Founder of EWTN passes at 92. Those who knew her reflect on her life, work and devotion to Christ
News of the passing on Easter Sunday of Mother Angelica, PCPA, foundress of EWTN and a paradoxically innovative “traditional” nun, brought swift tributes from religious and secular Catholics who work in media and were eager to share their memories and appreciations:
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB: CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Television Network
How fitting that Mother Angelica would be called home on Easter Sunday 2016. This great woman of faith, evangelical boldness and joyful courage was one of the Church’s great instruments of the First Evangelization and the New Evangelization. She did in her lifetime what Church leaders in the USA had attempted for many years and never succeeded: founding a Catholic television network and media outlet that would serve the world. I shall never forget my first meeting with her in 2001 as I prepared to lead World Youth Day 2002 in Canada. Her sage advice, encouragement and promise of prayers at that time, shortly before her debilitating stroke, revealed a woman of great faith and creativity. She remained steadfast and joyful in the midst of her own personal suffering in her early years and her long suffering at the end of her life. Now that the torch is passed to another generation of staff and colleagues, may we all learn from her zeal, loyal witness, ingenuity and deep faith in God and her trust in good people around her. May the Risen Lord and Eternal Word welcome her into the peace of God’s kingdom.
Bishop Christopher Coyne, Bishop of Burlington, VT
One cannot help but admire Mother Angelica for her tenacity and her single-mindedness in creating EWTN. To think that this woman religious founded a small broadcast station in a garage of her monastery and was able to grow it into the broadcast and digital giant that EWTN is today is amazing. She certainly was a person of strong personality and opinions and even stronger faith. May the angels lead her into paradise and my the martyrs welcome her into eternal life.
Father Francis Hoffman (“Fr. Rocky”), Executive Director of Relevant Radio
I remember the first time I saw Mother Angelica on TV. It was late night on the Joan Rivers Show in the ’80s. I thought she would be eaten alive, but within minutes she had Joan and the entire audience eating right out of her hand. Mother Angelica’s profound charity and faith, common sense and wit, her piety of a child balanced by her doctrine of a theologian — all of that — brought St. John Paul II’s New Evangelization to the airwaves at a moment when the Church in America needed a “W” in the witness column. Like Joan of Arc and Catherine of Siena, Mother Angelica once again showed that women are not second rate in the Church. May she rest in peace!
Janet E. Smith, moral theologian
It was fun how quickly Mother Angelica and I hit it off in the few interviews I had with her. During one interview, we were making jokes to the point that I teased her about there possibly being something stronger in her coffee cup than coffee. Luckily she seemed to enjoy that …
She had no time or inclination to put on airs, or to have any kind of false or formulaic piety. She met life head-on and resolutely moved forward in a complete no-nonsense fashion. Undoubtedly, others will speak of her ability to get an international Catholic TV station going when powerful bishops and their organizations could not do so. She was a simple nun, with a profound faith, and one courageously dependent upon God’s grace to supply what was needed. Her life and deeds were miraculous. I have great confidence that some day she will be declared to be a saint.
Father Robert Reed, president/CEO the Catholic TV Network
Mother Mary Angelica once served on our board, so I’m proud to say she remains part of the history of both the CatholicTV Network and EWTN. When I was studying Television Management at Boston University I was moved to write on Mother’s savvy and inspired contribution to Catholic Media. Who among us, including Mother, could have predicted the exponential growth of that media so far beyond the TV screen or the the desperate need in these days to catechize and inspire. Thank you for your faithful leadership and strength, Mother Angelica!
Mother Mary Assumpta Long, OP, Prioress General, Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist
I had the privilege of knowing Mother Angelica over many years and the unique experience of being with her on her live TV programs. She was tremendously generous in offering free time on EWTN to those who wanted to promote the truths of the Catholic Church she so loved.
Father Mitch Pacwa, SJ, EWTN television host
One of the most important things about her is that she was not an actress. When you saw her at the show, there was no difference from what she was like off the air. She and I played off one another very well because I could tease her where others couldn’t. I remember there was another priest who would come on and started teasing her, and she said to him — on live TV — “Who do you think you are, Father Mitch Pacwa? Settle down.”
Her love of Christ was the most important component of her life. Nothing else mattered to her, and she didn’t worry about a thing except being faithful to Christ. It was the number one issue for her, hands down. She didn’t care who you were or what you said — if it contradicted the faith, she’d shut you down, even if you were ordained clergy …
She was someone with a high school education and came from a contemplative background, which points out that for her prayer was listening to Jesus. She had something to say because she listened to him.
She was still able to speak a little bit until about 2002 or 2003, and she said, “This is my purgatory.” The sisters had told me that for recreation she liked to watch DVDs of I Love Lucy. So I brought her some DVDs of The Jack Benny Show. They had to cut it off because she was laughing so hard she was having trouble breathing.
Alice von Hildebrand, philosopher
When one meets a person whose one concern is to serve God and his Church, fearing neither difficulty nor suffering, persecution nor ridicule, it marks one for life. I dedicated my recent book, Memoirs of a Happy Failure, to her. She started from nothing. Everything was against her. But she trusted that with his help, she could spread the Gospel to the world through EWTN. It edges on the miraculous.
Father Frank Pavone, national director, Priests for Life
One of my first meetings with her, and one that greatly advanced my own apostolate of Priests for Life, was when in 1994, after she had interviewed me on her live show the previous evening, she sat with me in her office and we discussed the abortion issue in the church and in the world. … Mother Angelica gave me tremendous encouragement in following this call of conscience and letting nothing deter me from it …
[Of the Shrine in Hanceville] she shared with me privately how the presence of the statue of the child Jesus in the center of the plaza represented her desire to make this a place where those who have had abortions can find healing, and a place where the dignity of the child, so under attack by abortion around the world, would be lifted up at all times at that shrine …
[Of Mother Angelica Live] She would want to greet each and every person, hear about where they were from, laugh and joke with them and encourage them, and she would do this practically right up until the very moment when the cameras went on live. [The crew would count down, and with 30 seconds to spare,] she would say with a laugh, “Well, I guess I’d better get seated.” And there was a lesson in all this. It was that when the cameras went on, she was not doing anything different than she had just been doing when the cameras were off. … The transition from off-camera to on-camera and then off again was seamless …
Finally, Mother Angelica taught me how to be faithful to the Church even when encountering opposition from within … to trust that the church is always bigger than any particular person or institution within it, and that there is always a way to work out family squabbles without leaving the family.
Patrick Madrid, author and apologist
She was very quick and very insightful with the things she would say as we discussed the faith and she took phone calls from viewers. My first book had just come out, and she made a special point of saying, “This man has a large family. Please buy his book. It will help his family.” And there was this huge outpouring of people who did do that, and I always thought it was very kind of her to think of me in that regard. She could have been talking about any number of things, but she went out of her way to say, “Here’s this family man with a wife and kids.”
Another time, I was on one of the other shows, and she came up on one of those little golf carts that they used to bring people around. And my wife and I were standing out there with Mother Angelica in the parking lot outside the studio, and it was as if Nancy and I were the only two people in the world. She could have been inside talking to anybody, but she spent 10 minutes outside asking about us and our children and what our lives were like. She met so many people and so many important people, that for her to take that time and focus on us like we were the only people in the world, I thought that said a lot about her, being very kind.
I found her to be every bit as homey and effervescent in person. She was the same in person as she was on television. She could be very reflective and very deep one moment, but also very joyful and playful and telling jokes the next minute.
Ronda Chervin, philosopher
The first time I saw Mother Angelica was at a Charismatic conference in Los Angeles where this short Franciscan Sister was telling us about her dream of starting a Catholic TV station. … My favorite memory of Mother Angelica was when she interviewed me shortly after she had the miraculous healing of her ability to walk well. Right before the program she grabbed me and danced me around full of joy at being healed in her legs.
Father Joseph Fessio, SJ, founder of Ignatius Press
When all three of the English-language Bible translations used in the U.S. came out with new editions that had been laced with politically correct “inclusive” language, I called Mother Angelica. I told her Ignatius Press was working on publishing the best of these bibles, but in the previous, standard English version. I also explained that at the time we couldn’t afford the up-front costs to do it. She asked me how much we needed. I said $100,000. She replied, “It’s on the way.” (We paid her back later.)
Jennifer Fulwiler, radio host, author, Something Other Than God
Mother Angelica’s entire life was a testament to the reality of Providence. There is no way that a cloistered nun with no money and no media experience could have built a worldwide radio and television empire. Yet she was crazy enough to follow God wherever he led her and ended up as living proof of the adage that God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. The world is vastly richer for her audacious faith.
Ralph Martin, director of graduate theology programs in the New Evangelization, Sacred Heart Major Seminary
Back in the early 1980s, Mother Angelica had read my book, A Crisis of Truth: The Undermining of Faith, Morality and Mission in the Catholic Church. She called me and invited me to come down to Alabama to tape a number of interviews with her for her new television network. Out of that came an invitation to start a weekly TV program, The Choices We Face, which has run weekly on EWTN. In my many meetings with her over the years, I have always been struck by her deep relationship with the Lord and commitment to obey him whatever he may ask. I remember the first time she told me about how the network began: “God was looking for someone to do this, and he finally came to the bottom of the barrel and found us!”
Father Brian Mullady, OP, retreat director
I first met her when the network was a slab of concrete in the ground. … Mother Gabriel, who is now the superior of the Sisters Servants, said, “You ought to meet this nun, she’s very unusual.” At the time she had kind of an apostolate where she’d write these pamphlets, and they’d mail these pamphlets all over, and I took about 20 of them because they were all different, and some of them were really quite profound. But then when she told me she was going to build a Catholic TV station, I told her I thought she was out of her mind. In the Bible Belt? She was a very single-minded person, quite spiritual. And she was very tenacious. She just continued to pursue the establishment of the network.
Many people tried to establish Catholic television stations but did not succeed. I think one of the reasons is that she was so down-to-earth in her spirituality, and she did [influence a lot of people] just with her plain, simple explanations of the faith. She wasn’t profound, but in her own way she was. She used to say herself that she only had a seventh-grade education, but in that she understood her religion pretty well. … A lot of Protestants used to watch the station: she had Scripture commentary and such things. She tried to present it in such a way that people would feel very much at home …
Russell Shaw, author
They said it couldn’t be done — so Mother Angelica did it. It would be hard not to see the hand of Providence at work in her remarkable achievement. Starting with virtually nothing in the way of material resources but with an abundance of faith, this simple, shrewd, prayerful and determined woman built an international media apostolate that now brings the Good News to countless viewers and listeners.
Donna-Marie Cooper-O’Boyle, author, speaker, EWTN host
I feel so blessed to be part of the EWTN family through my two television series there. When I was there once, a producer gave me a tour and told me about the miracle of the sink. A sink wouldn’t fit through this area, and Mother Angelica prayed, and all of a sudden it miraculously fit through.
Tom Nash, former theology advisor at EWTN
Part of the way she connected with people was that she herself grew up in a broken family. Her parents were divorced, and she grew up in a single-parent household. She had credibility with people because she had been through some difficult times herself. Mother could be tough as nails, but she also was always there to reach out to those who were broken or had difficulties.
John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.