Catholic TV pioneer Mother Angelica gets feeding tube; condition stabilizes

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Mother Angelica, the nun who founded the Eternal Word Television Network, died on Easter Sunday (March 27) in 2016. Photo courtesy of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery

Mother Angelica, the nun who founded the Eternal Word Television Network, died on Easter Sunday (March 27) in 2016. Photo courtesy of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery

(RNS) An announcement last week that Mother Angelica, the doughty nun who founded the EWTN cable network, had been given a feeding tube set off alarm bells, especially among her loyal following of conservative Catholics.

Mother Angelica suffered an incapacitating stroke in 2001 but the sisters at her Alabama monastery say that the tube is not a last-ditch effort to keep her alive and that the 92-year-old nun has regained some strength and weight.

“When people see ‘feeding tube’ they think, oh no, it’s getting serious,” said Luke Johnasen, a spokesman for her order, the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville.

“The Lord is in charge, she may be taken tomorrow, we don’t know,” Johnasen told Religion News Service on Monday (Nov. 30). “But at least the initial intent of the feeding tube was not an end-of-life kind of thing but to assist her and help her get the nutrients she was lacking.”

And that has seemed to work, he said. She is able to take some foods orally and to receive the bread and wine of the sacraments most days.


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Mother Angelica does remain confined to bed and sleeps a good deal, Johnasen said, and she is unable to communicate except by squeezing a visitor’s hand, or with a smile. “When she’s awake her mind is very lucid,” he said. “She knows who people are.”

Despite being almost incommunicado for so many years, Mother Angelica has such a devoted following that every update about her condition prompts widespread concern.

Born Rita Rizzo in Canton, Ohio, in 1923, Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation — as she came to be known — entered the Poor Clares, a branch of the Franciscan order, in 1944. She went on to found a monastery in Irondale, Ala., in 1962 and in the 1990s started the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, where she now resides, about an hour north in Hanceville.


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But Mother Angelica is best known for the unlikely success of the Eternal Word Television Network, the Catholic cable channel she started in 1981 after the commercial television spots she had begun producing were pre-empted.

Later known simply as EWTN, the station became a beacon of conservative orthodoxy thanks in large part to the regular — and distinctive — on-air presence of Mother Angelica herself.

Wearing a black-and-white habit and a sweet but steely smile, Mother Angelica would not hesitate to scold church leaders who she felt were too lax in their teachings or practices. She promoted traditional devotions and rites and claimed to have experienced mystical visions herself.


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Then, in 2001, she suffered a series of strokes that began limiting her appearances, and a massive hemorrhage on Christmas Eve that year left her largely incapacitated.

Under the direction of a lay board, EWTN continued to grow, and today it claims to be “the largest religious media network in the world,” broadcasting 24/7 in multiple languages to more than 258 million television households in 145 countries and territories. EWTN also has a popular website and since 2011 has operated the National Catholic Register newspaper, in addition to a publishing division.

In their most recent update on Mother Angelica’s health, the cloistered nuns at her monastery wrote that her condition had “declined,” necessitating the feeding tube.

“There were some up and down moments, and Mother has suffered a great deal these past months,” the update read, adding: “She is quite a trouper. God has gifted Mother with much suffering during her life which she has always accepted, living out her motto … ‘All for Jesus.’”

(David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS.)

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  • Glad to hear she is recovering.

  • Dominic

    She is a remarkably holy and inspirational person. Surely, a future Saint.

  • Right there beside her as He Always is. She is 92 and debilitated by age and disease and supported by Joy and Love. That is a miracle, I am sorry if you cannot see it.

  • Ted

    No way, Jenkins. Consider too all the innocent kids who died awful suffering deaths early in life because of diseases that your “god” created. When you look at the big picture, your sky god looks like a giant a-hole, worse than Hitler.

  • anonymous

    yes–

  • God created the entirety of creation and the laws of nature that life is subject to…yes there is suffering and yes there is overwhelming beauty! Do you curse the universe for the suffering that you see or do you accept that it is how it is, even though you don’t understand it all?

    God created both, yes, but if you understand this God as I do, you would see that Love is the essence of this and that YOUR response to suffering should be love, even if you don’t understand why it is there and what God had in mind.

  • Larry

    Five to one odds that she did not have a DNR or “living will” and will be kept on machines for as long as conceivably possible.

  • Ted

    No Jenkins. You are contradicting yourself. You plainly don’t “understand” god at all. You are just deluded. That’s all.