Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared on the website of the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation.
GLEN COVE, NY — Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, PCPA, (born Rita Antoinette Frances Rizzo in 1923) died on Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016. She was a heroically holy woman, completely cured more than once in extraordinary circumstances through the intercession of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, and many beautiful obituaries will certainly be written about her in the next few days. This article, however, focuses on the extraordinary nature of her greatest achievement, the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).
The Archdiocese of Boston made the first American attempt at Catholic television in 1955. This effort still exists as the Catholic Television Network, but it is only available on cable services in fewer than half of the states of our union. By the time the American bishops decided to put this station on cable networks, Mother Angelica had already achieved success.
In the early 1980s, Harry G. John, grandson of the founder of the Miller Brewing Company, put a Catholic television service on cable stations around the country. It ended fairly quickly as the result of lawsuits among members of the John family. Other members of the John family charged Harry John with financial irresponsibility.
Mother Angelica started a television project in 1980 and by the end of 1981 it had become a cable service known as Eternal Word Television. From its beginning, the station has been fueled by faith; she would undertake projects without knowing how they would be funded — and the projects were successful. Today, EWTN is a vast international enterprise that includes cable television, wireless cable, direct broadcast satellite, AM, FM, and short wave radio, a weekly newspaper, and internet site. The TV network alone is seen by 250 million households worldwide.
Harry John had similar ideas to those of Mother Angelica and was willing to invest millions of dollars in his project. Unfortunately, his station ended tragically as EWTN was about to become a major success. Many in the Church wanted the bishops to control Catholic television, based on the model of the Catholic Television Network and Telecare. I have good reason to believe that powerful people in the Vatican urged the end of Harry John’s project.
Although Mother Angelica was strongly endorsed by Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, stations like Telecare and Catholic Television Network had institutional support. EWTN, in contrast, was initially the project of a few Poor Clares supported largely by public contributions.
What Mother Angelica’s faith and courage and determination accomplished can best be appreciated by recognizing that God often works through the poor, humble, unsophisticated, confident, and pure of heart, rather than the rich, proud, sophisticated, powerful, and worldly.
Photo by Planetrussell