Roman Catholics around the globe know the name Mother Angelica. She is the founding matriarch of a small monastery in Irondale that grew into one of the largest religious media networks in the world, spanning 145 countries.
The Eternal Word Television Network would not be the juggernaut it is today without Mother Angelica. She was a cloistered nun, living isolated from society. But Mother Angelica was arguably more public than the Pope.
“She needed a satellite, obviously, to do this,” said Michelle Johnson, EWTN’s spokeswoman, as she shared one of her favorite Mother Angelica stories. ”And at least at the time, they cost about $600,000.”
It was 1981 and Mother Angelica had decided to start her own television network, right about the time CNN and MTV hit the airwaves. Mother – as everyone calls her – didn’t’ have $600,000. But that didn’t stop her. She ordered the satellite anyway. She and the other nuns prayed, but the money never came. The satellite, however, did.
“So, she goes into the chapel and she says, ‘OK, Lord! Your satellite is here,” Johnson continued.”
At that very moment, the phone rang. It was a man asking to speak to Mother Angelica. He told her that he came across one of her writings and was deeply moved. He said Mother had essentially saved his life and he was inspired to make a donation.
“…So she said how much would that be? Guess how much it was? $600,000! I mean how could anyone question that was a miracle.”
Father Joseph Mary is the network chaplain. He said EWTN is funded solely by donations, and has always relied on divine providence.
“The sisters had a saying, just in time. Just in time. That the providence would show up just in time,” Mary said. “They wouldn’t have enough money to pay the employees, and a Federal Express truck would drop off a check from some donor and it would pay the salaries for the employees.”
Mother Angelica always had faith that God would provide. And for decades the money has come and allowed her to share her conservative, yet sassy views on the world through her television show, Mother Angelica Live
In a video from 1998, Mother Angelica tells a live audience how modern day distractions can pull people away from God.
“The average woman will watch one soap opera a day,” she preached. “Now that’s a good half hour, well it’s not a good half hour, but it’s a half hour.”
She admits to picking on women most of the time, but men were not immune to her criticism either.
“You men are the worst, because you have to be so manly,” Mother continued. “You have to make money, you have to have the best golf game….I have a thing about golf, I think it’s one of the dumbest sports.”
Mother Angelica faced resistance because she was a woman in a religion dominated by men. Some church leaders even tried to counter Mother’s efforts. The well-funded National Bishops Conference attempted to start their own network, but after several years…
“…They ended up closing because it was a complete and total failure,” said Michael Warsaw, EWTN’s CEO. “So here is this cloistered nun in Birmingham, Alabama, of all places, who did what everybody told her she couldn’t do.”
Today, EWTN broadcasts eleven channels, in four different languages. Warsaw says the network draws tens of thousands of people to Alabama every year that come to pay homage and to worship at the chapel in Irondale.
“And I sat and I watched. I watched through the night and I watched into the next day, and I realized suicide wasn’t the right decision, “Warsaw said remembering one visitor in particular who told him she was considering suicide before she discovered EWTN. “And she said, I want to thank you. You not only saved my life, but you did something much more important, you saved my soul.”
Mother Angelica is now 92. She suffered a series of stokes and her health continues to decline. She hasn’t been on the air since 2001, but her legacy lives on through the media empire she created from virtually nothing.