She Changed the Way We Speak About God
A miracle of evangelization: only in this way could one define the legacy left by Mother Angelica, founder of the international Catholic network EWTN. A network whose success is proven by the numbers: launched in a garage in 1981 without caring about the cost, today the network broadcasts 24 hours a day, reaches over 264 million homes in 144 different nations, and publishes in or contributes to major magazines and agencies of religious information in the United States and around the world, in multiple languages.
Mother Angelica returned to the Father’s house at 5 pm on 27 March, the Solemnity of Easter. She was 92. In the morning she participated in Mass inside her room, from the bed to which she has been confined since 2001, when a stroke permanently damaged her mobility.
Mother Angelica’s whole [life] was marked by dates that follow the liturgical calendar, as if to signify her unconditional “yes” to God and her unshakeable trust in Providence. The stroke came on Christmas Eve 2001. She entered the Order of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration on 15 August 1944, a day that was to become the Solemnity of the Assumption. And it was on 15 August 1981 that Eternal Word Television first aired. It was the television network God had asked Mother Angelica to found.
Born on 20 April 1923, with the name Rita Rizzo, Mother Angelica experienced poverty and a life of hardship after her parents divorced when she was just six years old. But she didn't just live with solitude, suffering and distress. She was also tried by physical suffering. When she was a teenager, she had consistent stomach pain. She was cured when Rhonda Wise, a woman from her hometown, Canton Ohio, to whom miraculous cures were attributed, told her to recite a novena to St Thérèse of Lisieux. In 1944, at 21, she entered the Order of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Cleveland and took the name Sister Mary Angelica of the Annunciation. Two years later, she was invited again to the city of her birth, Canton, to found a new monastery. She lived there for several years, until the 1950s. While cleaning the floors with an electric scrubbing machine, she lost her balance on the slippery floor, covered in soap, and slammed her back against the wall. The injury lasted for two years, and even worse, she needed a surgical operation. It was risky, and she had a 50 percent chance of being paralyzed. So she promised God that if the operation was successful, she would build a monastery in the South.
The operation succeeded, and Mother kept her promise.
The okay from Rome to found the Monastery of Our Lady of the Angels in Irondale, Alabama came on 3 February 1961. A charismatic speaker, Sr Mary Angelica was asked if her speeches could be recorded and distributed. She did it for the first time in 1969. In 1971, she recorded her first radio program, which was a 10 minute transmission for WBRC. Seven years later, Mother began to record her first television programs, which were half-hour transmissions titled “Our Hermitage”. It was the spark that inspired the idea of a media apostolate faithful to Catholicism. The spark then flared up when she realized that the owner of the studio where she recorded her transmission wanted to broadcast a program she considered to be blasphemous. Mother said that she would go elsewhere to record. Upon receiving threats that she would be out of television forever, she confidently responded: “I will found my own”.
And so it happened. The Eternal Word Television Network was born on 15 August 1981, and from there began the work of evangelization through media.
It is a company willed by Providence, just as it was Providence which characterized the foundations of Mother Angelica: the Congregation of the Missionary Franciscans of the Eternal Word, a community of men which consists of 15 friars who are very active in evangelization within EWTN; but also the monastery itself in Irondale, because Mother Angelica’s request to found a new monastery came simultaneously with that of another sister, and the Mother Superior decided that she would give permission to the first of the two sisters that received a response from the local bishop.
Some observers have said that the network founded by Mother Angelica (EWTN) has helped to protect the Church in the United States. If this is true, it is true because Mother Angelica built the network in His own image and likeness: with an unwavering faith in God, the knowledge of the goodness of the teachings of the Church and the desire to share them with people, truly reaching everyone. And if the network has grown so much in recent years, it is also due to the fact that Mother Angelica — who left leadership in 2000 — has ceaselessly watched over it with her prayers, despite being bedridden for almost 15 years.
She ascended to the Father’s house on Easter day, as often happens with the Saints, after receiving countless awards, even from the Pope. In October 2009, Benedict XVI gave her the “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” award, the highest recognition that a Pope can give to a layperson or religious to honor their work. Upon hearing the news of Mother Angelica’s passing, Benedict XVI commented that “it’s a gift” for her to have gone to heaven on Easter Sunday. And on 12 February 2016, while on his way to Cuba, Pope Francis prayed for her. Mother’s model of evangelization through media is an example for all to follow.
*Chairman of the Board & Chief Executive Officer, EWTN Global Catholic Network
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1 April 2016, page 2
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