HANCEVILLE, Ala. — As the mourning period for Mother Angelica officially began on Tuesday, people arrived at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville to be close to her and pray.
Their hearts and minds were focused on the numerous ways Mother affected them over the years.
“Mother Angelica was a spiritual mother to the Church and a mother to us,” said visitor Sharon Willoughby. “She saw us though difficult spiritual times, and she gave us hope to become that Church the gates of hell will not prevail against.”
Willoughby saw in Mother Angelica what many others also experienced over the years, as they watched her witty wisdom on EWTN: “She spoke to each of us as if there were only one of us before her. And she guided children to see the beauty and truth of the faith and to live for the truth.”
Rene and Gina Valdez drove up from Texas with Gina’s mother, Georgina Resendiz.
When they heard the news of Mother Angelica’s death, they made the trip, said Gina Valdez, to be pilgrims, as well as mourners, at the shrine.“My mother-in-law watches the Mass every day, and she loves the priests,” Rene Valdez said. Mrs. Resendiz, who does not speak English, is a devotee of EWTN programming in Spanish.
“Mother Angelica had a vision and never gave up on her vision,” Rene observed. “It teaches us all a lesson: to have faith. She never gave up in her trials and tribulations and gave us the example to follow.”
On the piazza in front of the shrine, Rachel Rojo was outside with three of her four children. The family had driven up with a friend from just outside New Orleans.
Nine-year-old Catalina, 7-year-old Mateo, 4-year-old Rosario and 2-year-old Valentino were dressed in their Sunday best. They would have been an instant hit with Mother Angelica, who loved children.
Rojo had found memories of Mother growing up, which became more important as she got older.
“Ever since I was a child, my grandmother used to listen to Mother Angelica,” she recalled. “We used to pray the Rosary every night with her. Mother really sustained my faith.”
Rojo shared how, as a teen, she fell away from the Catholic faith for a little while. But the early example from her grandmother and Mother Angelica paid off.
“That stayed in my heart,” she said. “I came back to the Church, having said the Rosary with my grandmother every night. That sustained my faith, and I’m so grateful to be here today.”
As young as they are, the Rojo children are praying the Rosary regularly along with EWTN. “One day we do the Rosary, and one day we do the Divine Mercy Chaplet,” their mother said, adding about the media matron, “She has affected so many lives.”
Nearby, walking across the plaza were three women making up three generations touched deeply by Mother Angelica — Mercedes Mosek, her daughter Mercedes Nisbett and Nisbett’s daughter Tonja — from Florida.
“We were just here two and a half weeks ago,” said Mosek.
“We felt we needed to come back to say good-bye to Mother,” added Nisbett.
The family shared how, over the years, they have visited the shrine and EWTN several times and have enjoyed watching and learning from Mother Angelica.
Meeting Mother Angelica
Locals came to pay their respects as well. Lisa Fuchs lives near the shrine in Hanceville. Daughter Angela, one of the Fuchs’ five girls and four boys, was with her mother.
Being so close, the family regularly attends services and events at the shrine. Lisa reminisced about one of their experiences — the time the young girls were in the May-crowning procession. They were all invited back to the parlor to see the sisters and Mother Angelica.
“We saw her through the grill. She was in her wheelchair,” Lisa said. “She was very, very joyful and wanted to meet all the girls.”
She added, “She kept saying, ‘Oh boy!’ and was really excited to see the girls.”
Fuchs said, that because they live close to the shrine, Mother Angelica and the sisters have had a major impact on her family. “The reverence here has really edified the family,” she explained. “Living here has strengthened our faith.”
The sisters and the priests “are inspirations to our children for vocations,” she continued. The priests whose congregation was founded by Mother Angelica — the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word — bring “a real human quality to the priesthood for our boys to love holy vocations.”
With each story, the effects of Mother’s vision and guidance are quite clear: She touched and changed many lives. Now, those same souls want to pay tribute to the TV nun who meant so much to them.
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.
He is reporting from Alabama this week to cover the funeral of Mother Angelica.