Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, the American Franciscan nun best known as a television personality and the founder of the Eternal Word Television Network is profiled by Gemma Grant
When Rita Rizzo’s father, John, walked out on her and her mother in 1928, the young five-year-old’s world collapsed for her and her mother Mae who was left with suicidal depression. Not a background conducive to producing one of the world’s most influential nuns who graced two centuries and founded the Eternal Word Television Network, EWTN, the world’s largest Catholic media outlet.
Rita’s parents divorced in 1930, leaving the insecure Mae to become more dependent on her young daughter. From age eleven Rita recalled driving her mother’s car to deliver starched clothes from their dry-cleaning business in Ohio to their customers; sometimes returning with payment, most of the time not.
A portent of what would follow when Rita would find herself navigating a much larger vehicle that would span the globe. Financial hardship forced Mae to return to her parental home in order to survive. Rita, as an adult, recalled a lonely childhood, pretty much an underachiever and with religion playing a minor role in their lives.
Rita’s first encounter with the supernatural occurred as a young teenager. While crossing the road she failed to see a car that almost struck her. She recalled with clarity two invisible hands picking her up and placing her safely on the centre island. A bus driver told her he witnessed a miracle as he never saw anyone jump so high. This would not be Rita’s only encounter with the Divine.
The turning point came when, in her late teens, she was beset with severe stomach problems. Mae took her to see Rhoda Wise, a Catholic convert and mystic. Rhoda gave them a nine day novena to the Little Flower. Rita was cured on the ninth day.
Her brush with the Divine helped her endure future ailments that would plague her long religious life. She answered the call in 1944 when she entered a cloistered order of Franciscan nuns in Cleveland, Ohio, much to the dismay of her mother. It would be a year before Mae could accept her daughter’s decision.
Thirteen years after entering the convent, Rita, now Sister Angelica, received permission to establish a convent in Birmingham, Alabama, a smouldering cauldron of racial and religious tensions. By 1961 Mae relocated to Alabama and eventually joined the monastery taking the name Sister Mary David.
Mother Angelica shouldered the burden of constructing and financing the monastery and survived two separate gun attacks on the partially constructed building. Fundraising for Our Lady of the Angels Monastery was always on the agenda.