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Sheil, Bernard J.


Known as "apostle of youth," "labor's bishop," "apostle of the poor," and "apostle of the underdog"; b. Chicago, Feb. 18, 1886; d. Tucson, Arizona, Sept. 13, 1969. At St. Viator College, Bourbonnais, Illinois, "Benny" Sheil's athletic prowess was so outstanding that major-league baseball clubs made tantalizing offers, but he chose instead to enter St. Viator Seminary. After his ordination on May 21, 1910, by Archbishop James E. Quigley, he was assigned to St. Mel parish in Chicago, remaining there until World War I when he was transferred to Great Lakes Naval Training Center as chaplain. He left the navy in 1919, and was assigned to Holy Name Cathedral with additional duties as chaplain at Cook County jail. In 1924 he was appointed assistant chancellor and in 1928 chancellor and auxiliary bishop of the Chicago archdiocese. Later that same year he was named vicar general, a post he held until 1939. While vicar general he was appointed pastor of St. Andrew parish (19351966). In 1959, Sheil was named titular archbishop by Pope John XXIII.

Following a directive of Cardinal Mundelein, Sheil established the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) in 1930. Drawing upon his experiences as jail chaplain and his own interests in sports, Sheil drew up a program designed to keep young people out of trouble by offering them recreational activities, free medical and dental services, and theater workshops. Twenty-four years later and after the organization had been established nationally, Sheil resigned as its general director. Also in 1930, Sheil founded the Lewis School of Aeronautics, which is now known as Lewis College.

Although at the beginning boxing and basketball were the chief attractions at the CYO building, other programs were introduced. The Sheil Lecture Forum led to the formation of the CYO Educational Department in 1942 and a year later the Sheil School of Social Studies. The school had no requirements of previous education, race, color, creed, or money and was free and open to all. The subjects taught fell into three main classifications:(1) theology and philosophy, (2) social studies, and (3) liberal studies. Some additional by-products of the CYO programs were: the Pilot Dog Foundation for the blind, the Newman Center at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, the national Legion of Decency, the national scouting program, labor education schools, and the Catholic Salvage Bureau. In 1949, Sheil established radio station WFJL for broadcasting Catholic news; next to the Vatican station this was the most powerful Catholic radio outlet.

In 1939, when labor unions were struggling for recognition, Sheil emerged as "labor's bishop." That year a battle developed between the meat industry and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which wanted to organize the stockyard laborers. Sheil supported the union, despite threats from the opposition, until it was victorious. That same year he cooperated with Saul Alinsky in forming the Chicago Back-of-the-Yards Neighborhood Council.

Breaking with tradition, Sheil attended many interfaith meetings. He fought discrimination, publicly opposing the anti-Semitism of "radio priest" Charles E. coughlin. At a forum on Christian-Jewish relations he was confronted by a woman who after calling him "rabbi" concluded her tirade by spitting on him. The bishop replied, "That is what they called our Lord." Though an American patriot, he was not an extremist. Speaking before the international educational conference of the United Automotive Workers in Chicago in 1954, he dared to challenge the anticommunism of Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. After declaring McCarthyism was no way to combat communism, he condemned the Wisconsin senator and his methods.

Bibliography: Chicago Archdiocesan Archives. The New World (Chicago) Sept. 19, 1969. r. l. treat, Bishop Sheil and the CYO (New York 1951). a. ward, Chicago's Tribute to Bishop Sheil on the 25th Anniversary of His Consecration (1953).

[m. j. madaj]

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