232: The Self-Empowered Woman: Mother Angelica

Dear Followers,

Today, I would like to thank my Dallas pen pal, Joan Faubion, for suggesting that my next blog be about Mother Angelica, who died this past Easter Sunday. The more I researched her life story, the more obvious it became that she was indeed a Self-Empowered Woman.

Rita Antoinette Rizzo was born on April 20th, 1923 in Canton, Ohio,  and died on March 27th, 2016. She was the only child of John and Mae Helen (Gianfrancesco) Rizzo, and was born into a community of African-American and Italian immigrant mill worker. Her father was a tailor, but abandoned the family when Rita was very young (Chapter 1: No Paternal Safety Net).and her parents divorced when she was only six years old.

Her childhood was very challenging because her mother constantly wrestled chronic depression and poverty: “We were like a pair of refugees. We were poor, hungry, and barely surviving on [Mother’s] odd jobs…we pinched pennies just to keep food on the table.” (Chapter 12: Hard Times)

From 1939 until 1943, she suffered from severe abdominal pain, until one morning she woke up with no pain. She had always felt a deep religious longing (Chapter 3: Belief in the Unbelievable) and was sure that God had performed a miracle. The next year she felt that God was calling her to become a nun, and she entered a  cloistered contemplative order. On November 8th, 1945 she was vested as a Poor Clare nun—her new name and title (which had been chosen by her mother) was “Sister Mary Angelica of the Annunciation.”

As a young nun, in 1946 Sister Angelica had an accident with an industrial waxing machine that knocked her over and injured her spine. For the rest of her life, she was an ongoing pain and had to wear leg braces.

By 1962, she had begun recording her community talks about Catholicism, and soon began taking a radio show that was broadcast on Sunday mornings. In 1972, she published her first book, and by the late 1970’s her talks were appearing on television. In 1981 she formed the non-profit EWTN broadcast corporation. By the end of 1992, she had launched a radio station, WEWN, which was broadcast by 215 stations nationwide (Chapter 13: More Than Meets The Eye)

For years, Sister Angelica worked to create a religious community that would appeal to African Americans in the Southern states (Chapter 11: Risk Addiction) By 1999, she claimed to have a vision that told her to go build a temple in honor of the child Jesus. She managed to raise close to $50 million, and reach her goal. (Chapter 8: Turning No Into Yes)

Shortly after 9/11, she began to have strokes, and on Christmas Eve of that year she underwent surgery.  She stopped hosting her television programs, but received a prestigious papal medal from Pope Benedict XVI. Without doubt, she was a true media giant who proved that her church belonged in the popular media as much as news, sports and talk shows.



About Marilyn Murray Willison

The author of six non-fiction books, Willison worked as Health and Fitness Editor at the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, and wrote book reviews, health, beauty, fashion, and travel articles on a regular basis for the Los Angeles Times. Her byline has appeared in a wide variety of American newspapers and magazines.