• U.S.

Religion: Converter on Wax

2 minute read

How does he do it? What divine—or possibly sinister—gift does the man possess? This question has often struck dazed spectators of thin, hollow-eyed Msgr. Fulton John Sheen’s success, year after year, in converting Americans to Catholicism—Columnist Heywood Broun, Capitalist Henry Ford II, Communist Louis Budenz, Congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce and hundreds of others.

Last week students of the phenomenon were given a valuable specimen of the Monsignor’s art: a record album (Angelus Recording, $6.75) containing eight of his best speeches. Protestants who felt they could safely risk exposure to Sheen’s preachments could satisfy their curiosity. Catholics could admire the voice of their Church’s best-known pulpit and radio orator. The records were issued by Sheen’s longtime admirer, Edward Dukoff, who is pressagent for Comedian Danny Kaye. Dukoff, a tall, nervous Jew, has so far not entered the Church.

The records represent Sheen’s public sermons rather than apologetics in camera, for prospective converts,, but they strikingly reveal both his manner and his matter. The manner: lucid confidence, forceful but not bullying. There is no shying from the emotional appeal or the resonant tremolo as he intones:

Lovely lady, dressed in blue,

Teach me how to pray.

God was once your little boy—Tell me what to say. . . .

With vibrant severity he echoes Washington’s words of 1777: “Put none but Americans on guard tonight!” Even a devout Catholic might wince at some of

Sheen’s laryngeal effects; oratory is a flamboyant and shameless art.

Typical convert-winning thesis: “We are living in an era of revolution. . . . Basically there are only two revolutions possible. Either we reform institutions, or we reform man. . . . Each revolution has its symbol. The symbol of one . . . the clenched fist. The clenched fist that stands for hatred, and for violence and for destruction. . . . And the other … the symbol of the folded hands. They cannot strike, for they were not made for offense; they cannot protect, for they were not made for defense; they can only supplicate, only pray . . . ten Gothic spires aspiring heavenward for the souls of men.”

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