HANCEVILLE, Ala. — On the day Mother Dolores Marie met Mother Angelica, she never imagined she would become a spiritual daughter of Mother Angelica and would one day herself become head of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery.
After a friend’s invitation, in about 1990, she reluctantly visited EWTN, happened to be introduced to Mother Angelica, heard of a job opening and applied.
“At that time, Mother gave lessons to the employees,” Mother Dolores recalled.
The lessons had a big impact on her. “I really got to know her through those lessons. And one of the key things was to make sure we should always begin and end our day with Our Lord.”
Mother Dolores took it to heart, attending morning Mass and visiting the Blessed Sacrament exposed daily in the chapel. “I began to know my faith working there, fell in love with it and then went to talk to Mother about entering [the Poor Clares],” she said. She did — in December 1991, becoming one of Mother Angelica’s spiritual daughters because every abbess is a spiritual mother to her community.
“It was a privilege to learn the spiritual life sitting at her feet,” explained Mother Dolores. One of her favorite things was stopping to see Mother Angelica for a few minutes in the evenings. “There was a peace being in her presence, and asking her questions was always a great comfort.”
Living With the Lord
Mother Dolores brought to light how Mother Angelica always “strove to live every moment in the presence of Our Lord,” she said. “She had very practical and personal ways of doing that. When groceries came, we would take some to the chapel and thank Our Lord for providing those groceries. It keeps Our Lord in the center of our lives.”
As a spiritual daughter learning at the feet of her spiritual mother, she remembers how Mother Angelica would say that, when going down the hall, “‘Speak to Our Lord in your heart.’ She encouraged us to make him part of every moment in our lives, sharing with him the smallest details, concerns and desires, so we would be continually united with him, not necessarily in words, but just that interior union with him — so he is a constant influence on every moment of our lives. That presence of Our Lord was so real to her.”
Mother Dolores enjoyed sharing some of the many favorite stories and memories she has of Mother Angelica. One shows how Mother Angelica taught by example.
“Obviously, she loved Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament,” Mother Dolores emphasized. “After a meeting or after a live show, she would go to the chapel, go up to the altar, and with her crutches on either side, with the tabernacle right there and Our Lord in the monstrance, she would be deep in prayer, offering all that went on that day to him.”
Living in a cloister and reciting the Divine Office daily, the sisters get very familiar with the Scriptures. As situations occur in the day, some line from Scripture becomes a very apt answer or comment — or even has a bit of humor — about their daily life and concerns, as Mother would remind them.
Mother Dolores described one of these moments when Mother was coming out of the chapel, “and I was walking through the courtyard and going ahead to open the door for her,” Mother Dolores remembered. “She just stopped in the courtyard, caught in prayer, listening to Our Lord. She was repeating, ‘Like the roar of many waters.’ I looked up the Scripture passage, and I copied it out and gave it to her. The Scriptures were so much a part of her life. Our Lord spoke to her in Scripture. He was speaking to her in the depth of her soul. She would share with us some of the graces she received.”
As a spiritual mother, her determination, resolve, trust, humor and care for people and souls also influenced her spiritual daughters.
Great Trust in God
Mother Angelica’s great trust was a constant influence. Mother Dolores said her trust, especially with things connected with the network, was “almost like a crazy sense of trust, even at the beginning, with the satellite dish she ordered. She didn’t have the money to pay for it, but the Lord provided at the last minute. As the network grew, the monthly costs were astronomical, but the money always came through. She knew it was his work, and he wasn’t going to fail her.”
Nor was she going to fail the Lord. “Everyone is called to be a saint,” explained Mother Dolores. “That was her mission to the world — help all to know that they’re called to heaven and called to be a saint. That’s the whole purpose of the network, why she did everything — the mini books, the talks — to bring souls sometimes from the brink of hell to heaven. I was always so amazed at that: her love for souls. That translated not just to souls in general, but to individual souls.”
Heart for the Suffering
She recalled the time Sister Margaret Mary was with Mother, who had gone to give a talk. In the lobby of the hotel where they were staying, a young woman saw Mother passing by.
“They got to the room, there was a knock on the door, and this woman runs in, grabs Mother and starts hugging her and sobbing. The life she was living was not worthy of a child of God, and she saw something in Mother’s gaze, the value of her soul.”
“It’s amazing when you think about it,” Mother Dolores explained. “Do we have that same impact on people we meet? Do they look at us and see in us a glance that says, ‘God loves you, he created you, and he wants you to be with him for all eternity?’ Are we living our daily path of holiness to where that would be apparent in us?”
Because she suffered so much in her childhood, Mother Angelica deeply understood the suffering of others, and she had great compassion for those who are suffering, added Mother Dolores. The years of Mother Angelica’s personal suffering became a continuous lesson. During the whole time Mother Dolores knew her, Mother “had tremendous physical sufferings and never complained about them. It seemed unbelievable that someone could have that in every part of her body. She always saw them as a gift from God and offered the suffering for the sake of souls.”
What part of Mother’s witness had the biggest impact on Mother Dolores? “Mother said, ‘I never wanted to deny Our Lord anything he would ask.’ That made the biggest impact because I would want to do the same thing. The way it hit my soul, I knew I never wanted to deny the Lord anything. That was a beautiful thing she said.”
Sister Mary Michael met Mother Angelica in 1951. She entered the Sancta Clara Monastery on Aug. 15, seven years to the day after Mother Angelica had entered, and was one of the original sisters who came with Mother when she made the foundation in Irondale, Ala., becoming Mother Angelica’s spiritual daughter on that May 20, 1962, date.
“Life with Jesus and Mother Angelica has been an adventurous, exciting ride — never a dull moment,” Sister Michael told the Register. “I was blessed to have lived my religious life with her and only wished I had been more attentive to her teachings when I was younger — but, then, I didn’t know she would end up being a saint! She was one in the making back then.”
For Sister Michael, “Being a spiritual daughter of Mother Angelica was a unique, privileged experience. Mother had a wealth of spiritual knowledge, experience and common sense, plus an exceptional gift for seeing the root of a problem and being able to give sound, practical advice on what to do.”
Sometimes this had a surprising side. “She could correct and sometimes had to use what she called her ‘yelling theology,’ if we were in a bad state of mind and were not listening. She used it on me once and later explained to me that she had to do it to get me to listen, sort of like throwing cold water at someone to get them to wake up,” Sister Michael recounted. “She never crushed you, and, often, after such corrections, you might feel the warmth of a hand on your shoulder and knew she was standing behind you — her way of letting you know you were loved and, so to speak, still in her ‘good graces’ — because I think there were a lot of people, both lay and religious, who felt if Mother Angelica was upset with you that you were also not in God’s good graces.”
In everything, the welfare of her spiritual daughters was paramount. She gave daily lessons to the sisters on all aspects of the spiritual life, focusing on Scripture, prayer, gifts of the Holy Spirit, examples of the saints, holiness and other important aspects, making everything applicable to daily life.
“Holiness was attainable to everyone, not just a select few,” Sister Michael learned from Mother Angelica. “No one was born a saint — they had to work at it.” At the same time, Mother’s “instilling a family spirit in the community was very important in making us all feel united and loved and caring for each other.”
Cared for Everybody
But her caring wasn’t confined to the monastery.
“Mother cared deeply about the ordinary person and wanted to make the Gospels appealing to them and to reach the masses with the word of God — hence the TV network,” Sister Michael noted.
“On a personal, individual level, Mother counseled many people, both Catholic and non-Catholic,” she affirmed. “Many of these were professional people, and the problems could be quite varied, from family problems to spiritual, and she obviously gave great advice, as these people remained friends for life.”
Sister Michael learned many things witnessing Mother Angelica’s love in action. “I know for certain that Mother would often, in a very nonchalant way, slip some money into the hands of someone who had lost his job or was down and out, struggling in some way. Having been raised in a one-parent home, she knew poverty and had a heart for the poor.”
One of sister’s early memories of Mother was the time she was asked to build a grotto to Our Lady on the monastery grounds in Canton, Ohio. When churchgoing Catholics refused to help, she called the relatives of the local immigrants and asked for their help, not their money, because she wanted them to build it.
“They were very touched that she would want guys like them to build a grotto for Our Lady, and even more moved when she had all their names lettered on a scroll and put in the pedestal beneath Our Lady’s feet,” Sister Michael remembered. “She had a heart for those who considered themselves sinners and wanted them to know they were loved by God.”
Sister Michael described another memorable lesson of the second great commandment in action years ago, when a severe ice and snow storm hit the Birmingham area, knocking all the electricity out for a week. In her foresight, Mother had put in a couple of gas stoves and a few gas heaters around the monastery so the sisters had a little heat and could cook.
Sister Michael vividly remembered, “But a family in back of the monastery had none of these, and their two small children were freezing. Mother had them come to the monastery and stay in our apartment guest quarters, where there was a gas stove and some kerosene heaters. They were extremely grateful and even brought the food from their freezer and insisted on cooking for all the sisters as well as themselves. We became a family.”
Sister Michael affirmed that problems and challenges did not discourage Mother. “They were opportunities to look for a solution. No pity parties allowed. If one door closes, go through another, follow the leading of Our Lord, and be on with it. What seemed to be setbacks often turned out to be an opening to something bigger and better. When we could no longer roast peanuts [the sisters sold peanuts in the late 1960s to make ends meet] because buyers wanted kickbacks — Mother said she was not going to lose her soul over a peanut — we closed that phase of our lives and went on to copying spiritual tapes, a far better work. When Mother was no longer able to tape her TV programs at a local TV station, she went on to found her own television network.
“Mother was not afraid to do what seemed ridiculous, and God certainly performed miracles for her. Her only fear was not to do God’s will.”
That certainly included the sufferings she bore.
“Since Mother’s stroke 15 years ago, she has become more loving and precious to me in her sufferings, which she has endured heroically,” Sister Michael made clear, remembering one of the many stand-out moments. “Several years ago, when Mother was still able to say a few words, she looked at me one morning with the most beautiful expression, one I will not forget; and with a beautiful smile and twinkling eyes, she haltingly managed to say, ‘Thank you … for care … of me.’ It was a most tender, precious moment for me, as I was able to tell her of my own gratitude and feelings and to ask forgiveness for my failings towards her.”
It touched Sister Michael deeply. She shared, “Taking care of Mother was like taking care of Jesus, and I know that Sister Regina and Sister Gabriel, and the other sisters who have lovingly sacrificed much these many years taking care of Mother, have also had special moments and graces that they will always treasure. A smile from Mother was reward enough and a cause for bragging rights.”
“Life without Mother will never be the same,” she concluded. “There will always be a hole in our hearts.”
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.