The Eternal Word Television Network announced yesterday that its 92-year-old founder passed away “after a lengthy struggle with the aftereffects of a stroke.”
Mother Angelica of the Annunciation was the crusty plainspoken nun who founded a cable television network in 1981 that has grown to 24 hour-a-day programming and “more than 264 million homes in 144 countries.”
EWTN Chief Executive Michael Warsaw said, “Her accomplishments and legacies in evangelization throughout the world are nothing short of miraculous and can only be attributed to divine Providence and her unwavering faithfulness to Our Lord.”
Born Rita Rizzo, Mother Angelica came from a troubled home, experiencing family dissolution when she was six. “That’s when the hell began,” she said later, and that she and her mother were “desperate — moving from place to place, poor, hungry and barely surviving.”
She dates her religious vocation to a painful childhood malady, severe stomach pains. He mother took her to meet a woman in Ohio who was said to have healing powers. The woman gave the future nun a novena to St. Thérèsa of Lisieux, a young nun who died young. After the nine-day novena, young Rita was cured. She said, “That was the day I became aware of God’s love for me and I began to thirst for him. All I wanted to do after my healing was give myself to Jesus.”
At the age of 21, Rita joined the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Cleveland, Ohio taking the name Sister Mary Angelica. A few years into her vocation, she was injured in a cleaning accident and told she might never walk again. She said she made a promise to God that if she was healed she would build a convent in the South. Sister Angelica was healed, moved south, and opened a convent in the largely Protestant Birmingham, Alabama.
Mother Angelica began broadcasting Church teaching in 1971 but eventually had to break with the secular TV station she was using over a “blasphemous” movie the station was set to air. So, she began recording shows in a garage. EWTN officially began on August 15, 1981.
Mother Angelica and her crew have become beloved television characters to millions of Catholics of a conservative stripe all over the world. The network broadcasts Masses, Rosaries, and also news programs that have become wildly popular such as The World Over hosted by Raymond Arroyo who has become something of a rock star among faithful Catholics.
EWTN is the go-to place for watching wall-to-wall coverage of important Catholic events. ETWN grew enormously with its coverage of the global visits of Pope John Paul II, World Youth Days, and much else.
The recent funeral for Justice Antonin Scalia in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC was broadcast live and largely without comment on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC. What was not known by most was that the camerawork inside the Basilica was provided by EWTN crews.
As outspoken as she was and as conservative, too, Mother Angelica was not afraid to cross swords, even with powerful Bishops. When famously liberal Cardinal Roger Mahoney issued a letter she thought “watered down the Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharistic bread, she rebutted his letter point by point on TV and refused to back down when he threatened her with losing her religious community and her cable network. She was quoted as saying, “I’ll blow the damn thing up before you get your hands on it.”
She effected millions with her presence on TV. A former male super model who starred in the documentary Desire of the Everlasting Hills tells the story about how he was leading an out and very active gay life until one evening he saw a nun with an eye-patch “like a pirate” talking about God’s love for him. He and his lover made fun of her, but Paul began watching her in secret and credits the pirate Nun with helping him walk away from the homosexual lifestyle and join the Catholic Church. To this day, Paul has a Christmas ornament with Mother Angelica’s picture, complete with eye-patch.
The Catholic world mourns the loss of this rare nun.