EWTN’S Mother Angelica spoke in Peoria, and with The Catholic Post, in 1985

Mother Angelica, founder of Eternal Word Television Network, died March 27 at the age of 92. (CNS files)

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Mother Angelica, foundress of the Eternal Word Television Network, died on Easter Sunday, March 27. The following account of her 1985 visit to Peoria appeared on the front page of the March 31, 1985 issue of The Catholic Post. It was written by then-editor Albina Aspell.

By Albina Aspell

She calls herself “a simple woman.” But Mother Angelica of the Annunciation, foundress of the Eternal Word Television Network, is anything but that.

Could – or would – a simple woman raise $2.7 million (and spend $2.8) to build a modern satellite network?

Could a simple woman hold a nationwide television audience of millions in thrall three nights a week?

Could a simple woman have instituted a print apostolate that has sent 15 million pieces of mail to 38 countries in the past 12 years?

Would a simple woman have set out with pure blind faith to build a television studio as an adjunct to a monastery she herself founded?

Though her accomplishments belie her claim, Mother Angelica indeed seems an uncomplicated woman. “I’m just me,” she says, giving short shrift to herself. But then she’ll tell you at great length about her trust in god and his gifts, of her devotion to Jesus, to Mary and to her life of prayer.

She’s been a nun for 41 years, and those years, too, have not been simple.

In Peoria this week, this intelligent, witty, 61-year-old Franciscan nun captivated and charmed several hundred men and women at an Easter Seals breakfast, adding them to fans she has made through her “Mother Angelica Live” program on Channel 20 Wednesday and Thursday nights.

The story on the front page of The Catholic Post on March 31, 1985.

The story on the front page of The Catholic Post on March 31, 1985.

Throughout her grinding day here, Mother Angelica kept her smile. She address the early morning gathering at the Continental Regency, first regaling her audience with light repartee, then getting serious about the “specialness” of persons with handicaps and the rewards that await them in the Kingdom where there are no handicaps.

Mother Angelica wears a leg brace. Her back hurts and disrupts her sleep. She has a heart condition for which she takes medication. And, says she, “when I get to the Kingdom, the first thing I want to do is run through the halls.”

Along with the gift of her vocation, she thanks God for the gift of her handicaps which, she says, make her turn to him every moment: “Help me, just this day,” she prays. “Help me just this hour, just this moment. . . .”

And she credits God with every success, admitting her efforts “to do the ridiculous” in a spirit of humility, obedience and trust, have been blessed.

There is a difference, she points out, between what we do and what God does, between what we do for the world and what we do for God. (Never doubt, Mother Angelica knows the difference.)

See related editorial, “Run, Mother, run”

Taller than she appears to television viewers, Mother Angelica carries her years well. She has an almost cherubic countenance, a complexion free of wrinkles despite the grey in the hair that frames her face. The responsibilities of the growing empire at Our Lady of Angels Monastery in Birmingham, Ala., seem a light burden on her shoulders.

At an informal lunch, Mother Angelica described her day, which begins, typically, at 4:30 a.m. with prayer. Her community of 14 sisters gathers in the chapel for recitation of the Divine Office at 6:10, and Mass follows at 7. After breakfast, she gives a lecture lasting for at least one hour to her sisters, taking her subject from the Scriptures or aspects of spiritual life.

“We often have ‘virtues sessions,’” she added, explaining that “it is important that we observe the work of God in our neighbor’s life from day to day. You don’t see any spiritual growth in  yourself because you’re too close to the struggle, and in thse sessions we point out changes in virtues and qualities we see developing.

“Sometimes – but not often – we talk about our faults, too, so these can be worked on. We don’t know how we antagonize people until they tell us, but you still have to be pretty stout-hearted…”

Mother Angelica, described her community as very holy, and generally young, She has no lack of vocations, in fact “they’re coming out of our ears. We get at least three calls a week, but most women have vocations to active orders. Many want to be on tv, but that’s not our life; our sisters are not involved in tv, we take turns at adoration. The Blessed Sacrament is our life; without it, we would cease to exist.”

The sisters of the community spend five hours a day in prayer, and Mother Angelica calls it an unseen miracle that the order’s varied communications apostolates have not interrupted its prayer life.

Admitting she’s never had a vacation in her life, Mother Angelica also said she has no time for recreation because “there’s too much going on.” She supervises 50 employees and oversees the production of her television shows and the direct mail and publishing apostolates. She admits she lives with an $80,000-a-month debt, but adds “it used to be about $200,000 a month. We’re hanging on.”

Outspoken on many subjects, she pulls no punches on the topic of feminism. She speaks plainly, and one distinctly hears the word “baloney” as she discusses women’s “rights.”

“We hear about human rights. We hear about civil rights. We hear about equal rights. But we never hear anything about sovereign rights,” she said. “God is our Sovereign and he has a right to say men do one thing and women another, and it’s our right to obey. . . .”

“I don’t feel inhibited by the church or anybody. The prime fruit of Religious life is obedience. The ‘I will not serve’ concept today is not of God.

The Lord freed women by elevating Mary to such a height. . . . Women have been free for 2,000 years – some womn are just slow to catch up.”

Mother Angelica also believes the world needs basic spirituality, that the “heady” books and concepts are geared to intellectuals and do not reach the common man, that too many today live contrary to the Gospel.

“We have missed the message,” she says. “We condemn people, judge rashly, we hate our enemies . . . Basic spirituality is what the world needs; we have to be brave enough to live the Gospel.”

Late Monday evening, Mother Angelica gave additional insightful direction to those who called her on a live telecast originating at Channel 20 studios. The hour-long program followed the format of her own EWTN shows, only this time she was the guest and Father Marne Breckensiek, OFM, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Peoria, was host. And once again, she proved she was in no way “a simple woman.”

Mother Angelica went home Tuesday morning, back to the monastery and her rigorous schedule, back to the $375,000 studio that will be dedicated April 14.

It’s hard to believe, but true, that this Franciscan dynamo of extraordinary accomplishment actually ran away from home to follow her religious vocation. And still harder to believe, but also true, that she didn’t join a teaching order because, she says ruefully, “I didn’t have the grades.”

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