Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
“What should we talk about tonight?” Mother Angelica would sometimes query her audience at the start of her nightly show. “Sometimes I didn't know what I would talk about, but when that red light came on, I would see that suffering, needy person and I would always have something to say. I tried to take that philosophy on myself, as well – reaching out to the needy person who is in need of hope, consolation, maybe some laughs.”
One year after Mother entered eternal life on March 27, 2016, Fr. Joseph Mary Wolfe shared a behind-the-scenes look at the spunky nun who founded the Eternal Word Television Network Catholic media empire. “I have been here since 1985,” said Father Joseph,
“...when the EWTN network was just beginning. I worked first as an engineer; then Mother started our community (the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word) in 1987. I was part of the beginning of that community. Mother founded our community because she knew that the Sisters' life was to be spent in prayer and meditation; our community would become the spiritual support for the network.”
Not content to lead her television audience toward Christ, Mother Angelica sought to also help her on-site employees and TV crew to grow in their spiritual life. She didn't micro-manage, according to Father Joseph. She knew that God would give them certain gifts, if she would simply allow them to do their jobs. Each Monday morning at 9:00 a.m, all of the crew – about 20 people at that point – would gather in the audience and Mother would deliver a spiritual teaching which would last about an hour. Father Joseph recalled that when he joined the network, she was teaching on the Holy Spirit. And before every live show, she would gather with her staff in the hallway to pray.
Compassion Rooted in Life Experience
Mother Angelica, born Rita Antoinette Rizzo, experienced true compassion for the suffering, because she herself had suffered in a variety of ways: her parents' divorce which broke up her family; her mother's depression; poverty; her physical problems. “And yet,” recalled Father Joseph, “she always had hope.”
The friars are promoting her book on suffering and burnout. “It's a compilation of six of her mini-books,” Father Joseph explained. “In the books, Mother discusses what she termed 'witness suffering' – when a person experiences physical suffering or trials, and yet he or she has joy and peace. Their witness encourages others to have faith and hope, and to believe in the afterlife.”
After Mother Angelica's stroke and cerebral hemorrhage prevented her from continuing her on-air ministry, Father Joseph revealed, the friars still had contact with their beloved founder. “We would have Mass in her room every Sunday. We got to have some contact with her – she would always have an encouraging smile, she would squeeze your hand. People wanted to be in her room. Nurses, doctors and staff all wanted to serve Mother. There was something special about just being near her.”
A Life That Was Changed
Father Joseph recounted one story about the time Paul Darrow, a man who struggled with same-sex attraction and who was living a homosexual lifestyle, first saw Mother Angelica on television. For some reason (Fr. Joseph didn't remember whether it was a minor stroke, or Bell's palsy, or some other condition), Mother was wearing an eye patch. Darrow mocked her, making fun of her to his friend; but then she said something that touched his heart. Darrow began watching her show in secret, and her words opened his heart to the truth of the Gospel. Eventually, Darrow came back to the Catholic faith.
Preserving Mother's Heritage
Father Joseph assured that Mother Angelica's show would always be part of the line-up on EWTN, “because people still say that's one of their favorite shows.”
On March 26-27, one year after Mother Angelica's death, the religious orders she founded will commemorate her life with several events. EWTN viewers are invited to join the Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration and the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word at the following televised events:
Sunday, March 26, 2017 – At 5:00 p.m., there will be a Memorial Holy Hour with the nuns and friars in the main church in Hanceville, Alabama.
Monday, March 27, 2017 – There will be a 7:00 a.m. Memorial Mass with the Friars in the EWTN Chapel in Irondale, Alabama. Then at 11:00 a.m., Bishop Robert Baker, Bishop of Birmingham, will celebrate a Memorial Mass at the Shrine in Hanceville.