EWTN Celebrates 40 Years: Witness to Providence

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The charism of Mother Angelica remains the hallmark of EWTN’s 40-year tenure of serving the Church and its people.

‘A soul that trusts God is invincible,’ said the EWTN foundress.
‘A soul that trusts God is invincible,’ said the EWTN foundress. (photo: EWTN)

Reliance on God’s providence has been at the core of EWTN from its foundation. Forty years ago, on Aug. 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother Angelica “flipped the switch,” launching EWTN’s first satellite television programming from a studio that only months earlier was her monastery’s garage. 

In the late 1970s, Mother Angelica saw the void of a Catholic presence in national media and she sought to fill it in a way that hadn’t been seen since Archbishop Fulton Sheen was a powerful presence on television and radio. Yet her vision didn’t stop there, with Catholic TV and radio shows. For Jesus, Mother always wanted the best. And so she sought to use every mass-media platform and every cutting-edge technology to spread the Gospel. 

The network she founded has expanded in ways she certainly envisioned, including broadcasting live from the Vatican and bringing global Catholic events into people’s homes. She had long hoped to have a presence in Rome, and, in 2016, EWTN officially opened a Vatican bureau, equipped for nightly coverage in view of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. Even the addition of a newspaper was something she had hoped for and was fulfilled when the Register became a part of EWTN in 2011. 

But EWTN has also grown to employ media platforms she could never have imagined, such as mobile devices, apps and social media. 

A lot has changed in the Church and in the broader culture in these 40 years. All of us are sadly well aware of a loss of respect many Catholics feel toward Church hierarchy, diminished belief in the Real Presence of the Eucharist, declines in weekly Mass attendance, and closures of Catholic institutions in the U.S. and elsewhere. 

Our increasingly secular society has posed numerous threats for Catholics who seek to live out our faith in the public square. In the media industry, the landscape of truthful news gathering and reporting has also become more challenging in the last two decades, with the ravenous demands of the 24/7 news cycle and audiences that seem to prefer echo chambers of their own opinion rather than faithful journalism. Plus, Catholic outlets, like EWTN News, have to contend daily with media organizations that either misunderstand the Church because their reporters have no religious background or, worse, because they have an ax to grind against Catholic teaching. 

By the grace of God, EWTN has stood strong in the face of these challenges. Within the last 10 years, the network has had to go to court to defend its constitutional right to religious freedom (something unheard of 40 years ago) against Obamacare’s unjust contraceptive and abortion mandate — and we won. 

At a time when Catholic orthodoxy is being intentionally undermined from both outside and inside the Church, people have turned to EWTN increasingly because we have earned their trust. Even in the midst of a global pandemic that sowed uncertainty and anxiety, more and more people relied on EWTN as a dependable source not just for the Mass and devotions, but for news, information and formation, affirming both Mother’s mission and her trust in God through every struggle. 

In contrast from its humble beginnings in 1981, with transmissions to 60,000 homes for four hours of programming a day, the network is now the world’s largest Catholic media organization, with 11 global television channels reaching more than 350 million households in multiple languages in more than 145 countries and on five continents. Even more households are reached through terrestrial, digital and shortwave radio and the worldwide web. 

These accomplishments are built on the foundation of Mother Angelica’s evangelical zeal and tenacity — but even more on the fruit of her prayers, sufferings and abandonment to God’s providence. 

Mother always said our success was not defined by measuring the number of channels launched or homes reached, but by how faithful we are in trusting in God’s providence. Her legacy and the legacy of EWTN is that complete and total reliance on his providence. That is Mother’s witness and the witness of EWTN to the world.

Anniversaries, whether personal or institutional, are always great moments for reflection. They give us an opportunity to look backward, but they also give us a chance to look forward and to think about where we are headed. 

In the mid-1990s, EWTN had gone through a period of significant growth in which we launched the first of our international television channels, our radio network and our first internet services, as well as our first news services and EWTN Religious Catalogue. I remember at that time asking Mother Angelica if she ever thought EWTN would have grown so big.  

Her response was classic Mother Angelica. She said in the early days of the network she was always too focused on just getting through each day to really think too far down the road. For her, seeing what EWTN had become was a source of great joy, not because of what she might have done, but because of the miracles that God had accomplished along the way. 

Mother Angelica’s joyful reliance on Providence set the network on firm footing for all of these years of growth and change. It is that trust — teamed with your prayers and support through every one of our 40 years — that keeps us looking ahead eagerly to the next 40 years. While EWTN is even bigger and more wide-reaching today than it was during Mother’s active years at the helm, I’m quite confident that she is doing her most important work for EWTN and its viewers now, interceding and advocating for us in heaven. Let us pray that her charism of trust in God’s providence continues to be our anchor in this life. 

God bless you!