Mother Angelica’s Feminine Genius

COMMENTARY: She Showed Us That Humility and Selfless Love Can Conquer the World

Mother Angelica exemplified the feminine genius.
Mother Angelica exemplified the feminine genius. (photo: EWTN photo)

Little Rita Rizzo was born in Canton, Ohio, on April 20, 1923, 40 days after I was born. During the many times I had the pleasure of visiting Mother Angelica and appearing on EWTN, I always joked with her that “we were almost twins.”

Rita was also born 34 years to the day after the birth of Adolf Hitler. With that in mind, I always enjoyed reminding her that God always wins in the end. But she didn’t need the reminder. She was living proof of that adage.

She was much appreciated for her sense of humor. She knew that if television had to be informative it should also be entertaining, and she was good at it. Witticisms flew out of her mouth without being planned.

I recall that once, being on her show, we had a battle of wit: Both having Latin temperament, we had no difficulty communicating. At one point, she said to me, “Do you realize that you are very funny?” To which I retorted, “Mother, in Paris, one would rather say ‘entertaining.’”

She had a good laugh. But beyond all this mirth, I am convinced that once one came very close to her heart, one would hear her weeping, like St. Francis, because true love is so little loved today.

The word “defeat” seemed to have been written on Mother Angelica’s cradle.

The child of an unhappy marriage, which broke down when she was a tiny girl, she was deprived of the blessing of having a father. Her mother was ill-equipped to be a single mother and clearly had serious personal problems. The child was raised in poverty and total insecurity. The future was bleak. She was sent to a Catholic school at a time when divorce between Catholic parents was scandalous.

But one day, miraculously saved from a deadly automobile accident, she gained the certainty that Christ loved her. This conviction — that she never lost — opened the door to a new life.

When she knocked at the door of the Poor Clares in Cleveland, her credentials were “anemic,” to say the least. But Rita Rizzo, who soon would receive the beautiful name of Sister Angelica, had taken the first steps in ascending the mountain of holiness.

The superior who immediately accepted the young Rita as a postulant must have been endowed with a supernatural sense, intuiting that this spiritual “beggar,” so poor in credentials and seemingly destined to fulfill menial tasks, had a real vocation. Rita was committed to total self-giving, lovingly embracing poverty (she was used to it), with a profound understanding that a vow of virginity does not mean “renouncing” maternity, but viewing physical maternity as being too narrow for a heart fecundated by Christ’s love.

St. Catherine of Siena was one of 25 children. Mother Angelica, conscious of the wealth of her Spouse, thought that 25 children was too small a number. She wanted, like all saintly women, to have innumerable children — and God heard her prayers.

Convents are known to be impeccably clean, and Sister Angelica was assigned the duty of sweeping the place. Once her foot was accidentally caught in the cord; she fell and hurt her back so badly that, from that day on, she had to wear leg braces. Partially crippled as she was, she started to harbor plans that any “normal” person would characterize as “mad” — typical of “weak women,” governed by their imaginations and erratic feelings. This was the response of the apostles to Mary Magdalene when she announced to them that Christ was risen.

The first of these mad plans was to found a Poor Clare monastery in the Deep South — well known for its total ignorance of the ABCs of Catholic doctrine.

Money was needed for this crazy project, but Mother Angelica, having, like St. Francis, chosen poverty, never let money appear on the screen of her consciousness. She put her trust in God. She had given her life to Christ; what she planned was not her plan. It was God’s plan — hence, it was his responsibility to provide.

Only a very foolish person could think that he could impress Mother. She was not impressed by any title, whether in front or back of a name, and could have intimidated Queen Victoria. She knew that those who declare themselves to be “handmaids of the Lord” were those we should look up to.

And, belonging to the “weak” sex, she also knew that it was the “pious” sex, the one that joyfully acknowledged its frailty and was never shy to ask for help. This gives us a key to Mother Angelica’s life.

A deep awareness of weakness gives us a golden key to an amazing life where defeats, with God’s holy chemistry, were changed into amazing victories.

It should not surprise us that the holy women followed Christ to Golgotha: A woman who loves fears nothing.

Mother Angelica’s supernatural qualities were the golden key to her “holy daring,” abysmally separated from self-assurance, which is often the downfall of many “machos,” starting with the beloved St. Peter.

Mother’s life can be [summarized] with the words “from defeat to victory.” She refused to be defeated, putting all her trust in Christ, to whom she had given her heart.

When I dedicated my Memoirs of a Happy Failure to both Father Benedict Groeschel and Mother Angelica, I did not choose flamboyant words of praise. I just used two key quotations of our Christian life: “Without me, you can do nothing,” and “I can do all things in him that strengthens me.” They could have been written on her tomb.

We should be grateful that someone, be it “only a woman,” warns the world when it heads into what Dante calls la via smarrita (the way lost).

If someone had asked Mother whether she was conscious of the inferiority of her sex, I think she would have looked at the questioner with an expression indicating that she worried about his sanity. The weak sex married to the pious sex turns out to be the strong sex. Eve was created last, her body taken not from the slime of the earth, but from the body of a human person; when Adam perceived her, his response was enchantment, and he proclaimed her to be “Mother of the Living” — a title denied him.

The most perfect of all creatures is a woman, the one who gave birth to the Savior, who declared that he was life itself.

The Blessed Virgin Mother confirmed her place in God’s plan with the words, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to thy word.” These were words Mother Angelica fully embraced throughout her 92 years.

Indeed, God has exalted the humble and humiliated the proud. History will tell us that this humble nun, who founded one of the most powerful Catholic media systems in the world, would have been the first to declare that it was God’s work.

She was only his unworthy instrument — Non nobis domine, non nobis sed nomini tuo da gloriam (Not to us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory).

Mother Angelica’s amazing life clearly tells us that humility (pauper et inops sum ego) and a heart burning with love can conquer the world.

Alice von Hildebrand, Ph.D., taught philosophy for 37 years at Hunter College in New York. 

In 2004, she assisted in the launch of the Hildebrand Project,

to ensure the long-term promotion and dissemination of 

her husband Dietrich’s life and thought. 

In recognition of her work, Pope Francis in 2013 declared her a Dame Grand Cross 

of the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory, 

the highest honor a pope can bestow on a layman.

EWTN photo