Mother Angelica (born Rita Antoinette Rizzo on April 20, 1923 in Canton, Ohio; died March 27, 2016 in Hanceville) was a Roman Catholic nun, founder and abbess of the Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, and founder of the Eternal Word Television Network. Through her frequent on-air appearances, she became a well-known personality. TIME magazine once described her as as one of the most influential Roman Catholic women in the United States.
Rita Antoinette was born the only child of John and Mae Helen Gianfrancisco Rizzo in Canton, Ohio. Her father abandoned the family when Rita was very young, and her parents divorced in 1929. Her mother maintained full custody of Rita, but struggled with chronic depression and poverty. Mae apprenticed at a dry cleaners along with other odd jobs. Rita struggled in school while helping keep house. She found much consolation in reading scripture, often repeating the words of the 23rd Psalm: "I will fear no evil." At the age of 16, Rita helped her mother find a better-paying job. She also began to suffer pain in her stomach, which worsened for two years.
In 1941 she finally sought medical help. X-rays taken that November revealed serious abnormalities in her stomach and intestines, but did not present a means of effecting relief. Rita and her mother turned to their faith. In 1943 they visited Rhoda Wise, a woman from Canton who had converted to Catholocism while in the hospital with stomach cancer. Wise reported seeing visions of Christ and St Thérèse of Lisieux, a 19th century nun. Wise claimed to have received the stigmata and was cured of her cancer by an apparent miracle.
Rita prayed with Wise for her health and promised God to share her devotion if He granted her prayers. Her prayers were not immediately answered, but about a week after visiting with Wise, Rita awoke in intense pain, but felt it wash away. She awoke refreshed and free of her ailment. Crediting God with another miracle, she began a lifelong commitment to serve Him.
After graduating high school in 1941, Rita began working at Timkin Roller Bearing Company. Following work each day, she would stop at a local parish where she often attended Mass to pray the stations of the cross.
In the summer of 1944, Rita felt God 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 Josephite Sisters in Buffalo, New York. This active order felt, however, that Rita was better suited for a contemplative order. She then visited Saint Paul's Shrine of Perpetual Adoration an order of cloistered contemplative nuns in Cleveland. When visiting this Order, Rita felt as if she were at home. The Order accepted her as a postulant, asking her to enter in August.
On August 15, 1944, at the age of 21, Rita Antoinette Rizzo entered the Adoration Monastery of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration at the Saint Paul Shrine in Cleveland. Her mother had not wanted Rita to join a convent, but she was determined. She left secretly, leaving a letter for her mother: "When you receive this letter, I will be in Cleveland. I have entered the Adoration Monastery [...] 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."
On November 8, 1945, Rita was invested as a Poor Clare Nun of Perpetual Adoration. She received the brown Franciscan habit and white novice veil. She also received a new name and title: Sister Mary Angelica of the Annunciation. During her time as a novice, a wealthy couple offered their Canton, Ohio mansion to the nuns so that a new foundation could be established. Thus the Sancta Clara Monastery was founded in Sister Angelica's hometown.
Amid her caring for the spiritual needs of the novices and her other duties, Sister Angelica participated in household chores. While operating an electric floor-scrubber she suffered a serious accident which caused a painful spinal injury. When the pain only worsened over a two-year span she was hospitalized and placed in a body cast. Six weeks of traction had no apparent affect and she was scheduled to undergo an operation.
The night before the operation, fearing the worst, Sister Angelica made a deal with the Lord: "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, Mother Angelica was released able to walk again.
Founding of Our Lady of the Angels
Keeping the pledge she made prior to her surgery, Sister Angelica began making preparations to establish a new monastary. After seeking all necessary permissions and raising funds through making and selling fishing lures, Mother Angelica and four other sisters headed South. Our Lady of the Angels Monastery was officially established in Irondale on May 20, 1962.
The first postulant to be received was Mae Francis (Sister Mary David), Mother Angelica's natural mother. A few months later Sister Mary Veronica, the former Abbess of the Sancta Clara Monastery, transferred to Our Lady of the Angels.
In 1995, Mother Angelica visited the Sanctuary of the Divine Infant Jesus in Bogotá, Columbia. As she prayed before the statue of the infant Christ, she received a vision of Him instructing her to build a temple and promising to help those who assisted her. Five years later, on December 3, 1999 a majestic new convent was dedicated in Hanceville. The order of Our Lady of Angels has since grown to the capacity of the new convent, with 33 cloistered nuns and eight extern sisters.
In 1973, Mother M. Angelica began writing the first of over 50 booklets on the spiritual life. The Community took over the publishing of these books and has distributed them all over the country. In addition to her booklets, Mother Angelica recorded 150 audiocassette teaching tapes. In 1976 she was given the opportunity to make videotape programs for television, and realized the impact television could have in spreading her faith. She converted the garage behind the monastery into a television studio and launched the the Eternal Word Television Network, via satellite, on August 15, 1981. In 1992, Mother Angelica also founded WEWN to broadcast Catholic programs worldwide via shortwave radio.
Mother Angelica became a celebrity through her "Mother Angelica Live" talk show, as well as frequent appearances on other EWTN programs. Her work has created some notable controversy with members of the Roman Catholic clergy. She famously disagreed with Roger Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles on matters concerning the presence of Jesus during the Eucharist. Following a letter he wrote his diocese to encourage liturgical innovations to become more inclusive of a diverse membership. She openly criticized the letter as confusing the reality of transubstantiation and as an instance of secularization. She said that she would not, as a member of that diocese, be obedient to the Cardinal. Her brief apology did not satisfy Mahoney, who demanded a retraction and public correction from Angelica's Bishop, David Foley. The dispute sparked a controversy over how much control the Catholic clergy should exert over EWTN's content.
Mother Angelica continued to face serious health problems as she aged. Her vision declined. She suffered from asthma, from Cushing's Syndrome, and from ongoing problems with her legs. In 1998, in the midst of the controversy with Cardinal Mahoney, she reported a miraculous cure while praying with a visitor to her office. She walked for the first time without crutches or leg braces since her accident as a novice. Some who witnessed this miracle were said to have had an on-the-spot conversion experience.
She suffered a stroke in 2001 that required her to wear an eye patch. A second stroke that year left her largely unable to speak. She resided at the convent in Hanceville under the constant care of her fellow nuns.
Mother Angelica died on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016. She was interred in the crypt of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament at her monastery.
- Arroyo, Raymond (2005) Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles. New York: Doubleday ISBN 9780385510929
- Wallace, W. Jason (August 24, 2010) "Mother Angelica". Encyclopedia of Alabama - accessed January 31, 2011
- Hrynkiw, Ivana (March 24, 2016) "Mother Angelica, founder of EWTN, dies on Easter Sunday." The Birmingham News
- Mother Angelica at EWTN.com