Idiot’s Box, The Great American Revolution

tv-animal-238.jpg It took a handful of Roman Catholic nuns ignorant in mass communication to teach media experts how to use television to light fires of faith in 100+ countries and 100+ million households all over the world simultaneously broadcasting in English and Spanish.

The power of women, yes? No, the power of faith.

The faith of Mother Angelica and the Nuns of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery (OLAM) and their Miracle Baby, the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).

A quick measure of that power: In August 1995, 37 million American TV households are tuned in to EWTN broadcasting only in the United States. After that, the growth is nothing but phenomenal. In August 2006, the lower estimate is EWTN watchers in 118 million TV households in 127 countries (CNA, 2006); the higher estimate is 184 million households in 160 countries (ACB, 2006). These are astronomical figures. Details of information sources at end of article.

Unknown, starting broadcast on 15 August 1981 in a small studio built in a garage, in the hands of the OLAM Nuns led by Mother Angelica, the Idiot Box has become The Great American Revolution.

Instinctively, those nuns knew in their hearts what Marshall McLuhan discovered decades earlier and published in 1964 in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions Of Man. Where lies the power of television? In its being a ‘cool’ medium, that is, it invites you to participate in what’s going on. Translating McLuhan, I say: If it’s good TV, it engages you. That’s what the nuns have; EWTN at its best is supreme TV.

Even after McLuhan, the rest of us haven’t learned much how to best use television. Still, the TV set is called the Idiot Box because it’s shaped like a box and every fool knows that if you keep watching TV shows, soon you become an idiot. We dummies keep entertaining the thought that TV has nothing essential to present about life except entertainment, and we’re better off entertaining ourselves!

I wish there were a knob on the TV to turn up the intelligence. There’s a knob called ‘brightness’ but that doesn’t work – Author unknown

This is the story of the OLAM nuns’ faith and the silent, intelligent, faithful American Revolution they have been waging for the last 25 years. Now then, let me tell you more about:

(A) Idiot’s Box: The Miracle Of Mother Angelica
(B) Idiot’s Box: The Miracle Of Engagement


‘EWTN. Sharing the splendor of truth.’ Voice-over accompanying a twirling icon of the globe.

That is the most expressive and most inciting station ID in the world today, and it comes from Mother Angelica’s first baby: Television, EWTN, Global Catholic Network.

Mother Angelica, a cloistered nun, has turned the Idiot Box into the Idea Box and revolutionized the art and science of evangelism not only in the United States but the world over. Great religious preachers all and charismatic – Pat Robertson, Binny Hinn, The Grahams (Father & Son), Jim Bakker, Norman Vincent Peale, The Schullers (Father & Son), Joyce Meyer among others – they have not been able to harness the nuclear energy of television to blast through layers of centuries of ignorance and indifference about the Christian God and turn millions of believers into active learners and willing doers of the Word of the Almighty all at the same time. How do we know that? Of several religious cable networks established, including Trinity Broadcasting Network and Christian Broadcasting Network, only EWTN remains running the whole day through (Kathryn Jean Lopez, 2001). As in 24/7/365. Mother Angelica’s EWTN costs millions annually to operate, $29 million in 2001 (Lopez, 2001), and yet for the last 25 years it has run entirely on donations by its audience and advocates (Lopez, 21 Dec 2005). Mother Angelica’s religious broadcasts are brought to you on a wing and a prayer. In 2004, non-profit EWTN reported revenues of #31.4 million and $32.9 million in assets (Jay Reeves, Aug 2006).

Mother is so extraordinary that 11 years ago yet she had TIME magazine putting down in black and white to describe her these two long superlatives in one short article (John Elson, 1995):

‘the most influential Catholic woman in America’
’improbable superstar of religious broadcasting’

Mother Angelica’s story is mass media’s Cinderella story; when it was good, it was very good; when it was bad, it was very bad. She started with a bad father, a poor mother and cruel Sisters – the nuns who taught in high school. She remembers the Sisters as ‘the meanest people on God’s earth’ (Elson, 1995). Still, years later, she would become one of them.

She was born 20 April 1923 as Rita Rizzo, an only child. She, along with her mother, was abandoned by her father when she was still an infant; she became embittered and her mother became suicidal (Lopez, 2001). Her parents divorced in 1929, and she suffered in school from prejudice because of the stigma of being a child of divorce. She found consolation reading the Bible, especially the 23rd Psalm (Wikipedia, 2006).

She comes from Canton, Ohio. At 4 or 5 years of age, she drank (small) beer with her pretzels outside his grandfather’s shop, because there was no room for her at the shop – she was unwanted there. So, she grew up conversing with prostitutes and gangsters (Christopher Willcox, 2005).

As a young girl, she suffered severe abdominal pains; when she sought the prayers of a local mystic, the symptoms disappeared, and she vowed her life to God, becoming a cloistered Franciscan nun (Shannon Mullen, 2005). In point of fact, it was the mystic who discerned her vocation and encouraged her to join a nunnery against vehement family opposition (Fr John McCloskey, 2005). And Rita Rizzo became Sister Angelica.

At the convent, Mother’s first incarnation, Sister Angelica became ‘Mrs Fixit of Catholicism’ (Hazel DeForrest Shea, 2005). At the convent, from ‘Mrs Fixit,’ Sister Angelica graduated to ‘Master Builder.’ She fixed and built with her team of Italian helpers from her own poor neighborhood (McCloskey, 2005), volunteers known as the Tonys because they were Italian (Shea, 2005).

Do you know who started her on her Catholic ways of the New Evangelization? Not Catholics. In 1973, some Episcopalians in Birmingham invited her to conduct some seminars in Bible studies (Elson, 1995). She went, she saw, she conquered. She had found her calling. Her listeners started requesting copies of her remarks (Lopez, 2001). After that, she appeared 60 times on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (Elson, 1995). Today CBN; tomorrow the world.

Eleven years ago, on 15 August 1995, EWTN began 24-hour daily broadcasts in English and Spanish to cable systems in Europe, Africa and South America (Elson, 1995). Why the recurring date 15 August? On 15 August 1944 Rita Rizzo became Sister Rita; she became Sister Mary Angelica of the Annunciation on 8 November 1945 (Wikipedia, 2006). That year we might say God began broadcasting to the world a new herald. 15 August is also the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. With apologies to the Beatles, Mother Mary came to her, speaking words of wisdom, let it be, let it be.

In 1993, with EWTN already a well-known presence, Mother Angelica announced that hers was ‘the Catholicity of the simple and the poor and the elderly’ (she was 70) and as Jesus himself taught, and woe to those who would tamper with it (Elson, 1995). Very Catholic.

Today, millions of people look to ‘beloved Mother Angelica everyday for inspiration and help with the problems of day-to-day life’ – she draws insights from her own faith, crippling health problems and personal experiences (CB, 2006; Mullen, 2005). There are more than 20 million copies in print of her spiritual booklets which are extremely popular.

With EWTN all over the physical and virtual worlds, Mother Angelica has built an empire of the mind and soul. She has done it, ‘achieving what even the highest levels of the Catholic Church had been unable to do’ (CFC, 2006). EWTN’s ‘vast array of programming’ includes documentaries, discussions by leading scholars of the Catholic faith, live coverage of Church events, prayers, devotionals, music specials, children’s shows, drama, cinema and daily devotions (Kansat, 2006). The Network is ‘an inspirational and didactic mix of religious news, panel discussions, masses, homilies and popular pieties’ – while challenging the powerful progressive wing of the American Catholic Church (Willcox, 2005).

Television: A medium – so-called because it is neither rare nor well-done – Ernie Kovacs

For what she’s done, this is what Lee Iacocca, legendary CEO of Chrysler Corporation, says of her: ‘Mother Angelica, a woman who may well be the Patron Saint of CEOs’ (CFC, 2006). The story of Mother Angelica, Italian, is ‘a very American story’ (Wilcox, 2005). Very moving, very inspiring.

Why is EWTN triumphant? President of the Network Michael Warsaw says, ‘EWTN is doing God’s will’ (Lopez, 2001). And for all that, EWTN has barely started. Pope John Paul II said, as quoted by Cardinal Oddi: ‘EWTN is the key to restoring the Roman Catholic Church in America’ (Stephen Hitchings, 2000), the Church that has been hijacked by liberals. This is the modern Good Fight of the US of A.


EWTN. ‘We never thought it would be this big or this beautiful’ – Mother Angelica (Lopez, 2001).

How did she do it? Of the miracle of EWTN, Mother Angelica reminded everyone so often: ‘It isn’t what we’ve done; it’s how we’ve done it’ (EWTN, 2001). What she means is that they owe it all to their faith in God. ‘EWTN is a work of God,’ she says (Lopez, 2001). EWTN runs on faith: there is no budget, no plan, no forecasts, no surveys of audiences, no fund-raising campaigns, no trust funds, no investments, no commercials. EWTN is a non-profit prophet.

No, EWTN has no budget. None. When early benefactors argued for a budget plan, Mother Angelica told them bluntly: ‘No, a budget is the devil’s handiwork. We live on faith’ (John-Henry Westen & Terry Vanderheyden, 2006). Mother Angelica had never heard of the capitalist world’s intellectual, John Maynard Keynes who had this to say: ‘The importance of money flows from it being a link between the present and the future.’ Good for her, good for us Catholics! Me, I never did believe in Keynes even when I was in college.

Mother Angelica is EWTN and EWTN is Mother Angelica. Part of the open secret (and open risk) is that she is ‘funny, garrulous and irreverent toward just about everybody but Jesus, Mary and the Pope’ (Willcox, 2005).

She is like the television set, short and squat. ‘God likes to do big things with little things’ (CFC, 2006) is her own explanation.

Mother Angelica had discovered something of the Idiot Box that all other religious superstars did not: the power not of persuasion but of participation. But she was not really thinking of participation as sociologists would have it: ‘taking part in the public life of your community and society’ (SCORE, 2006). She couldn’t have defined participation sociologically if it meant saving her life; she was only a high school graduate, remember? She couldn’t define it, but she knew it in her heart.

For some time, American bishops operated a rival Catholic TV network, ‘but Mother Angelica outplayed, outwitted and outlasted them’ (Mullen, 2005). In fact, she succeeded where several millionaires failed (Fr McCloskey, 2005). How come?

I would like to explain Mother Angelica’s faits accomplis (plural, yes) by focusing on her entry point, television, inadvertently following McLuhan’s lead, and presenting her practice, taken as one, as that emanating from what I call here a theory of engagement, which is this: TV is what engages you. And my theory is translated into what I refer to here as Mother Angelica’s 7 Rules Of Engagement:

(1) What you believe in engages you.
(2) You must be engaged enough as to be married.
(3) Your audience must engage you.
(4) You must engage your audience.
(5) You must engage the media.
(6) You must engage the enemy.
(7) You must engage God as your ultimate security

(1) What you believe in engages you.

Mother Angelica’s faith is what engages her. Roman Catholicism attracts and holds her attention; she is engrossed in it – and she shares it with you. She insists on what I shall refer to here as The Wholly Trinity (you can’t take one without the other): The Bible, Magisterium, Tradition – the three sides of the Roman Catholic triangle of evangelization. The Bible as the inspired word of God, the Magisterium as the teaching authority of the Pope, and Tradition as a third source of truth. Mother is unwavering in this. I know that from surfing the Internet, subscribing to Wings (EWTN’s Weekly Electronic Newsletter), and from watching EWTN. She is a true-blue Roman Catholic. She does not dilute her faith. For instance, unlike some liberal Catholics (not to mention Protestants), she abhors abortion and she rejects women’s liberation and political correctness.

All television is educational television. The question is: What is it teaching? – Nicholas Johnson

What is Mother along with all those workers in the vineyard doing with EWTN? Cardinal Trujillo tells us (Trujillo, 2006):

Christ, the Bread of Everlasting Life, has moved the hearts of many to enthusiastically collaborate and dedicate their gifts and talents for this specific work of Evangelization. Mother Angelica has laid out an ample, varied and rich programming, explaining Sacred Scriptures and the Magisterium of the Church to lead viewers, listeners and navigators to its center, Jesus Christ. EWTN transmits the truth that what gives full meaning to our lives is loving service, and stimulates us to have the courage of faith, knowing that we are God’s children, in today’s world that risks moving away from the truth and not listening to the Lord, who says, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.’

A sign in the EWTN’s small print shop, that which still puts out the same mini-books Mother Angelica’s teaching ministry started within the early 1970s, says: ‘The Master’s Print Shop. We don’t know what we’re doing, but we’re getting good at it’ (Tom Hoopes, 2005).

Mother Angelica runs on faith, and you better believe it!

(2) You must be engaged enough as to be married.

When Mother Angelica was 20, she was healed of a debilitating stomach pain after making a novena to St Therese of Lisieux at the urging of a mystic, Rhoda Wise, in her own Canton, Ohio. She says of it: ‘It was the first time I really recognized God’s active role in my life. I fell in love with God’ (Lopez, 2001).

She engages Christ as her groom. She is consumed by Him. She is also consumed by her devotion to the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Note the name of her flock: Nuns of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery.

In 1981, when she realized the power of television for evangelization, she founded EWTN with a handful of nuns, a few dollars and a lot of prayers in the garage of the OLAM Nuns to whom she was Abbess.

Mother Angelica is married to the promotion of conservative Catholic Church policies such as fighting abortion, birth control and ordination of women as priests (Reeves, 2006).

How is this for engagement? EWTN is the second garage story of technology that has shaken the very foundations of the world.

In the first garage story, Apple Computer was born in the garage of Steve Jobs, school dropout and visionary, with the baby of Steve Wozniak, engineer and genius – this one has brought us the personal computer (PC) that now we can access the libraries of the world even in an unfriendly place like a mountaintop. The PC began as a primitive computer. The two Steves began Apple with some money, the proceeds of the sales of Steve Jobs’ Volkswagen and Steve Wozniak’s programmable calculator. Steve Jobs didn’t finish college. He was engaged to what he was doing. He told the 2005 graduates of Stanford University: ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish’ (Michael Peña, June 2005).

In the second garage story, Mother Angelica has brought us our personal Savior even if we live in the unfriendliest corner of the world – don’t forget that EWTN is satellite television + shortwave radio + Internet + podcasts + audio-video tapes + CDs + books. No matter where you are, Mother Angelica will engage you. She’s got all the bases covered. EWTN began as a primitive studio. Mother Angelica didn’t even go to college. She was engaged to what she was doing. She said, ‘Unless you are willing to do the ridiculous, God will not do the miraculous’ (Mullen, 2005).

(3) Your audience must engage you.

She wins over or attracts you to her side. She is reachable; she is earthy (Lopez, 8 Dec 2005); she is humble enough to make fun of herself, to patiently bear her worst torments.

Why had listeners been faithful to EWTN? ‘The listeners realized that Mother loves them,’ says EWTN Chairman Bill Steltemeier. ‘They could see that Mother loves them. The power of the Lord’s love compels us to do what God wants us to do. That’s dynamite stuff’’ (Hoopes, 2005).


Raymond Arroyo has a little bit of a different explanation (Lopez, 21 Dec 2005):

Remember, Mother Angelica is a cloistered nun. That is her first vocation. Her primary focus is souls and helping those who are hurting, people like the ones she knew on the hard streets of Canton, Ohio as a (young) girl. The television network was merely a means of reaching those souls.


(4) You must engage your audience.

She draws you into it; she involves you. Mother Angelica’s two live EWTN appearances a week features ‘her very traditional take on Catholic morality and her seat-of-the-pants musings on the problems of the world’ (Mullen, 2005).

She captivates her watchers-listeners with her ‘witty, take-no-prisoner Dear-Abby style’ (Shea, 2005).

EWTN is conservative Catholic, if you like to call it that; Mother Angelica has conservative views and comes on strong about that all the time. As TIME puts it: ‘In video terms, it’s totally retro, but it works’ (Elson, 1995). Everything works for the glory of those who love God. With the Catholic Bible and the Pope’s teachings and Catholic Tradition as her sources of authority, she has nothing new to say, but boy! It’s how she says it with her soft voice: sometimes with a reading, sometimes with a quip, sometimes with a correction, sometimes with a story, sometimes all of the above – always with love.

Mother Angelica once said: ‘Many of you listening tonight, you listen because I am earthy and rather saucy. You’re right … but I don’t want you to listen to me for that. I want you to listen to this network because you want to get closer to the Lord’ (Lopez, 8 Dec 2005).

She has had a series of strokes, the last one in 2001 and that ended Mother Angelica’s public life, but not ‘Mother Angelica Live’ – there are endless reruns. I have watched some of the audio-video replays, and watched the same again and again, and still they’re as fresh as the day they first aired. I’m judging them as a writer-editor. The one I particularly like is ‘Blueprint For Life,’ based on the Beatitudes. The one I’m referring to was originally aired in August 1994, 12 years ago.

Fr Thomas Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center in Washington says of Mother Angelica: ‘She’s the most successful Catholic TV evangelist since (Bishop) Fulton Sheen in the ‘50s’ (Elson, 1995). EWTN replays both. I watch Bishop Sheen myself whenever I can, and he is as bright as today’s sunrise. Bishop Sheen mesmerizes you with his brilliance; Mother Angelica smothers you with her affection – you can’t win!

‘Mother Angelica is one of the most recognized and beloved religious figures in the world’ – Raymond Arroyo. You watch her, you love her.

She engages her audience by sharing her life, her sad and happy life in relation to God. She has suffered much and been rewarded much. ‘People who undergo suffering on this scale are usually crushed by it. But those who accept these blows as ways to commune with God open up channels of grace capable of moving mountains’ (Hoopes, 2005). That’s Mother Angelica.

(5) You must engage the media.

She engages multi-media – she interlocks them. She networks all of them: TV, radio, print, audiotapes, CDs, podcasts, Internet. That’s EWTN, Global Catholic Network. She invented the multi-media network in both the secular and religious universes. She’s a genius.

EWTN is welcome news around the world. In Birmingham, Alabama, EWTN’s News Director Raymond Arroyo says (Lopez, 2001):

We get letters and emails from the Philippines, Malta, Puerto Rico, Africa, Lebanon, Britain and Australia when we broadcast the Holy Father – now that is the Universal Church in action. Mother’s vision and technology have allowed us for the first time in history to reach the entire Church with the Pope’s teachings. We have five separate signals going out of here 24 hours a day – each programmed separately. Who would have thought a nun from Canton, Ohio, could do that? But she’ll tell you it was the Holy Spirit. And after seeing it up close, I believe her.

Pope John Paul II was the 12th Apostle; Mother Angelica is the 13th Apostle; in their individual ways, they have been able to fulfill what Christ commanded the Eleven: ‘Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations, baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you’ (Matthew 28: 19-20, The Jerusalem Bible). Pope John Paul II was the Apostle of Youth; Mother Angelica is the Apostle of Engagement.

Go visit and you will see this menu: Faith * Television * Radio * News * Libraries * Multimedia * Religious * Catalogue * Pilgrimages – the works, including Languages – including Deutsch. Today’s central image of the website has this caption: ‘The Birth of the Blessed VIRGIN MARY.’ Manila time, today is 8 September as I finalize this – I started to write 22 August; I didn’t know that was the Day of the Queenship of Mary.

This is EWTN, website of multi-media:

FAITH – Teachings, Catholic Q&A, Devotions, Bulletin Board, Prayer Intention Cards, EWTN Mini Sites, EWTN Kids.

TELEVISION – EWTN Prime, Television Specials, Television Series, Live TV English, Live TV Spanish.

RADIO – Program Schedule, Stations, Listen Live, Open Line, Catholic Jukebox, SW Frequency Guide, Listening Advice, SW Monitoring Form.

NEWS – NewsLink, The World Over.

LIBRARIES – Document Library, Audio Library.

MULTIMEDIA – Video, Live TV English, Live TV Spanish, Archived RealVideo, Audio, Live Radio – English, Live Radio – Spanish, Podcast, Archived RealAudio.

RELIGIOUS CATALOGUE – Art, Books, Children’s, Jewelry, Multimedia, Rosaries, Specialty Items, Statues.

PILGRIMAGES – OLAM Shrine, Eucharistic Pilgrimages, Welcome Pilgrimage Schedule, Live Show Tickets, Lodging, Maps, Essentials, Picture Gallery.

That’s media, that’s global, that’s network, that’s Catholic. That’s Mother Angelica’s legacy.

One of EWTN’s hosts is Fr Mitch Pacwa, SJ. ‘I have a lot of work to do,’ he says, ‘but it’s a lot of fun. I love the work we do as priests. Sitting back is nonsense. There’s too much good stuff to do. There’s so much need in the Church. I don’t know how you would have time to be bored’ (Eileen Wirth, 2004).

With EWTN, you don’t have time to be bored.

Why didn’t Mother Angelica do it first on radio, which is cheaper? She didn’t know anything about radio either. And no inner voice told her to mind this medium, to mine the gold in the ores that lay buried.

So far so good. On one hand, radio is a ‘hot’ medium, says McLuhan (1964), suited for driving people into a fad or frenzy – all things being equal. We Filipinos, and now the world, know that. In 1986, radio was the handmaiden of the People Power Revolution that toppled the dictatorship of Ferdinand E Marcos. People Power was instant revolution, mediated by radio more than any other mass media except word of mouth. I know; I was one of the nameless millions who paraded their bodies along Epifanio De Los Santos Avenue (EDSA). In the EDSA/People Power Revolution, it was radio that drove people out into the streets in droves, in millions. McLuhan is right.

The marvels of film, radio, and television – are marvels of one-way communication, which is not communication at all – Milton Mayer

Mayer is wrong about TV. TV is a ‘cool’ medium, meaning that it is not suited for clearly defined controversial subjects (McLuhan, 1964). In 2001, the anti-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo forces tried to summon forth People Power to dethrone GMA by TV images of people massing at Ayala Avenue in the financial district of Makati City, the Wall Street of the Philippines, and bodies gathering at EDSA, at the scene of People Power 2 (EDSA 2) that toppled President Joseph Estrada in 2001 on charges of corruption. That was their mistake. Wrong technology. If modern communication is to be the handmaiden of People Power, TV cannot be that medium.

And neither can print be the public servant of Instant Revolution. Did not McLuhan say? ‘The medium is the message’ (1964). Print is too detached, too non-participative except to the non-persistent letter-writer and the non-consistent opinion-maker. Today, 2 September 2006, I have had an epiphany: Print is wrong if you want to conduct a campaign where you want & expect instant change. Radio is it, because not only can you cover great distances at once, not only can you reach the remotest corners of the earth, but you can create frenzy. No frenzy, no instant change. That’s what the charismatic Christians know, whether Protestants or Catholics – in a prayer meeting, healing mass, or miracle crusade, they have to build passion if they want miracles to happen right there and then.

But not with TV. In the Philippines, the hate-GMA campaign went on from that barren failure of a coup in the ‘Oakwood Mutiny’ of soldiers in July 2003 and struck again 5 years later, in February 2006, this time with soldiers with fervor burning and stark firepower showing on TV – military might staring you in the face. It was meant to be a scary sight; it was intended to frighten people to panic. It was Independence Day for those Filipino soldiers who did not understand what freedom was all about. They forgot that freedom is like this; I will now paraphrase Dean Ricardo Pascual of the University of the Philippines from the mid-1960s: ‘You are free to swing your firearm short of my nose.’ (See my other article, ‘The Asian Flu, The Virus of Militarism & The Filipinos, a Separate Peace,’ American Chronicle, 3 March.) Well, let me be kind enough to say: The message was right, the medium was wrong. Soldiers or not, rebel communicators must study history or learn from the wise, go back more than 40 years, to McLuhan. ‘Television is for appearing on, not looking at’ – Noel Coward. TV is the Idiot’s Box for those who don’t learn from it.

Now then, what do I mean when I say the Idiot Box is the Great American Revolution? Let me rephrase that and say that The Great American Revolution is already here and is called Mother Angelica, she who has single-mindedly (not single-handedly) created EWTN, Eternal Word Television Network, now broadcasting 24 hours a day to 100+ million watchers and listeners in 100+ countries of the world. One nun evangelizing millions simultaneously. In faith, Mother Angelica and her nuns have recognized where lies the power of television, and they have multi-handedly built a garage-sized TV station into a worldwide wonder. They have shown that faith not only can move mountains; faith can move the whole world.

(6) You must engage the enemy.

In 1981 when Mother realized the need for her to evangelize via TV, she told a crowd of some 4,000: ‘For too long the TV tube has been in the hands of the enemy’ (Shea, 2005). Now it’s in the hands of a friendly, voluble nun.

And this nun with the pudgy face has done it in the Deep South of the United States, in the State of Alabama, in the Bible Belt (read Protestant). She knew that the Protestants believe in Sola Scriptura (Bible or Scriptures Only) as the source of truth, while the Catholics believe in the wisdom of the Bible plus the wisdom of the Pope plus the wisdom of Tradition. Mother Angelica knew that South is South and North is North, and never the Twain shall meet. What she was doing was ridiculous. But, as she tells everyone who cares to listen: ‘Unless you are willing to do the ridiculous, God will not do the miraculous’ (Mullen, 2005).

Mother Angelica is not afraid to come head to head with Protestants, and Catholics, even in the highest places. Critics call her the ‘Zinging Nun’ because she attacks feminists of all kinds (Elson, 2005).

In 1997, she tangled with Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles when she criticized his pastoral letter on the Eucharist, ‘Gather Faithfully Together’ – live on television. She told her viewers that ‘they could legitimately disobey Cardinal Mahony’s letter’ because it was ‘an incomplete, and thus heretical interpretation of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist’ (Lopez, 2001). Cardinal Mahony was properly incensed. She apologized on TV and explained, but Cardinal Mahony was not appeased. Some people then tried to move heaven and earth with Mother in-between. There followed a Vatican investigation ‘that threatened her community and her television network’ (Raymond Arroyo, 2005). Heaven and earth did not cooperate with those who wanted her down and out.

Years before that, during Pope John Paul II’s visit to Denver, Colorado at the 1993 World Youth Day conference, a mimed pageant on the Stations of the Cross was performed with Jesus being played by a woman. John Elson reports (2005):

Mother Angelica was aghast. Having a female represent Christ was ‘an abomination’ and ‘blasphemy’ perpetrated by unnamed Catholic liberals who wanted to ‘divide and separate and destroy’ the Church. ‘Enough is enough,’ she declared, her voice quavering with anger. ‘I’m tired of inclusive language that refuses to admit that the Son of God is a man. I’m tired of you, liberal Church in America. You’re sick.’

She had the full support of Pope John Paul II. Earlier, in 1990, with her third audience with him, he invited her to attend his Mass at Castel Gandolfo. After Mass, he told her, ‘Keep doing what you are doing’ (EWTN, 2002). In her 5th papal audience and their last meeting, in 1996, Pope John Paul II announced to all: ‘Mother Angelica, weak in body, strong in spirit, strong woman, courageous woman, charismatic woman’ (ACB, 2006).

Fr McCloskey says of her (Nov, 2005):

In all her vicissitudes, she had one very important backer – John Paul II, who showed her many signs of favor in the face of her difficulties both within and without the Church. Indeed, she is the outstanding example of a person who ran with John Paul II’s exhortation to carry out the New Evangelization to the ends of the Earth. Arguably, she and John Paul II proclaimed the Gospel truth to more people than any two people in history.

From success to success in engaging the enemy, Mother Angelica’s physical pains went from bad to worse (Shea, 2005). ‘At every point, her success had been matched by suffering’ (Hitchings, 2000). But she went on; she offered all her sufferings to God.

The phenomenon called Mother Angelica, Stephen Hitchings explains this way (2005):

It is the story of a poverty-stricken girl whose parents were divorced, who hated her father, hated nuns, was poorly educated and had little contact with the Church, but who grew up to become the best known nun in the world. More importantly, it is a scarcely credible story of what Divine Providence can accomplish when matched with unshakeable faith.

If your faith is unshakeable, the enemy is in your hands.

(7) You must engage God as your ultimate security.

She believes that if your faith is honest and true, ‘God will provide’ ultimately and unfailingly. She asks Raymond Arroyo and answers her own question (Hoopes, 2005):

He (God) expects me to operate, if I don’t have the money, if I don’t have the brains, if I don’t have the talent – in faith. You know what faith is? Faith is one foot on the ground, one foot in the air, and a queasy feeling in the stomach.

This is what Mother calls her ‘theology of risk’ (Mullen, 2005):

My attitude is, if the Lord inspires me to do something, I attempt to do it. Money is His problem. Working for His kingdom is mine.

It’s her response to the business world’s theory of risk management. In the world of the business of making money, the wise manager tries to minimize the risk; in the world of the business of saving souls, this nun tries to maximize the risk – in terms of millions of dollars, because Mother Angelica knows that ‘God will provide.’ That was how EWTN started in the first place. Shannon Mullen tells the story (2005):

Then, in 1978, inspiration struck Mother Angelica again, this time during a visit to a television studio in Chicago. ‘Lord, I’ve gotta have one of these,’ she whispered in prayer, recognizing what a potent evangelization tool TV could be. With just $200 and no business plan whatsoever, Mother Angelica began building her tower which would have a satellite dish attached to it pointing toward the heavens. Never mind that a television network would cost millions. When the fancy cameras and other pricey equipment Mother Angelica purchased on faith alone began to arrive, she and her Sisters prayed all the harder. Again and again, large donations would arrive in the nick of time, days or even hours before EWTN would have been permanently knocked off the air.

Though the Network would continuously teeter on the brink of collapse, Mother Angelica kept thinking big. She started a worldwide shortwave radio network, launched an AM/FM radio network, built a grandiose shrine and founded two new religious orders, the Franciscan Friars of the Eternal Word and the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word. ‘Unless you are willing to do the ridiculous, God will not do the miraculous,’ she said.

Raymond Arroyo describes Mother Angelica this way: ‘The only woman in the history of television to create a network that for 25 years has sustained itself only with the donations of her audience’ (Lopez, 8 Dec 2005).

How could you build the biggest television network in the world out of the Idiot Box on the basis of religion? Ask the handful of enthusiastic, faith-filled, inexperienced nuns who did. Led by Mother Angelica armed not with technical knowledge but with the knowledge that ‘God will provide.’

Some 25 years ago, Mother Angelica had a vision for a TV network offering nothing but Roman Catholic shows (Reeves, 2006). That is was what EWTN has become.

How can a born leader who is a non-communication expert succeed in a field she knows nothing about? The President of the Pontifical Council for the Family Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo tells us how in his homily delivered during the Eucharistic Celebration on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of EWTN (EWTN, 2006):

Through her simplicity and sincerity, manifest in dialogues full of love for the truth and the teachings of the Church, with an unusual sense of humor and penetration, sealed by confident hope.

Mother Angelica goes on air, sitting on her chair in front of a captive audience, theme in mind, Bible on hand and a smile on her face – and no script. Tuesdays, she talks herself out on a topic of her choice, digressing here and there, inserting an anecdote or two, quipping, always making a point. Wednesdays, she talks with a guest or two, priest or layman, and always gets her point and her laugh. (‘She is one lady who laughs at her own jokes’ – Raymond Arroyo, 13 Aug 2006, on the air at EWTN celebrating its 25th anniversary). In both days, she accepts calls, and she tries to answer the question or add a comment or two – always, you the listener are aware of a passionate woman. She talks softly and carries a big stick – you can’t see it but you know it’s there.

Mother Angelica’s amazing life story is a miracle in itself. And to think that a nun told her in 1933: ‘You want to be so much and in the end you don’t amount to anything’ (Lopez, 8 Dec 2005). Now I can imagine she can react to that part of her story and tell that nun, thinking of Jesus and what John the Baptist said: ‘He must increase, as I must decrease.’

Raymond Arroyo says of Mother Angelica’s work so far (Lopez, 8 Dec 2005):

Certainly, she has been one of the most successful communicators in the Catholic Church and the Network she birthed will go on. But Mother saw her witness, her reliance on Divine Providence as her greatest contribution to the Church. And considering the unlikely and long teaching success she has had, perhaps she’s right.

Arroyo has written a best-selling book: Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story Of A Nun, Her Nerve, And A Network Of Miracles (2005, Doubleday, 400 pages). Nicholas Sparks writes of it (CFC 2006):

Raymond Arroyo masterfully captures the complexities, humanity, and tenacity of Mother Angelica, who has long been one of my own personal heroes. The founder of the Eternal Word Television Network, Mother Angelica is a woman who dared to dream, to stand up for what she believed in, and whose faith showed that anything is possible. In Arroyo’s hands, she becomes someone you wish you had the opportunity to know and love. Read this book and believe.

I can’t tell you more about the book because I haven’t gotten hold of a copy myself. But one thing I know: Mother Angelica warned Arroyo when he began work on the book: ‘Make sure you present the real me. There is nothing worse than a book that sugarcoats the truth and ducks the humanity of the person. I wish you 40 years in Purgatory if you do that!’ (Fr McCloskey, 2005).

Intuiting the latent power of TV, armed with a fist-full of nuns and their prayers, Mother Angelica pushed the limits of technology and created the world’s biggest multi-media network of all time, bar none. They started with a handful of dollars ($200) and a pocketful of faith, Roman Catholic. (The $200 was invested on printing equipment – Willcox, 2005). Standing on their faith, they moved the mountain of decades of ineptitude in religious broadcasting. More than that, they moved the whole world of broadcasting. Let those who have eyes see; let those who have ears listen!

1970s: ‘Small is beautiful,’ says Ernest F Schumacher, and the whole world believes him.
2000s: ‘We never thought it would be this big or this beautiful,’ says Mother Angelica, and the whole world listens to her.

ACB. 2006,; Arroyo, Raymond. 2005 & 2006,; CB. 2006. Catholic Books,; CFC. 2006.; CNA. 11 August 2006,; Donohue, Jacqueline. 2000,; Elson, John, ‘Mother Knows Best,’ 7 August 1995, Time,; EWTN. 2001, 2002, 13 August 2006,; Hitchings, Stephen. 2005.; Hoopes, Tom. 5 December 2005,; Kansat,; Lopez, Kathryn Jean, 15 August 2001, or; Lopez, Kathryn Jean, 8 December 2005, Newspaper Enterprise Association, at; Lopez, Kathryn Jean. 21 December 2005,; McCloskey, Fr John, 7 November 2005, Spero News, at; McLuhan, Marshall. 1964. Understanding Media: The Extensions Of Man. New York: New American Library. 318 pages; Mullen, Shannon, Ashbury Park Press, 27 November 2005, at; OLAM, Our Lady of the Angels Monastery,; Peña, Michael, 12 June 2005, Reeves, Jay. AP, 10 August 2006,; Rose, Michael S. St Catherine Review, March-April 1998,; SCORE. 2006.; Shea, Hazel DeForrest, 6 November 2005, Staten Island Advance, at; Spero News, 12 August 2006,; Trujillo, Alfonso Cardinal Lopez. 13 August 2006,; Westen, John-Henry & Terry Vanderheyden. 16 March 2006,; Wikipedia. 2006.; Willcox, Christopher, 6 September 2005, Wall Street Journal, at; Wirth, Eileen. 15 December 2004,

Copyright 2006 by Frank A Hilario. Image from Deep Fried Kudzu who captions is ‘Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament at Hancevill, AL’ (; Hanceville is where Mother Angelica’s OLAM is. This article is dedicated to Mother Angelica who suffered a stroke in 2001. I am among those who are praying for her recovery.

Frank A Hilario


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