Over the weekend, a leading pro-life figure in Catholic media passed away. Mother Angelica, the founder of the Catholic television network Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), passed away on Easter Sunday, March 27. She was 92.
“This is a sorrow-filled day for the entire EWTN Family,” said EWTN Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael P. Warsaw. “Mother has always, and will always, personify EWTN, the Network which she founded. In the face of sickness and long-suffering trials, Mother’s example of joy and prayerful perseverance exemplified the Franciscan spirit she held so dear. We thank God for Mother Angelica and for the gift of her extraordinary life.”
Born Rita Antoinette Rizzo in Canton, Ohio in 1923, she entered the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Cleveland on Aug. 15, 1944 at the age of 21. A year later, she received her religious name – Sister Mary Angelica of the Annunciation. Soon after, the Cleveland Monastery established a new foundation in Canton, and Sr. Angelica was chosen to be a member of the community there. On Jan. 2, 1947 she made her first profession of vows and in January 1953, Sister Angelica took her solemn vows as a Poor Clare nun.
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In 1956, while awaiting a delicate spinal surgery, Sister Angelica made a promise that, if God would permit her to walk again, she would build a monastery in the South. On May 20, 1962, Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Irondale, Ala. was dedicated by Archbishop Thomas J. Toolen of Mobile.
In Irondale, Mother Angelica’s vision took form and her distinctive approach to teaching the Catholic Faith led to parish talks, the publication of pamphlets and books, then radio and television opportunities. By 1980, the Nuns had converted the garage of their monastery into a television studio.
Despite having only a high school education, no television experience and only $200 in the bank, Mother Angelica officially launched the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) on Aug. 15, 1981 and served as the Network’s first Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. She famously refused to air paid advertisements to fund her Network, relying solely on viewer donations, despite coming close to bankruptcy on several occasions.
More than 34 years later, EWTN is the largest Catholic media network in the world, transmitting 11 separate television channels in multiple languages, reaching more than 264 million homes in 145 countries and territories. The Network now also includes multiple radio platforms, online and digital media outlets, global news services and a publishing group.
Known for her humor and ability to colloquially communicate the Catholic Faith to both Catholics and non-Catholics alike, her popular EWTN television show, “Mother Angelica Live” was launched in 1983. Episodes of the program continue to air regularly and have been translated into multiple languages including Spanish, German, and Ukrainian.
In addition to the Eternal Word Television Network and Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, Mother Angelica also founded the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word, a religious community of men based in Irondale.
Before stepping down as EWTN’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in 2000, Time magazine described Mother Angelica as, “arguably the most influential Roman Catholic woman in America.”
Throughout her life, she struggled with painful illnesses and physical challenges. On Christmas Eve of 2001, Mother Angelica suffered a debilitating stroke and cerebral hemorrhage which took away her capacity to speak.
In 2009, she was awarded the prestigious Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal by Pope Benedict XVI in recognition of her faithful and extraordinary service to the Roman Catholic Church. This past February, while on board the plane taking him to Cuba, Pope Francis sent a special blessing to Mother Angelica, and asked her for her prayers.
Mother Angelica’s final years were prayerful and quiet, spent with her nuns at the Monastery she built in Hanceville.
“In passing to eternal life, Mother Angelica leaves behind a legacy of holiness and commitment to the New Evangelization that should inspire us all,” said Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus. “I was honored to know and be able to assist Mother Angelica during the early days of EWTN. Over the years, that relationship grew, and today the Knights of Columbus and EWTN partner regularly on important projects.”
“Mother Angelica was fearless because she had God on her side,” Anderson added. “She saw what he needed her to do, and she did it! She transformed the world of Catholic broadcasting and brought the Gospel to far corners of our world. That witness of faith was unmistakable to anyone who met and worked with her, and generations of Catholics have and will continue to be formed by her vision and her ‘Yes’ to God’s will.”
Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, made the following statement today upon hearing of the death of Mother Angelica:
“Our whole Priests for Life family and I are saddened to hear of the passing of Mother Angelica. We have all lost a friend, a mentor, a spiritual mother, a voice of conscience, and a source of laughter and encouragement. I was able to thank her again personally for all she has done when I said Mass in her room just two weeks ago on March 13th and blessed her with a first class relic of Pope Saint John Paul II.
“Yet as strong as the feeling of sadness is, even stronger is our gratitude to Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word, for giving Mother Angelica the call to do what she did, and to remain faithful to that call even when many entrusted with responsibility in the Church failed to understand it.
“Her voice and her message will be with us for a long time. Thanks to the continued growth of the media apostolate she founded — an apostolate in which we eagerly participate — people will be able to learn and laugh with Mother Angelica for many years to come. We should all recommit ourselves today to echoing her messages.”
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11:00 a.m. CDT, Friday, April 1 at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville. Interment will immediately follow in the Shrine’s Crypt Church.