Mother Angelica, founder of EWTN, dies after long illness

IMAGE: CNS photo/courtesy EWTN


Ala. (CNS) — Mother Angelica, who founded the Eternal Word Television Network
and turned it into one of the world’s largest religious media operations, died March
27 at age 92.

and outspoken, she was a major controversial figure in the U.S. church in the
closing decades of the 20th century. At the same time, the international scope
of EWTN’s media operations gave her a ready calling card at the Vatican. She
built the venture into a
network that transmits programs 24 hours a day to more than 230 million homes
in 144 countries via cable and other technologies. It broadcasts in in English
and several other languages.

Angelica had been ill for years. She was operated on Dec. 24, 2001, in a Birmingham hospital to
remove a blood clot in her brain after suffering her second major stroke. It
left her with partial paralysis and a speech impediment.

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI
awarded the Pro Ecclesia et
Pontifice Cross to her and Deacon Bill Steltemeier, then-chairman of EWTN’s board of
governors, for distinguished service to the church. The cross, whose name is
Latin for “for the church and the pope,” is the highest papal honor
that can be conferred on laypeople and clergy.

of ill health, Mother Angelica received the award in her private quarters. But
in the public ceremony, Bishop
Robert J. Baker of Birmingham said “Mother Angelica’s effort has
been at the vanguard of the new evangelization and has had a great impact on
our world.”

Angelica was equally at home giving a scale model of her satellite dish to St.
John Paul II or ruffling the feathers of high-ranking church officials with
whom she disagreed.

In 1997, she got into a public
squabble with Cardinal Roger
Mahony of Los Angeles when, on her TV show “Mother Angelica Live,”
she criticized his pastoral letter on the Eucharist, saying it was confusing
about the real presence of Christ.

“I’m afraid my obedience in that
diocese would be absolutely zero. And I hope everyone else’s in that diocese is
zero,” she said.

In 1990, EWTN canceled an
exclusive contract to air programs produced by the U.S. bishops after
disagreements over EWTN’s coverage of bishops’ conference meetings.

In 1993, she termed “blasphemous”
a church-sponsored World Youth Day event during St. John Paul’s visit to Denver
because a mime troupe used a woman to portray Jesus in a dramatized Way of the
Cross. She said the event showed the “destructive force” of the “liberal
church in America.”

The criticism sparked Archbishop Rembert Weakland of
Milwaukee to call her attack “vitriolic.”

“For a half-hour she ranted
and raved about all the ‘abuses’ since Vatican Council II, according to her own
personal judgment, which, of course, she equates with that of the Holy Father,”
the archbishop said.

“It was one of the most
disgraceful, un-Christian, offensive and divisive diatribes I have ever heard,”
he added. “She invited everyone who disagreed with her to leave the

Mother Angelica, a Poor Clare of Perpetual Adoration,
often said she accompanied her faith with a “theology of risk” that
gave her the resolve to undertake large projects without any clear indication
she would succeed.

is having one foot on the ground and the other up in the air, waiting for the
Lord to put the ground under it,” she once said of her hands-on approach
to doing things.

have lost the theology of risk and replaced it with a theology of assurance”
that says “you have to know what’s going to happen before you embark on
something new,” she said on another occasion.

starting EWTN, Mother Angelica wrote what she called “mini-books” on
moral and inspirational themes. The popularity of the mini-books attracted
media attention, and Mother Angelica began appearing on television talk shows. She
said these appearances made her aware of the tremendous influence television
has in spreading messages.

to starting EWTN, Mother Angelica was renting studio space from a Birmingham
television station to produce videotapes of her talks on religious issues for
airing on the Christian
Broadcasting Network. She broke the relationship with the network after
it aired a movie she considered blasphemous.

the support of her religious community, Mother Angelica began consulting with
media experts about starting her own TV station, hatching the idea of EWTN. She
was granted a license by the Federal Communications Commission, and EWTN went
on the air in August 1981.

began with $200 and little knowledge about TV production. The operation started
in a building meant to be a garage on the grounds of the Our Lady of the Angels
Monastery she headed in the Irondale
suburb of Birmingham. Originally its daily programming of several hours
was carried by three cable systems.

1992, Mother Angelica launched the short-wave EWTN Global Catholic Radio which broadcasts in
English and Spanish. In 1996, EWTN started a satellite-delivered AM/FM radio
network with programming also available for rebroadcast by local stations.

In 1998, Mother Angelica stepped down as the head of EWTN and Deacon
Steltemeier was appointed chairman and CEO. He died in 2013.

Angelica was born April 20, 1923, as Rita Rizzo in an Italian neighborhood in
Canton, Ohio. She described her childhood as rough. Her father abandoned the
family when she was young and her parents eventually divorced. She lived with
her mother and said their existence was marked by poverty.

lived in rat-infested apartments — our life was so hard. I was interested in
survival so I didn’t do well in school. It’s hard when you’re hungry and cold
to study,” she recalled in 1987.

In 1944,
she joined her religious order and professed her solemn vows in Canton in 1953
as Sister Mary Angelica of the Annunciation.

In 1962, she founded Our Lady of the
Angels Monastery, a move she said was to fulfill a promise to Christ if she
emerged from an operation able to walk. The operation was necessary after she
slipped while using an electric scrubbing machine and was thrown against the
wall, injuring her spine. After the operation, she used a leg brace.

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