PEORIA, Ill. — A Mass at the tomb of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen on the 41st anniversary of his death Dec. 9 also was a first opportunity for the Diocese of Peoria to mourn the death from COVID-19 two hours earlier of the vice postulator of the famed media pioneer and author’s cause for canonization.
“We gather with sad news for our diocese as Msgr. Richard Soseman has gone home to God this morning,” said Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka of Peoria at the start of the 8:30 a.m. Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria.
The livestreamed Mass followed a nine-day video novena for the canonization cause of Archbishop Sheen that drew participants from around the world.
Soseman, 57, had been the episcopal delegate assigned by Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky to assemble Archbishop Sheen’s sainthood cause and later became vice postulator.
Acknowledging “our hearts are heavy” with the news of his death, Tylka said “in some ways it is providential and fitting that on the same day that Sheen went home to God, so does Msgr. Soseman.”
Soseman served for nearly a decade at the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, later penned a book, Reflections from Rome: Practical Thoughts on Faith & Family. This year he began a weekly series of radio reflections called “JMJ Moment” — the title calling to mind the initials for Jesus, Mary and Joseph that Sheen would write on a blackboard during his television show, “Life Is Worth Living.”
Prayers for Soseman, the pastor of three parishes in Peru, Illinois, had spread on social media after he announced his positive test results for COVID-19 Nov. 22 and as updates were given during his subsequent hospitalization.
At the close of Mass, Tylka noted a conversation he had with Soseman on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Soseman had just taken ill and could not attend a meeting that day to plan the Sheen anniversary Mass and discuss new efforts to move the cause forward.
“He was so excited to hear we were going to celebrate this Mass,” said Tylka. “He planned on being here.”
And while he was not present “in the way we expected or wanted him to be here,” he added, Soseman “of course is here, in that we joined all the saints — all who have gone before us marked by the sign of faith — around the altar of the Lord.”
The Mass was attended by about 30 people, including the seminarians of the Diocese of Peoria. It was celebrated in the cathedral’s Lady Chapel, where Sheen’s remains were entombed in the summer of 2019, just steps from where he was ordained as a priest for the Diocese of Peoria a century earlier.
For the first four decades since his death Dec. 9, 1979, at age 84, Sheen’s body had been in a crypt in the basement of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.
Soon after the transfer, Pope Francis formally approved a miracle attributed to Sheen’s intercession, paving the way for his beatification. The date of the beatification has yet to be set.
Tylka recalled Sheen — whose radio and television shows reached millions in the mid-20th century and who wrote nearly 70 books — as “a master teacher” of how to live for Jesus and bring others to the Lord.
Because so much of his teaching is preserved in the various media, there remains much to learn from Sheen, he added.
Tylka closed his homily with a quote from Sheen recalled at his 1979 funeral Mass and recorded in his autobiography, Treasure in Clay.
“It is not that I do not love life, I do,” Archbishop Sheen once said. “It is just that I want to see the Lord. I have spent hours before him in the Blessed Sacrament. I have spoken to him in prayer, and about him to everyone who would listen. And now I want to see him face to face.”
During the Mass, prayers were offered that Sheen’s legacy of proclaiming God’s love to all “may continue to bear fruit in all those who encounter God through his writings and the witness of his life.” At the conclusion of the Mass, Tylka led those present in the prayer for Sheen’s canonization.
There also were prayers for the repose of Soseman’s soul and for all those suffering from the coronavirus “to find comfort in the heart of Jesus, the Divine Healer.”
Dermody is editor of The Catholic Post, newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria.