ed.: Sheen’s birthplace], and he said he heard about me and asked me to consider helping promote the Sheen cause for canonization in south Florida where I was working. That email dropped the mic and created a domino effect of all types of promotion of Sheen’s cause within Palm Beach and on a national level. The prayers I prayed were being answered almost immediately one by one.

My activities became a labor of love in service to a saint in the making and one of my newest and most fierce intercessors. It wasn’t until about a whole seven years later, when I was approached by Pauline Media to consider compiling this book. That was April, 2015, when I was about to move to Los Angeles, and my life was taking an entirely new direction. I thought my Sheen promo days had peaked and that was it. Not so fast!

My movie work and move to LA was all part of Sheen’s intercession. When the book opportunity emerged the night of my re-entry into the movie biz, Sheen was letting me know very directly that he was behind all the curvy twists and turns of God’s plan for my life.

The book introduces the Gospel as presented by Sheen to a new generation. I’m like the reader. I didn’t know much about Archbishop Sheen, however, I share my personal testimony via the introduction. I then present Sheen’s own words under areas of his main thought such as the mystery of God, human freedom, divine love, sin and knowing Jesus.

On another level, this book reveals Sheen’s efficacy as an intercessor – he’s not just a powerhouse Emmy-toting evangelist, he’s an intercessor for every manner of need. You want a friend in heaven who can move on your behalf in a New York minute? Go to Sheen.

What’s been his biggest impact on your life?

This is hard question to answer because there are very deep and profound things that have happened to me through his intercession as well as his writings, that have impacted me with wisdom to better understand the Gospel. However, I think the biggest impact is the very personal relationship that the saints (or in this case, a saint in the making) want to develop with us.

Again and again, I am astounded by how thin the veil is between heaven and earth, and how responsive Venerable Sheen is to me personally, in the manner in which specific prayers are answered like live scenes from theater and in strategic methodical ways.

On a concrete level, Sheen was the big force in heaven behind my move to Hollywood. I had lived in many other cities, including Atlanta, New York and Palm Beach where I was introduced to Sheen, but three years ago I was back in Boston working in the mainstream at a public relations firm tailored to the business sector. My dad had been very ill, and it was good to be back at home at this particular time, and it seemed that’s where I would stay.

The mainstream job just didn’t satisfy. One day I heard God say, “today’s the day you leave.” I said, “If that’s really you God, make it the worst day ever.” It became the worst day ever ,and I quit my job on the spot without notice. I called on Sheen’s intercession to assist me in pursuit of the roots I wanted to plant in work and in life.

A month later I was asked to help on a movie, which turned into another movie ,which turned into me moving across the country to Los Angeles. I never envisioned moving to L.A. or the very many things that have emerged as a result of this unexpected catapult.

I started my own business, am host of a national radio show and just released this book on Archbishop Sheen. Sheen’s intercession is laced throughout this cross-country move and the new territory and relationships that God had planned for me from the beginning of time. Sheen helps me to see the greatness and vastness of God’s plan for my life when I invite Him to take over. It’s a much better show than I could ever produce.

What do you hope people take away from this book?

It’s my ardent prayer that seekers and the faithful alike will come into a deeper understanding of the meaning of life under Heaven, and that people would come to a greater understanding that, in God’s economy, He gives us saints to assist us in our life’s pilgrimage.

I share a lot in my introduction about my powerful encounter with Archbishop Sheen, and, beyond the introduction, I can say that of the five intentions I asked for help with, three have been realized with the final two unfolding now in Sheen-style dramatic fashion.

What God has done for me through the intercession of Archbishop Sheen, He will do for others. I also want people to know the depths of prayer that went into unearthing the selected quotes for the book. He wrote so many works, but you can’t fit everything in a book like this, so I asked the Holy Spirit to bring forward the themes and words that would penetrate hungry hearts in today’s world.

The care and prayer was intentional in hopes that the seeds of truth on the pages of this book would become rooted in hearts and souls and that every person who picks up this book would receive transformation in Christ through friendship with Archbishop Sheen.

How does Archbishop Sheen matter in the modern world?

Sheen matters in the modern world because Truth matters. Our world would like to drown Truth out. Our world would like to convince us that we don’t need God, and we can do things our own way. Yet, people everywhere are sin-sick and in bondage to things that separate them from the freedom they crave – a freedom that can only be known in Jesus who is Truth itself.

People are looking for solutions to problems and seeking false power for quick fixes. Sheen matters in today’s world because he shows us that Love has a name, and that name is Jesus, and he shows us the power source that connects us to this Love in the Sacramental life of the Church.

Sheen also takes the spiritual ax to the root of our spiritual ills (sin, ego, addiction, lack of faith) and sin habits by exposing the woundedness in a soul void of God.

Sheen unabashedly proclaimed Christ and had a charism for conversion, a zeal for life pointing all to the reality that “life is worth living.” Not only do his potent words matter today, but his intercession matters – for our Church, for youth, for families and all who are called to a particular life of holiness to be lived for the glory of God.

What do you think he’d say about social media?

Can you imagine the Facebook lives and the fiery Tweets? I think Sheen would say #LifeIsWorthLiving and would give everyone a run for their money on Instagram Story! I can only imagine that the two-time Emmy Award-winner would see the social landscape as missionary territory, and the “digital continents” of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram would be fair game for a contemporary platform to proclaim the Gospel.

Knowing his disciplined life and attention to the whole person, I can also imagine Sheen would have something to say about excessive social media use, and the crutch to hide behind screens instead of fostering authentic interactions and relationships. Would he use these platforms to preach Jesus? Yes. Would he warn about living your life out on social media alone and warn against traps to social addiction? Yes, I think he would also help tame the dragon of technological dependence.

 What’s your favorite Bishop Sheen quote?

Easy. “Love is a mutual self-giving that ends in self-recovery.”

Tell us a little about yourself:

I’m an East Coast transplant to Los Angeles, and even though most say I don’t have a Boston accent, I sometimes sound like a Wahlberg or a Kennedy, depending on the day or the score of the Red Sox game.

After just about three years in California, I have fallen in love with the West Coast and all the influences that make up this side of the planet. I’m a storyteller at heart, as a former newswoman turned PR pro. Movies are my day job (more like my 24/7 day job), but writing is my personal passion. I have a little radio show called Mary’s Touch that I host each week and is broadcast on over 60 stations around the world. My contemporary heroes are Saint John Paul II and Venerable Fulton J. Sheen.

If I’m not moving or flying on a plane, I’m not living.

Click here to buy the book from Pauline Books & Media and here for Amazon.com.

Images: Wikimedia Commons; courtesy Alexis Walkenstein, Pauline Books & Media

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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From Father Ray to Father Rob to Sister Cristina: The Church’s Singing Reality Stars

What are Catholic priests, seminarians and religious doing on reality-TV shows?

While many consider TV to be a wasteland, reality TV especially gets a bad rap … much of it deserved. But as much as the Apostles didn’t just stay in friendly areas, Christians are called to evangelize the whole world — and sometimes that involves a microphone, a camera and a panel of judges.

Last week, Irish priest Father Ray Kelly — who gained fame when a 2014 video of him singing a version of “Hallelujah” at a wedding went viral — appeared in front of Simon Cowell and his fellow judges on “Britain’s Got Talent” (the same show that launched the career of Catholic singer Susan Boyle).

The 65-year-old did a moving rendition of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts,” linking it to the pain and distress he’s witnessed as a parish priest in County Meath, Ireland. It caused some moist eyes among the British audience and earned a standing ovation from the ordinarily acerbic Cowell.

Take a look:

This is not the first time that Catholics in collars and habits have wowed singing-show judges.

Also in 2014, Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia went on a blind audition to Italy’s version of “The Voice” and knocked the judges’ socks off.

Father Kelly’s fate on “BGT” is unknown as of this writing — but his viral video did earn him a short recording contract — but Sister Cristina won it all, as reported by CNN (including a screenshot of a congratulatory Tweet from a Vatican cardinal) …

She’s gone on to have a recording career, but Sister Cristina remains an Ursuline. When she won “The Voice,” she gave thanks to God and recited the Our Father.

Malta-born Father Rob Galea, who’s a parish priest in Australia, auditioned for “The X Factor Australia” in 2015, and was a hit.

He later dropped out of the competition because it conflicted too much with his pastoral and youth-ministry duties. But he’s continued with his ministry and music, as you can see from the video below (which shares a title with his new autobiography, out now from Ave Maria Press). Subtitled, “A Journey From Desperation to Hope,” it recounts Father Galea’s troubled adolescence, deep depression and eventual awakening to his Catholic faith.

BTW, we talked to Father Galea at the recent Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, so watch for that video or videos, coming soon.

Other Catholic have made their mark on non-musical reality shows, including Game Show Network’s “American Bible Challenge.” In season two in 2013, Team Sisters of Mary from the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, came within a whisker of winning the Bible-quiz show, hosted by Jeff Foxworthy. But they did walk away with the fan-favorite award, winding up with a total of $50K in prize money, earmarked to support retired sisters from their order.

The following year, the Sons of Thunder, three men from St. Paul Seminary (one of whom, Father Marc Paveglio, was ordained after their appearance was taped but before it aired) also appeared on “The American Bible Challenge.” They came in second in their episode and won $5K for NET Ministeies, based in West St. Paul, Minnesota.

Happy to report that seminarian Chad VanHoose is now Father VanHoose, as is his Sons of Thunder teammate, Father Mark Pavlak.

Of course, there’s a danger for any priest or sister or seminarian appearing on TV and possibly becoming famous. The temptations of this are obvious and can be serious — but they’re not insurmountable. And along the way, these brave folks present a warm, welcoming, very human face of the Catholic Church to many who may never encounter people like this in their daily lives.

If that’s not the New Evangelization, I don’t know what is.

Image: Courtesy FatherRayKellyNews.com/HeartBeat Records

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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Ken Burns to Receive Christopher Life Achievement Award

Ken Burns may be America’s premiere documentarian, but he’s also one of its greatest storytellers, tackling, over a career spanning nearly four decades, such diverse subjects as the Civil and Vietnam Wars, baseball, jazz, national parks, cancer, Prohibition, the Roosevelts and radio.

He’s a mainstay of PBS, which gives a place of prominence to his elegant documentaries, some of which are (occasionally very) long series. They’re serious works on serious subjects, offering oral and visual histories based on interviews and research.

Now, The Christophers — founded by a Catholic priest and dedicated to encouraging people to make a positive difference in the world — are presenting Burns with The Christopher Life Achievement Award at the 69th annual Christopher Awards ceremony on May 17 (click here for info on the other winners).

Several of Burns’ projects have been honored with Christopher Awards, including “The Statue of Liberty,” “The Civil War,” “Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony,” “Jazz,” “Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip” and “The War.”

Interestingly enough, among the previous winners of The Christopher Life Achievement Award is author/historian David McCullough (“1776,” “John Adams”), who, in January 2017, also received the first Ken Burns American Heritage Prize, handed out by the American Prairie Reserve.

Said Burns at the time:

The Prize we present together to David acknowledges the historic role that the Great Plains played in helping to shape America’s character. It’s that same character, courage and fortitude which David’s tremendous work elucidates. This indomitable American spirit is alive and well today, in David and in the men and women in many arenas whose work reminds us that our lives serve a greater purpose.

In honoring Burns, Tony Rossi, The Christophers’ Director of Communications, said:

One of the most admirable aspects of Ken Burns’ approach to filmmaking is that he doesn’t approach history as dry facts. Instead, it’s about stories, human connections, and the emotions and experiences that bind us together by transcending time and place.

And while Ken knows that America and its citizens have sometimes fallen short of their own ideals, his films ultimately convey a spirit of hope that we learn from our mistakes to become better as a people and a nation.

For that reason, The Christophers are honored to present Ken Burns with our 2018 Christopher Life Achievement Award.

Contacted for comment, Burns had this to say:

I cannot think of a greater honor than receiving this life-time achievement award. The Christophers have long celebrated what is unique about each person and inspire us to contribute to the public good.

In our work, we look to tell the larger arc of our country’s history through the stories of individuals. By recognizing the actions of individuals I think we can better understand the issues of the past and the present, and hopefully do so in a way that is respectful of people’s lives, even when we tackle topics that are often hard to understand.

I’m inspired by The Christophers’ work and encourage others to embrace their belief that everyone can make a difference.

Burns’ next major project for PBS is “Country Music,” coming in 2019 — which was announced way back in 2014. Great things take time!

From Burns’ Website:

Country Music will chronicle the history of a uniquely American art form, rising from the experiences of remarkable people in distinctive regions of our nation.  From southern Appalachia’s songs of struggle, heartbreak and faith to the rollicking western swing of Texas, from California honky tonks to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, we will follow the evolution of country music over the course of the twentieth century, as it eventually emerged to become America’s music.

It will be directed and produced by Ken Burns; written and produced by Dayton Duncan; and produced by Julie Dunfey.

Speaking of taking your time, also in Burns’ pipeline is a two-part, four-hour profile of boxer and activist Muhammad Ali. Production began in early 2016 for a 2021 premiere.

From an early 2017 story at Deadline.com:

In the announcement, Burns described Muhammad Ali as “maybe the most iconic figure of the 20th century,” explaining, “He arrived at exactly the right moment, amidst the tumult and upheaval of the 1960s, and he shaped his times with his powerful voice, mesmerizing presence, and achievements in the ring.”

“But beyond the astonishing athletic gifts and mountain of charisma, there’s a very complex, dynamic man whose life story has yet to receive the comprehensive treatment it deserves.”

In November 2017, Ken Burns accepted the Muhammad Ali Voice of Humanity award from the Society of Voice Arts & Sciences, at the 4th Annual 2017 Voice Arts® Awards at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Fredrick P. Rose Hall.

Take a look:

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Courtesy Ken Burns, PBS

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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‘The Baxters’: Production Underway on Roma Downey’s Online Series

Production is underway in Los Angeles on “The Baxters,” a scripted family drama set to premiere late this year on Roma Downey’s LightWorkers platform.

Based on “The Baxter Family” 26-book series by Karen Kingsbury, the streaming series of six half-hour episodes stars Downey and Ted McGinley (“God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness”) as the heads of a family with six adult children.

From Variety:

“We have assembled a talented cast and creative team to lead ‘The Baxters,’ LightWorkers’ first premium scripted digital series,” said Downey who is president of LightWorkers Media. “We look forward to bringing this beloved story to life for a whole new audience.”

LightWorkers Media, the company behind the uplifting, positivity-focused platform, is a joint venture of MGM TV, Downey and her husband, Mark Burnett, who’s also the head of MGM TV and Digital. Downey is producing “The Baxters” with Will Packer (“Uncle Buck,” the new “Roots”) and his Will Packer Media shingle.

But you don’t have to wait to enjoy the other fare offered at LightWorkers (click here), which recently included a feature story on our feature-length documentary “The Dating Project.” After a one-night run in theaters across the country on April 17, it’s set to come out on DVD in June, and perhaps then on a digital streaming service.

Image: Courtesy LightWorkers

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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Bishop Barron, the HS Kids and YouTube: A Match Made in Heaven

Today, the loveliest thing happened on YouTube and Twitter. Betcha don’t hear that often, right?

Students, alumni and faculty of Bishop Sullivan High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, created a YouTube video in an attempt to reach L.A.’s Bishop Robert Barron.

The plan was to share it on Twitter and encourage influencers to retweet it, in hopes that Barron would agree to be the final judge of a video contest in the school.

Take a look:

Published on YouTube April 11, the video was tweeted out on April 12.

Responses came in quickly, including this one from Catholic University of America Associate Professor of Systematic Theology Dr. Chad Pecknold, who got a shout-out in the video:

We also RTed it, hoping to eventually get some of these kids as college interns!

It didn’t take long for the students to get a response from their target:

The teacher responded (including a thank-you to Fr. Goyo Hildalgo, one of our favorite priests (and a great Twitterer), from St. Rose of Lima in Simi Valley, California, just north of Los Angeles (BTW, we follow Mr. Goerke now):

And then the school, with some video gratitude:

Of course, Bishop Barron really got his start as a public evangelist on YouTube, which is owned by Google. Late last month, Barron visited Google’s headquarters, the Googleplex, in Mountain View, California, to deliver a talk called “Religion and the Opening Up of the Mind,” in which he discussed the connection between our desire for quick answers and the question of God. More on that here.

Then, Barron visited YouTube HQ in San Bruno, California (prior to the horrific shooting there), and posted this video summarizing his Googleplex talk.

As the “bishop of the Internet,” as the Bishop Sullivan students called him, it’s fitting that Barron visited Google and YouTube, and that the students used YouTube and Twitter to ask him to judge a video contest.

The next time someone tells you that social media is an unredeemable swamp, remember this day.

Image: Courtesy World on Fire (YouTube screenshot)

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.