I recently finished reading Mother Angelica – The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles
by Raymond Arroyo. I started watching EWTN in the summer of 1997 when I first moved to a location that had EWTN available.
I first ran across their website in 1996 which I learned from this book was launched the same year. When I first saw a picture of Mother Angelica on their site I thought she looked like the stereotypical nun who didn’t look all too friendly to me. Channel searching the new channels for the cable system I saw Bishop David E. Foley of Birmingham, Alabama doing his weekly catechism class.
Considering that I had pretty much decided by that time that it was the Catholic Church is would be joining this was pretty thrilling to me. It also made me pause for a second that a bishop on a television show could illicit something out of me besides the desire to change the channel.
I quite remember the first time watching Mother Angelica’s live show and I was hooked. She was quite different than what I had expected
and that was for the good.
The book itself is an excellent read which takes you from here childhood with many trials up through the present day and with many more trails along the way. I was aware of bits and pieces of her story from watching her network, but the book filled in many pieces of information that I had wondered about and giving the background story of what was going on behind the scenes. There were also many surprises for me in the book considering the changes she had made in her order during the council and in it’s aftermath. Raymond Arroyo describes their habit at one point resembling a costume from Star Trek. I had heard her before allude to an event that caused her to change the habits to the more traditional ones they use today. I always wondered what the event was the precipitated the change and the book had the answer. I won’t give any spoilers considering that I really recommend the reading of this book.
This book is in no way pious hagiography, but really displays Mother Angelica warts and all. The book also details some of the battles with the bishop’s conference considering that the bishops had started up their own network around the same time as EWTN. Of course the fact that the bishop’s network is not around today and that it had a relatively short life is no surprise to anyone who follows the bishop’s conference. They in fact scrambled their signal (an apt metaphor for the teachings of some bishops) and it was used only for diocesan offices instead of being available for any cable stations to use. I found the history of the conflicts between the bishop’s conference and EWTN to be interesting and the politicking that was going on to curtail or possibly event take control of EWTN. The usual suspects were some of the fiercest critics. Archbishop Rembert Weakland, Bishop Thomas O’Brien, etc. It is no surprise that these disgraced bishops were critical of the orthodoxy of EWTN’s programs. From this book and from what I have read before the bishops network was not exactly a bastion of orthodox Catholic programming.
Of course her most famous run in was with Cardinal Mahony. I remember watching the program where she had a very short critiqued his pastoral letter on the Eucharist and went a step too far in an off hand comment saying if she lived in his diocese she would give him zero-submission. Besides being against canon law this statement of course was a major mistake and just plain inappropriate. The Cardinal who will gladly accept almost any dissent from the magisterium would not do the same for Mother Angelica in regards to himself and went to considerable effort over the period of a year to get a public apology. Of course Mother Angelica’s style was that after the initial complaint from Cardinal Mahony she apologized for her previous comments and then did an in depth verbal fisking of his pastoral letter the following week It was great television and she confined itself to the actual contents on this very poor pastoral letter which basically relativized the various presences of Christ by downplaying Christ in the Eucharist.
Mother Angelica reminds me a lot of St Teresa of Avila. They had very different childhoods but later addressed similar situations. They both were brilliant organizers who could get things done. They both had an acute business acumen and great common sense that enabled them to work well with others in getting things done. They both were heavily involved in the various building projects involved in expansion and were very keen on not only was involved but were able to suggest better ways to do things. They both suffered physically throughout their lives but never let that slow them down. St. Teresa set her eyes on reforming her order in light of both laxity and the effects of the reformation and ended up founding not only a new order and affecting the Church up to the present day. Mother Angelica sites were a little broader since her eventual aim was more at reform of the universal Church in light of rampant heterodoxy. Though modern media helped Mother Angelica to have the broader aim and I can easily imagine St. Teresa availing herself of modern media in the same way. Of course they both also had run ins with some in the Church’s hierarchy who disapproved of what they were doing, but again they also both had protectors higher up to help to keep them out of trouble.
St. Teresa left us a legacy of prayer concerning the mystical life that stands the test of time and time will tell what Mother Angelica’s legacy of a world wide Catholic media network will turn out to be. It can be of no doubt that in the short term that EWTN has had a major effect on both education Catholics, bringing back fallen away Catholics, and attracting converts. I am deeply thankful for many of the programs they have aired. Fr. Dubay’s wonderful series on St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila informed me and attracted me to Carmelite spirituality. There series on G.K. Chesterton is one of my favorites as with anything with Fr. Rutler in it. There are literally thousands of testimonial of people of which EWTN has touched.
So if your want to read an intriguing history of a very colorful nun who with 200 dollars started a monastery in the South and became not only a cable pioneer but spawned a network that literally reaches world wide, then I would highly recommend this book. Raymond Arroyo for the most part tries to lay out the history without inserting personal opinions and really works to be fair in reporting some of the more controversial episodes.