Archbishop Sheen’s remains to be moved from St. Patrick’s to Illinois after long legal battle

Fulton J. Sheen, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of New York, on the set of the television series ‘Life is Worth Living’ in New York City, circa 1955. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The Archdiocese of New York has lost a long court battle to keep the remains of one of its most famous leaders buried at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was a big TV star at midcentury, with his TV show “Life is Worth Living” seen nationwide until 1957. Sheen was interred in the crypt below St. Pat’s after his death in 1979, where he currently rests with all of the other archbishops who have served in New York.

Sheen’s niece, however, believes he belongs back home at the church in Illinois where he was ordained in 1919, especially if it increases his chances at gaining sainthood.

On Friday, the New  York Court of Appeals delivered the denial of yet another appeal from the New York Archdiocese, seeking to keep Sheen’s remains in New York.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of New York told Catholic News Agency on Saturday that the archdiocese will ultimately help in the transferring of the archbishop’s remains to Peoria, Illinois.

“We have been informed that the New York Court of Appeals has denied further appeal of the New York Supreme Court decision upholding Joan Cunningham’s petition to disinter Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s mortal remains from under the altar at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where they have rested for nearly 40 years,” Joseph Zwilling, the archdiocese spokesperson, told CNA.

In May, The Journal Star in Peoria reported that the New York archdiocese had filed a petition arguing that Sheen is the “prime and paramount” determiner of his final resting place. Five days before his death in 1979, Sheen signed a will seeking burial in the archdiocese’s graveyard, Calvary Cemetery, in Queens.

However, New York’s Court of Appeals rejected the archdiocese’s argument that lower courts erred in giving permission in 2018 to Sheen’s niece, Cunningham, to transfer his remains to Peoria.

Back in June 2018, New York Supreme Court Judge Arlene Bluth ruled in favor of Cunningham, saying that Sheen’s remains could be moved to Illinois from New York.

The lengthy legal battle started in 2016 when Cunningham filed a legal complaint to have her uncle’s remains moved to the Cathedral of St. Mary in Peoria. The Peoria diocese sought to inter Sheen’s remains at St. Mary’s and wanted sainthood for Sheen.

Cunningham’s argument has been that moving her uncle’s remains to Peoria would improve his cause for sainthood . Judge Bluth said in her 2018 ruling that it was a “laudable purpose.”

“It makes no sense, given his lifelong devotion to the Catholic Church, that he would choose a location — New York City — over the chance to become a saint,” Bluth said at the time, explaining her decision.

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