Mother Angelica

April 4, 2016

Mother Angelica, who founded the Eternal Word Television Network and built it into one of the world's largest religious media operations, died March 27 at age 92.

Feisty 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.

Mother Angelica had been ill for years. She died at her order's Our Lady of Angels Monastery in Hanceville, Ala.

In a statement, Michael Warsaw, EWTN's chairman and CEO, 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."

Mother 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, then archbishop 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 1993, she termed "blasphemous" a Church-sponsored World Youth Day event during St. John Paul II's visit to Denver because a woman portrayed Jesus in a dramatized Way of the Cross.

The event showed the "destructive force" of the "liberal Church in America," she claimed.

The criticism brought a rebuke from Archbishop Rembert Weakland, then head of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, who labelled it "vitriolic."

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

Mother Angelica 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.

"Faith 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.

"We 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.

Before starting EWTN, Mother Angelica wrote what she called "mini-books" on moral and inspirational themes.

The popularity of the books attracted media attention, and she began appearing on TV talk shows. The appearances made her aware of the tremendous influence of television.


She began consulting with media experts about starting her own TV station, hatching the idea of EWTN. She was granted a licence, and EWTN went on the air in August 1981.

She 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 a suburb of Birmingham, Ala.

Mother Angelica was born April 20, 1923, as Rita Rizzo in an Italian neighbourhood in Canton, Ohio.


She described her childhood as rough. Her father abandoned the family when she was young and her parents divorced. She lived with her mother and said their existence was marked by poverty.

"We 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 1953.