HANCEVILLE, Ala. (ChurchMilitant.com
) - Mother Angelica, founder of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), passed away Easter Sunday at the age of 92.
Born Rita Antoinette Rizzo in 1923, she entered the religious life in 1944, joining the Adoration Monastery of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration. In the 1950s, as she was scrubbing the floor, she slipped and fell, seriously injuring her spine. Her injury worsened over the next two years, until she was hospitalized and fitted with a body cast.
The doctor told her she had a 50/50 chance of ever walking again, and recommended surgery. The night before the operation, she cried out, "God! You didn't bring me this far just to lay me out on my back for life. Please, Lord Jesus, if You allow me to walk again I will build a monastery for Your glory. And I will build it in the South!"
The surgery was successful, and after four months in the hospital, she was discharged — fully able to walk. She kept her promise to God, building a new house for her order in 1962 in Irondale, Alabama, where she would later found her TV network.
Founded in 1981, EWTN went on to become the biggest religious TV network in the world, broadcasting among other things the popular live call-in show featuring Mother Angelica. She was known for her feisty, no-holds-barred, down-to-earth manner and her simple orthodoxy — and the U.S. bishops opposed her at every turn.
Their own project — the Catholic Telecommunications Network of America — offered modernist fare, and EWTN, with its orthodoxy, posed a threat to their venture. While they were ignored, EWTN grew in popularity and earned the praise of Pope John Paul II. In the end, the Catholic Telecommunications Network failed miserably.
But that didn't stop the bishops from insisting that Mother air their content on EWTN — content she often rejected. In fact, the bishops complained in a 1989 report that EWTN turned away a third of all programs they submitted. And little wonder — at one point the bishops offered a show with a priest promising he would help reverse the ban on female ordination with the next pontificate.
When Fr. Robert Bonnot, an official of the U.S. bishops, complained in a phone conversation that EWTN selectively highlighted some bishops over others, Mother retorted
, "I happen to own the network." When Bonnot told her she wouldn't be there forever, it was too much for her.
"I'll blow the damn thing up before you get your hands on it," she snapped. "I've chosen my Magisterium; you choose yours!" Then she hung up on the priest, slamming the phone down onto the receiver.
1993 proved a turning point for Mother Angelica and EWTN. At World Youth Day that year, Jesus was played by a female actor in the living Stations of the Cross, before Pope St. John Paul II. Mother was outraged. She went on her show and blasted the liberal Church in America in the strongest terms.
Raymond Arroyo recounts in his biography of the nun:
The official response to Mother's outburst was swift. During a phone call on August 15, the president of the National Conference of Bishops, Archbishop William Keeler, told Mother she had "overreacted." Days later he would urge EWTN to shelve the editorial and suspend reruns so as not to fan the flames of controversy. But the flames had already been fanned.
In a blistering editorial, Archbishop Rembert Weakland wrote that the "senseless and heartless condemning of one another" had to stop. He then proceeded to condemn Mother Angelica's "vitriolic" commentary: "For a half hour she ranted and raved about all the abuses since Vatican II, according to her own personal judgment which, of course, she equates with that of the Holy Father," Weakland wrote. "It was one of the most disgraceful, un-Christian, offensive, and divisive diatribes I have ever heard."
"He didn't think a woman playing Jesus was offensive," Mother said of Weakland's criticism. "He can go put his head in the back toilet as far as I am concerned."
After suffering a debilitating stroke in 2001, Mother Angelica lived life away from the public eye in the cloistered monastery in Hanceville. Incapacitated and having lost the ability to speak, Mother suffered silently, watching the network she founded drift from its original mission.
Father Frank Pavone issued a statement on her passing, saying, "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."