Mother Angelica, EWTN founder, dies Easter Sunday at age 92

| April 2, 2016 | 0 Comments
Mother Angelica, founder of Eternal Word Television Network, is pictured in an undated photo. She died March 27 at the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration monastery in Hanceville, Ala. She was 92. CNS files

Mother Angelica, founder of Eternal Word Television Network, is pictured in an undated photo. She died March 27 at the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration monastery in Hanceville, Ala. She was 92. CNS files

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.

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.

Mother Angelica had been ill for years. In 2001, she underwent an operation to remove a blood clot in her brain after she suffered her second major stroke. It left her with partial paralysis and a speech impediment.

Last November, she was placed on a feeding tube as she continued to battle lingering effects of the strokes.

Mother Angelica died at her order’s Our Lady of Angels Monastery in Hanceville, Alabama, where she “was surrounded by the prayers and love of her spiritual daughters, sons and dear friends,” said a statement from the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration.

Jeff Cavins, speaker, author and former director of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, worked with Mother Angelica at EWTN for six years. Calling her a “woman of prayer” with an “intense devotion to Jesus,” he said he learned a lot from her.

“She would rather spend a day in the presence of Jesus in a quiet chapel than stand in the limelight,” Cavins said. “If you have watched Mother on her many shows, you know her, because she was the same on TV as in the halls of EWTN. She was courageous, tenacious and holy. Her insistence on giving Jesus her best was at the center of every decision she made, and her unwavering faith provided a remarkable example to others on how a modern-day disciple can live.”

On March 29, Mother Angelica ’s body was received in a ceremony at the piazza of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament at the monastery. Her body will be transferred to her order’s cloister for a private visitation with the Poor Clares.

A public visitation and recitation of the rosary was to take place March 30 and 31 in the shrine’s upper church. Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham was to lead an evening vigil service and rosary March 31.

A morning funeral Mass will be celebrated April 1 in the upper church by bishops and clergy from around the world. Father Joseph Mary Wolfe, a Franciscan Missionary of the Eternal Word, will be the homilist. Following her funeral, Mother Angelica’s body will be interred in the shrine’s Crypt Chapel.

“This is a sorrow-filled day for the entire EWTN family. Mother has always, and will always, personify EWTN, the network which she founded,” Michael Warsaw, chairman and CEO, said in a statement.

“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,” he said.

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross to Mother Angelica 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. Because of ill health, Mother Angelica received the award in her private quarters.

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.

In 1993, she termed “blasphemous” a Church-sponsored World Youth Day event during St. John Paul II’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, then head of the Milwaukee archdiocese, to call her attack “vitriolic.”

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.

“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 on one occasion.

Mother 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.

“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 Canton in 1953 as Sister Mary Angelica of the Annunciation.

In 1962, she founded Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, a move which she said was to fulfill a promise to Christ if she emerged from an operation able to walk.

— The Catholic Spirit contributed to this story

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