When Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) was launched on Aug. 15, 1981, many felt there would be little demand for a Catholic network. In fact, when Mother M. Angelica, a cloistered nun, fulfilled a promise to our Lord in the early 1960s by founding Our Lady of Angels Monastery in Irondale, Ala., she had no idea she would one day found the largest religious media network in the world.
Who could have imagined that a cloistered nun would found a global television network? Who could have predicted that a network funded entirely by donations from "people in the pews" instead of advertising would become the largest religious media network in the world? Yet that is the story behind the EWTN Global Catholic Network.
Mother Angelica: Rita RizzoThe future Mother Angelica, foundress of EWTN, was born on April 20, 1923 in southeast Canton, Ohio to Mae Gianfrancesco Rizzo and John Rizzo. The couple named their daughter Rita Antoinette Rizzo.
Realistically, no one could have expected the child to amount to much. Her parents were not religious. In fact, when Rita was only 7-years-old, her abused mother filed for divorce, which was quite a stigma in those days. Rita was so poor and her mother so mentally fragile that the child had to go to school and run her mother's dry cleaning business at the same time. As a result, she was distrustful of outsiders, never made friends and never dated.
But Rita experienced two miracles in her pre-convent days, which changed her life. The first occurred in 1934. The 11-year-old adolescent went running for a bus – and missed seeing an oncoming car. When she finally saw the car, she froze. However, "two hands" pick her up and placed her on the median. The bus driver would later say he had never seen anyone jump so high.
Her second miracle occurred in 1942. For years, the teenager suffered from ptosis of the stomach, which made her hands shake, her left arm go numb, and her stomach spasm, which made it hard to eat or sleep, But after a visit with Mystic Rhonda Wise, Rita experienced a miraculous healing. That healing made her realize that God loved her personally – and she began to love Him back. Her love became such that on Aug. 15, 1944, she entered a Cleveland convent and became Sister Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, a Franciscan Nun of the Most Blessed Sacrament. The order would later change its name to the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration.
Sister's brash personality and poor health – including pneumonia, a tonsillectomy and water on the knees – made it unlikely that she would remain a nun. But an overnight healing of her knees convinced the order that the young nun had a vocation. Sister Angelica made her final vows on Jan. 2, 1953.
But making vows didn't cure Sister of her ailments. She fell and injured her back while washing the floor and nothing, including a body cast, leg and neck traction and a back brace, cured it. However, just before a risky operation on her back, Sister made God a life-changing promise. She told Him she would start a monastery in the South if He would allow her to walk again and, although the July 31, 1956 surgery was a medical failure, Sister found she could indeed walk.
To make good on that promise, Sister wrote a letter to Archbishop Toolen, bishop of the Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham, in Jan. 1957 asking if he would allow her to build a cloistered community in his diocese. Archbishop Toolen said yes, and the seeds of an apostolate -- the likes of which the world had never seen – were planted.