15 years after she left the public eye Mother Angelica has left this life. As David Gibson and Cathy Lynn Grossman of Religion News Service (RNS) report, “Born Rita Rizzo in Canton, Ohio, in 1923, Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation — as she came to be known — entered the Poor Clares, a branch of the Franciscan order, in 1944.” She went on to found a monastery in the rural South and the Eternal Work Television Network in 1981, and it is now the global leader in religious broadcasting.

Mother Angelica pioneer in religious broadcasting dies at age 92. (image courtesy of: thecatholiccatalogue.com)

Mother Angelica pioneer in religious broadcasting dies at age 92. (image courtesy of: thecatholiccatalogue.com)

Raymond Arroyo, Managing Editor of EWTN, in Acts of Faith The Washington Post’s faith-based blog writes that after years of pain from numerous ailments she was stricken with a massive stroke on Christmas Eve 2001, “I once asked her, shortly after her stroke, why God would allow the voice of one of America’s great evangelizers to fall silent. Without hesitating, she pointed to herself and said, ‘Purification. My purification.”’ In his 2005 review of Arroyo’s book on Mother Angelica, Michael O. Garvey of Commonweal casts a different impression, “The most conspicuous concern of Arroyo’s narrative is what he describes as Mother Angelica’s ‘public and private war for the future of the Catholic Church.’ [His] reconnaissance of the battlefield is as predictable and prepackaged as anything else on big network news: on one side are Our Lord, Mother Angelica, and EWTN. On the other are ‘recreant bishops and theologians’ and the ‘liberal church in America,’ an amorphous conspiracy promoting eucharistic irreverence, gender-inclusive liturgical language, and altar girls. … What readers make of the story will likely depend on which side they choose to take in this war, or whether they believe such a war is going on to begin with. …” Mother Angelica is seen as one of the first culture warriors by those U.S. Catholics with conservative political and ecclesiastical views.

The Catholic News Service (CNS) reported the response from Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, “‘I was honored to know and be able to assist Mother Angelica during the early days of EWTN. Over the years, that relationship grew, and today the Knights of Columbus and EWTN partner regularly on important projects. Mother Angelica was fearless, because she had God on her side,’ Anderson said. ‘She saw what he needed her to do and she did it!'” John L. Allen Jr. Editor of Crux characterizes the legacy of Mother Angelica as one of female empowerment in an institution that is as chauvinistic as it gets, “Today there’s a great deal of ferment about how to promote leadership by women in the Church in ways that don’t involve ordination, a conversation Pope Francis himself has promoted. In a way, however, debating that question in the abstract seems silly, because we already have a classic, for-all-time example of female empowerment in Mother Angelica.”

Mother Angelica was the first Catholic media entrepreneur says Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia, “just remember this: 35 years after EWTN was launched in a garage and went on to reach ‘the ends of the earth,’ every Catholic media effort that’s stepped out on its own since (often in the face of skepticism or much worse, and these just within the church) is in Mother’s debt. For those of us who’ve sought to take on the work in our own ways, we didn’t just learn more from her than any other, but in more ways than can be put into words, she represented the ‘gold standard.'” Clearly Mother Angelica was a trailblazer in Catholic media and for women in the Catholic Church.

The question remains: Where does EWTN go from here?

There is no charismatic figure like Mother Angelica waiting in the wings. Yes, the board of directors has managed EWTN into a global force in religious and Catholic broadcasting, but the content is a bit dated to say the least. I am not talking about the doctrine or dogma EWTN supports but rather the way they deliver it to the audience.

EWTN set (image courtesy of: EWTN)

EWTN set (image courtesy of: EWTN)

Most of their programming involves two or three people sitting and talking. The production values are lacking to a large degree. This shows that there is not a visionary at EWTN anymore. I believe Mother Angelica would have pushed the content into new directions if she was not debilitated during the past 15 years. A good example of what is possible now exists at Salt and Light Catholic Media based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Fr. Thomas M. Rosica, C.S.B. is the Chief Executive Officer and founder of Salt and Light. Salt and Light offer programming and discussions that are both entertaining to watch as well as informative, spiritually uplifting, and orthodox in its content.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB Chief Executive Officer Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation (image courtesy of Salt and Light)

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
Chief Executive Officer
Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation (image courtesy of Salt and Light)

In the 1980s and 90s EWTN was cutting edge, now its what your grandparents watch. EWTN has also suffered from the scandals of on-air talents Fr. John Corapi and Fr. Frances Mary Stone who both had troubled personal lives that did not reflect the values of the Church. EWTN is also tied in with the Charismatic movement, which does not appeal to the majority of Catholics. EWTN has a relationship with Hewlett-Packard which gives them access to cutting edge technology. They have good talented people like Johnnette Benkovic and Fr. Mitch Pacwa, S.J. but there is not a compelling force that Mother Angelica was.

EWTN now has everything Mother Angelica did not have in the early days, but they are now missing the one presence that made it what it is – HER!