From Where Angels Walk
Who does the best [her] circumstance allows
Does well, acts nobly; angels could do no more.
Millions of people watch the wholesome family fare on cable television’s Eternal Word Television Network. The unlikely founder of EWTN, Mother Mary Angelica, is a Roman Catholic cloistered nun who, with a handful of other sisters, two hundred dollars, and absolutely no knowledge of television (“Okay,” Mother Angelica concedes, “so I did know how to turn one on.”) has become the only woman in religious television who owns a network.
Visitors to the EWTN complex outside Birmingham, Alabama, cannot help but be impressed with what God and this little nun have accomplished. A monastery, network facilities and satellite dish, a print shop and chapel stand incongruously in the midst of the Protestant Bible Belt. When Mother Angelica believed in 1981 that God was calling her to begin a media ministry, she simply did so, and everything else has fallen into place.
Mother Angelica doesn’t take herself too seriously, which is probably why viewers choose her twice weekly show, “Mother Angelica Live,” as their favorite. Although it features a studio audience, call-ins from across the country, and popular guests, the show is sometimes less than polished. Sets occasionally collapse, for example, and Mother Angelica is prone to fits of giggles and witty asides.
Despite her grandmotherly image, she is firm and no-nonsense in her views on morality, yet quick to encourage and express compassion. Often, she ministers on the air to anonymous callers, counseling a distraught divorcee, gently scolding a drug addict, bringing God’s healing “to those who, perhaps, can’t reach out any other way.
“I want to be a thorn in people’s sides,” she admits. “I want to challenge them; I want to be another John the Baptist who says, ‘Get with it!'”
Fewer viewers know, perhaps, that Mother Angelica, who was born Rita Rizzo, had a rough childhood. After a bitter marriage, her parents divorced when she was six. Little Rita was poverty-stricken, vulnerable, and because of her mother’s divorce, ostracized within her Canton, Ohio, church community. Nor was she particularly impressed with the nuns. “I remember sitting in church watching them pray, and vowing I would never be among their ranks.” Mother Angelica says. “Their facial expressions were sour, their headpieces too large – I was convinced they were the most unhappy people I’d ever seen.” Then one day she experienced a moment of grace, a touch meant especially for her.
Mother Angelica has told the story often. About eleven years old, and feeling especially lonely and sad, she was walking downtown one evening, oblivious to everything around her. “I started to cross a busy street, then heard a woman’s shrill scream behind me,” she recalls. Rita looked back expecting to see someone in trouble, and instead realized that a car was speeding toward her, the headlights shining in her eyes, and waited for the fatal impact.
Instead she felt two strong hands lift her high in the air. A moment later she blinked and looked around in disbelief. She was standing on the sidewalk!
A crowd gathered. Onlookers had expected to see a terrible accident and a child’s crumpled body. Instead they found a healthy, but quite frightened, girl. To them, it appeared that she had definitely been hit, then hurled aside by the force of the collision. They were completely mystified at her lack of injuries.
A bus driver who witnessed the event form his higher perch later reported, with disbelief, a somewhat different scenario. He insisted that Rita had jumped or somehow been catapulted high into the air, easily clearing both the safety island and the onrushing auto. Such a feat seemed impossible, and the man was dumbfounded.
As soon as she got home, Rita told her mother what had happened, and both of them gave thanks for this rare moment of joy. Somehow they understood that, despite their hardships, they were being guided for and cared for.
That was the beginning of Rita’s confidence in angels. When she entered the Poor Clares convent, she chose a new name that would honor them. Later she founded (and named) Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, where she still lives, writes books, and directs her television network. Her life has been a testimony to the power of faith.
But Mother Angelica hasn’t forgotten that extraordinary moment when she felt the hands of a comforter and knew that God’s love would never fail.