Mother Angelica

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Mary Angelica
of the Annunciation
Born Rita Antoinette Rizzo
(1923-04-20) April 20, 1923 (age 92)
Canton, Ohio, United States
Residence Claretian Monastery
Hanceville, Alabama
Other names Sister Angelica
Citizenship American
Occupation Religious sister
Years active 1970-2001
Television Eternal Word Television Network
Religion Roman Catholic
Parent(s) John and Mae Helen Rizzo

Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, PCPA (born Rita Antoinette Rizzo on April 20, 1923) is an American Franciscan nun best known as a television personality and the founder of the Eternal Word Television Network.

In 1944, she entered the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, a Franciscan religious order for women, as a postulant, and a year later she was admitted to the order as a novice. She went on to find a new house for the order in 1962 in Irondale, Alabama, where EWTN is headquartered, and in 1996 she initiated the building of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of the Angels monastery in Hanceville, Alabama.

Mother Angelica hosted shows on EWTN until she suffered a stroke in 2001. She is a recipient of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Award granted by Pope Benedict XVI and lives in the cloistered monastery in Hanceville.

Early childhood[edit]

The future Mother Angelica was born Rita Antoinette Rizzo, on April 20, 1923, in Canton, Ohio, in a community of Italian immigrant mill workers, in southeast Canton. Of Italian American background, she is the only child of John and Mae Helen Rizzo (née Gianfrancesco). She is named after Saint Rita of Cascia, whose feast date was upcoming at the time. Her father, a tailor by trade rather than a millworker, was not interested in having children in the first place and abandoned the family when Rita was very young.[1] Her parents divorced in 1929, and her mother maintained full custody of Rita, but struggled with chronic depression and poverty. Her maternal grandparents kept Rita at times.

Looking back upon this time in her life, Angelica described herself and her mother as being "like a pair of refugees. We were poor, hungry, and barely surviving on odd jobs before Mother learned the dry cleaning business as an apprentice to a Jewish tailor in our area. Even then, we pinched pennies just to keep food on the table."[2] By the age of 16, Rita realized that her mother's dry-cleaning job was a dead end; through Rita's efforts, her mother got a better job that provided some relief from their dire poverty.[2]

Early adulthood and religious vocation[edit]

After graduating from Canton McKinley High School in 1941, Rita tried many odd jobs. She began working at Timken Roller Bearing Company. Following work each day, she would stop at a local parish and pray the stations of the cross. She regularly attended Mass. Later in 1941, a stomach ailment from which Rita had suffered since 1939 required medical attention. By November of that year, x-rays revealed serious abnormalities in her stomach and intestines. The pain continued to worsen, with no alleviation. Medical treatment failed to relieve her suffering.

According to Raymond Arroyo, after praying a novena, Rita still suffered from severe abdominal pain. She went to bed the night of January 17, 1943 and experienced the worst stomach pain yet. The next morning, Rita said that she had no pain whatsoever. She believed that God had performed a miracle. This experience profoundly touched Rita's life and led her to a very deep love for God. Angelica traces her lifelong commitment to God to this event.[3]

One evening in the summer of 1944, Rita stopped at a church to pray. Kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, Rita felt God was calling her to be a nun. She sought guidance from a local parish priest who encouraged her to begin visiting convents. Her first visit was to the Sisters of St. Joseph in Buffalo, New York. This active congregation felt, however, that Rita was better suited to the contemplative life. She also visited Saint Paul's Shrine of Perpetual Adoration, a facility operated by an order of cloistered contemplative nuns, located in Cleveland, Ohio. When visiting this order, Rita felt as if she were at home. The Order accepted her as a postulant, asking her to enter on August 15, 1944.

The one heartache that Rita suffered was leaving her mother, who was very much opposed to her daughter's pursuing the religious life. So Rita secretly planned her departure. On August 14, she wrote her mother a letter. When Mae found it on the morning of August 15, Rita had already arrived at her destination. In part the letter read: "When you receive this letter, I will be in Cleveland. I have entered the Adoration Monastery at 40th and Euclid. You know it better as St. Paul's Shrine.... Something happened to me after my cure. What it was, I don't know. I fell completely in love with Our Lord. To live in the world for these past nineteen months has been very difficult. I love you very much and I have not forgotten what you have done for me. Please trust Him ... I ask your blessing that I may reach the heights I desire. I love you very much."

Early religious life[edit]

On August 15, 1944, Rita Antoinette Rizzo became Sister Rita, when she arrived at Saint Paul's Shrine in Cleveland and entered the Adoration Monastery of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration (a cloistered contemplative order).

As a postulant, Sister was introduced to the religious life. She joined the nuns in prayer, adoration, and manual labor. Among her early assignments were working in the laundry, baking altar breads, working in the kitchen, and cleaning floors. Before long, though, Rita's knees began to cause her problems; so her work assignments were altered. On November 8, 1945, Rita was invested as a Poor Clare nun. She received the brown Franciscan habit and white novice veil. She received a new name and title: Sister Mary Angelica of the Annunciation.[4]

During her time as a novice, a wealthy couple offered their mansion to the nuns so that a new foundation could be established. This mansion was located in Canton, Ohio, Mother Angelica's hometown.

Final vows and leadership in the convent[edit]

After moving to Sancta Clara Monastery in Canton, her knee problem was alleviated. On January 2, 1947, Sister Angelica made her first profession of vows, and on January 2, 1953, Sister Angelica made her solemn profession of vows.[4]

Amid her caring for the spiritual needs of the novices and her other duties, Sister Angelica continued to help with the household chores. One such chore was scrubbing the floor with an electric scrubbing machine. While performing this task one day, she had a serious accident. Losing her balance on the soapy floor, Sister Angelica fell to her knees and was flung against the wall back first. Her spine was seriously injured. In the following months the injury worsened. She reported that the pain was unbearable. Finally, nearly two years after the accident, she was hospitalized and fitted with a body cast. Six weeks of traction proved to be no help, and so surgery followed.

The night before the operation, fearing the worst, Sister Angelica prayed: "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!" After four months of hospitalization, Sister Angelica was released, able to walk again.


Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Irondale, Alabama[edit]

Keeping the pledge she made before her surgery, Mother Angelica began making preparations to establish a new monastery. After seeking all necessary permissions and raising funds by making and selling fishing lures,[4] Angelica and four other sisters headed south. Our Lady of the Angels Monastery was officially established in Irondale, Alabama, on May 20, 1962.

The first postulant to be received was Mae Francis (Sister Mary David), Mother Angelica's mother. A few months later Sister Mary Veronica, the former Abbess of the Sancta Clara Monastery, transferred to Our Lady of the Angels Monastery.

Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament[edit]

In 1996, Mother Angelica began groundbreaking on a new monastery in Hanceville, Alabama, called the Shrine of The Most Blessed Sacrament. It was built with private donations. The nuns moved to the shrine in 1999. The friars remained in Irondale. When the shrine was completed in 1999, the daily Mass was telecast from there. In 2000, the daily Mass telecast originated from Irondale. EWTN airs several Benediction services from that monastery.

Reruns of her old Mother Angelica Live show appear regularly on the network. Also, reruns of her 1970s show, which aired on CBN and PTL, now called Catholic Classics, air regularly on EWTN.

Founding of EWTN[edit]

In the mid-1970s, Mother Angelica began making videotaped programs for television and taping a Catholic teaching series for CBS affiliate Channel 42 WBMG (now WIAT). Shortly afterward, Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network got interest in airing her program over his satellite network CBN (now ABC Family Channel). Additionally, Christian television WCFC 38 (now WCPX) out of Chicago began airing her program in 1977. In the late 1970s, WBMG was scheduled to air a controversial movie from the CBS Network. Mother Angelica refused to continue producing shows at that station unless they chose to preempt it. WBMG refused, so she ended the show temporarily and soon began building her own cable channel.

In 1980, a garage behind the monastery was converted into a television studio. Mother Angelica was then able to tape her programs without leaving the monastery. They continued to air on various Christian stations while she began planning to buy satellite space to launch her own Catholic Cable channel. After many problems and glitches, Mother Angelica signed on her cable channel on August 15, 1981, and named it Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). This service aired via satellite to cable companies and home satellite dishes as it still does today.

Initially, EWTN was on the air from 7 pm to 12 midnight daily. EWTN televised Mass weekly, Mother Angelica Live (a talk show), Catholic shows produced from various Catholic groups, children's Christian programs, Life Is Worth Living with Bishop Sheen, praying of the rosary, Lutheran dramas like This Is the Life, public domain movies, cooking shows, and a few 1950s westerns. Mother Angelica was frequently seen on the network teaching or taking questions from viewers via telephone. She hosted the "Mother Angelica Live" television program which aired on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

EWTN expanded to 12 hours a day in 1985 and 24 hours a day in 1987. By 1986, EWTN phased out the secular programs and began airing only religious programming. In 1991, EWTN began running the Mass every day. In 1992, Mother Angelica also founded WEWN to broadcast Catholic programs worldwide via short-wave radio. In 1992, EWTN began mixing Latin into some parts of the Mass, which is still done today. On Christmas of 1993, Mother Angelica and her nuns began dressing in a more traditional habit and veil, including the wimple. The theming of the channel began to focus more on Catholic traditions and began to be perceived as less ecumenical.

EWTN has become a voice for American conservative and traditional Catholics, with its position on religious and social issues often mirroring that of Pope John Paul II.[5] With the emphasis on tradition, Angelica has had feuds with some members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Most famous is the feud over a pastoral letter written by Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles over teachings surrounding the Eucharist and the liturgy.[6] After this dispute, EWTN added a large theology department with conservative priests, theologians, deacons, and lay people to make sure EWTN is in line with the teachings of the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.

EWTN is now available in over 150 million television households in more than 140 countries and territories.[7]

Reputed vision of the Child Jesus[edit]

According to EWTN personalities Raymond Arroyo and Bob and Penny Lord, Mother Angelica also reported experiencing an apparition of the Child Jesus. She claimed to have met the Child Jesus several times in 1995 during her missionary travel in Bogota, Colombia, where a life-sized statue of the Infant of Prague dressed in a pink robe came alive, smiled and spoke to her. The Child introduced himself as Divino Niño Jesus.

On the televised show Mother Angelica Live! dated 20 July 1999, Mother Angelica claimed to have met the Child Jesus in the Basilica of Divino Niño Jesus in Colombia. She stated that she entered the shrine from the back door on crutches with two other religious sisters. She claimed the statue of the Child Jesus became animated and spoke to her. She said he asked her to build a temple in his honor. She claims to have gone into a state of religious ecstasy and afterwards burst into tears which she attributed to her "heart beating 100 miles per hour". On the same episode, two religious statues of the Child Jesus from South America were featured on the show while Mother Angelica referred to them endearingly as "babies".[8]

Mother Angelica brought this devotion back with her[clarification needed] to the United States and invoked its patronage in her convent. She looked for the land which would eventually become the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament. The statue commissioned by Mother Angelica and her religious sisters portrays the Child Jesus holding his heart in his palm.[9]

Later years[edit]

Mother Angelica stepped down from control of EWTN in 2000 and handed control to a board of lay people. In 2001, she suffered a stroke.[7]

Mother Angelica had "multiple strokes suffered just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks", leaving "her with slightly slurred speech, some unresponsive facial muscles and the need to wear an eye patch over one eye because she is unable to close the eyelid."[10]

In response to the terrorist attacks she made a statement expressing empathy for the victims, praising President Bush's speech to the U.S. Congress, and calling for justice on the conspirators. She went on identifying "pornography, abortion, child prostitution, the spread of drugs, the destruction of youth by an immoral media and the suppression of religious expression in public places as 'other' terrorism that must be addressed."[10] She condemned abortion saying it had "deprived the nation of millions of people who would otherwise be there to defend the nation."[10]

On September 25, 2001, she returned to taping her show twice a week. On Christmas Eve, she suffered another stroke and underwent a thrombectomy to remove a blood clot; this resulted in improvement of her visual impairment which had required the use of an eye patch. The stroke cause partial paralysis of the right side of her body and affected her speech. Mother Angelica began speech therapy but stopped hosting television programs.[11] Mother Angelica taped a recitation of The Holy Rosary with Mother Angelica and the Nuns in 2003 which airs regularly.

As of 2015, Mother Angelica is still living in the monastery. At 92, she is the oldest nun.[citation needed] She participates in the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament a few hours a day at the shrine.

Papal award[edit]

On October 4, 2009, Mother Angelica and Deacon Bill Steltemeier, then chairman of EWTN's board of governors, received the papal medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (For the Church and The Pontiff) from Pope Benedict XVI for distinguished service to the Catholic Church.[7] Bishop Robert J. Baker of the Diocese of Birmingham conferred the papal awards.



  1. ^ Arroyo 6-7.
  2. ^ a b "Mother Angelica's Childhood". 
  3. ^ Raymond Arroyo, Mother Angelica. Image, 2007.
  4. ^ a b c Wallace, W. Jason. "Mother Angelica", Encyclopedia of Alabama
  5. ^ Reeves, Jay (2005-04-06). "Catholic view of pope’s death". Los Angeles Times. 
  6. ^ "Sidebar: Mother Angelica On Mahony". Los Angeles Lay Catholic Mission. January 1998. 
  7. ^ a b c "EWTN celebrates Mother Angelica's 90th birthday", Catholic News Agency, April 19, 2013
  8. ^ Mother Angelica Live! Classics - Episode: On the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit - EWTN - Air date July 20, 1999. Videotape.
  9. ^ Bob and Penny Lord - Miracles and Apparitions of Divine Child Jesus, Videotape. 1997.
  10. ^ a b c Dr. Brian Kopp (October 1, 2001). "Mother Angelica Pleads for Purging of "Other" Terrorism in U.S.". LifeSite Daily News. 
  11. ^ "Doctors Say Mother Angelica Shows Remarkable Improvement and will be Moved out of Intensive Care Tomorrow". January 15, 2002. 
  12. ^ "Mother Knows Best". Time. August 7, 1995. 
  13. ^ Garner, Dwight (November 2, 2008). "Hardcover". New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2011. 


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