Sheed, Francis Joseph

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Writer, lecturer, publisher, Catholic activist, and lay theologian; b. Sydney, Australia, March 20, 1897; d. Jersey City, N.J., Nov. 20, 1981. Sheed's mother was Mary (Min) Maloney, a Roman Catholic who emigrated from County Cork by herself at age 14, and his father was John Sheed, a Marxist from a staunch Scotch-Irish Presbyterian family. At age six, for two years, while his father's job took him elsewhere, and under his mother's influence, Sheed practiced Catholicism and was sent, at age eight, to the parish school run by Sacred Heart nuns. After two weeks, his father ordered him to attend public school and for the next six years, the Methodist Church. In The Church and I (1974), Sheed details the variety of "brain washings" in his childhood: "Methodism three times every Sunday, Marxism at breakfast and dinner confession at a local Sacred Heart Fathers' mission one Saturday morning each month, daily Mass and communion during the two weeks of my father's annual vacation."

Sheed earned a law degree from Sydney University after a four-year break during his studies for a trip to England, to which he later returned. In London, he joined the Catholic Evidence Guild, which had been founded in 1918, with the encouragement of Cardinal Bourne, to train lay speakers for outdoor platforms in Hyde Park and at London street corners. Sheed became one of the most able speakers in the guild, ultimately giving 7,000 soapbox speeches during his lifetime. According to the London Times (Nov. 24, 1981), "He had a remarkable gift for the lucid exposition of doctrine of which he had a considerably deeper knowledge than is acquired by the average layman, a simple, effective platform style, [and] a sense of humour that won the goodwill of his hecklers." In 1926, he married fellow guild member, Maisie Ward, and together they founded the publishing house of Sheed & Ward (on Pater Noster Row next to Ave Maria Lane), with the purpose of publishing authors of the English Catholic Revival. Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, Christopher Dawson, and Edward I. Watkin became advisers and writers for the early company and were soon followed by other English authors: Christopher Hollis, Ronald Knox, "Sheed & Ward's lead Englishman" (W. Sheed, Frank and Maisie ), Caryll Houslander, and numerous others. Translations of continental authors soon followed: Jacques Maritain, Paul Claudel, François Mauriac, Léon Bloy, Romano Guardini, and Sigrid Undset.

In 1933, Sheed & Ward opened a New York branch with little capital and without "statues, altarpieces, vestments or Catholic textbooks" (The Church and I ). For 40 years, the aim would be to publish books "just above the middle of the brow." Dorothy day and Catherine de hueck, American Catholic activists, would have works published, as well as would more controversial writers: Henri de lubac, Hans Küng, Charles Davis, and Karl adam.

Sheed, after commuting across the Atlantic for six years, moved his family (wife Maisie, daughter Rosemarylater a translator for Sheed & Wardand son Wilfridlater the novelist and critic) to Jersey City in 1940, but he would continue to travel between the United States, London, and Australia for the rest of his life.

The early works of Sheed, the writer, were translations: Etienne gilson's The Philosophy of St. Bonaventure (1938), The Confessions of St. Augustine (1942), Oreste Ferrara's The Borgia Pope, Alexander the Sixth (1942), and numerous lives of the saints by Henri Gheon. Sheed's street corner speeches led him to write his own books, beginning with Nullity of Marriage (1931), followed by A Map of Life (1933), Ground Plan for Catholic Reading (1937), in 1938, Communism and Man (used in some communist study groups), Theology and Sanity (1947), Society and Sanity (1953), To Know Christ Jesus (1962), God and the Human Condition (1966), and Genesis Regained (1969). After Vatican II, Sheed wrote Is It the Same Church? (1968) and generally concluded that "the Church will re-shape itself, more or less ideally" and "only the innocent would prophesy" (The Church and I ).

In 1973, Sheed & Ward was sold to the Universal Press Syndicate and the firm name was changed to Andrews & McNeel, with the Sheed & Ward imprint used to reissue "Sheed & Ward classics."

In the years following the sale of Sheed & Ward, Sheed continued his speaking at universities and elsewhere. He was no longer the "flaming radical" who had "dared to poach the clerical preserve and assert the layman's right to think" [Wilfrid Sheed, Current Biography (1981) 373]. This self-taught lay theologian, whose humor was noted by all, received "during the postwar [period], an honor that no lay Catholic had ever come close to: a doctorate in sacred theology from Rome itself, entitling him to wear a four-pointed biretta (priests only rate three)" (W. Sheed, Frank and Maisie, 202).

Bibliography: Contemporary Authors, v. 105 (Detroit) 447. s. g. kennedy, New York Times (Nov. 21, 1981). Newsweek (Nov. 30, 1981) 110. Publishers Weekly (Dec. 4, 1981) 16. f. sheed, The Church and I (New York 1974). w. sheed, Frank and Maisie: A Memoir with Parents (New York 1985).

[m. mahoney]