The first time I walked down the long hallway toward the reception room of EWTN, I saw a portrait of Mother Angelica (1923-2016) smiling at me with a mischievous look in her eye. She seemed to be saying, “It’s about time you got here. Are you ready to rock the boat and have some fun?” I couldn’t help it; I responded out loud, “Yes, Mother Angelica, I am ready to have some fun!”
Even though I had long been a fan of EWTN, I wondered how this whole network came to be. I knew she had started it, but I didn’t know the details. Just who was Mother Angelica?
You probably guessed that the name Angelica is not Mother’s birth name. The name under her picture in the high school yearbook is Rita. Rita was a drum majorette, and even though she kept to herself in school, she was the leader of the band. Her father abandoned the family when Rita was young. Feisty little Rita wasn’t about to let him get away with ignoring them, though, and would hunt through the bars of Canton, Ohio, for him, demanding that he pay his support money. Those checks were few and far between, but her mother worked hard to support her family.
In her teenage years, Rita became deathly ill from a stomach ailment that required many abdominal surgeries, many of which did not seem to work. She was frail and continued to drop weight, and her situation soon became dire. She was advised to offer a nine-day prayer, or novena, with the assurance that God would cure her.
After the ninth day passed, she awoke to the sharpest stomach pain she had ever felt. As it eased, she heard a voice telling her to stand up and walk without her stomach brace. She jumped out of bed, marched into the kitchen, and told her grandmother she wanted a pork chop, insisting she had been healed. She pulled up her pajama top to show her stomach. The big lump and blue discoloration that had been there were gone.
Rita soon joined a cloistered Franciscan convent, taking the name Angelica. She felt called by God to go to Alabama and start a convent there. Once there, her teaching became so popular in the local area that she was inspired to distribute little booklets of her lessons. Soon, the demand for her booklets became so great that Mother Angelica ordered a printing press for the convent, trusting that God would provide the funds. He did.
The printing business grew rapidly. Mother Angelica and her fellow cloistered nuns were a powerhouse of work and prayer. The sign above the print shop read, “The Master’s Print Shop. We don’t know what we’re doing, but we are getting good at it.”
Eventually, twenty-five thousand books rolled off those presses every day. Soon they were duplicating cassette tapes, too. Still, this was just the beginning. After Mother visited a Christian television studio in Chicago and saw a satellite dish that could beam programs to space and then back to earth, she decided she needed to get one. Before long, the Eternal Word Television Network was born.
Mother Angelica’s small steps of faith became giant leaps of faith. At every turn she rested in God’s will, trusting that he was guiding each step. By faith and hard work, Mother Angelica and her sisters expanded the television network and began to develop a global radio network. With each new and more ambitious calling, Mother Angelica responded with confident assurance in God’s sovereignty.
No obstacle could shake Mother Angelica’s faith in God. If he wanted a nun with no knowledge of publishing to buy a printing press, then fine. If he called her to start a television network, she’d do it. If he wanted a radio antenna built on a hill that professionals say is inaccessible, she would be sure to build it there. Leap after leap. Mountain after mountain. Mother Angelica walked in the way of heroic virtue.