Mother Angelica, was born Rita Rizzo in Canton, Ohio on the 20th of April, 1923. The inter-war years were difficult and Rita forged her way through a rough childhood before she entered the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration (PCPA) monastery in Cleveland. Early in her youth, Rita was left with her mother to piece together a living with odd-jobs, which resulted in the two often hungry, poor, and in need. Physical suffering would accompany Rita throughout her life. In her teenage years, she was plagued with a severe stomach ailment, which was only relieved after fervent recourse to the intercession of St. Therese at the recommendation of the mystic, Rhoda Wise. Realizing God’s immense love for her through this incredible recovery, Rita resolved to give herself totally to God.
After a covert visit to the Poor Clare Monastery at the St. Paul Shrine in Cleveland, and knowing that it would prove to be a near impossible parting with her mother, Mae, Rita left home at the age of 21, sending her mother a letter informing her of her decision and desire to follow Christ in religious life.
My own dearest Mother, When you receive this letter I will be in Cleveland. I have entered the Adoration Monastery. You know it better as St. Paul’s Shrine. A cloister, my mother is a heaven on earth. There will I tell Him with every breath that I take that I love Him. There will I make reparation for all the cold hearts in the world. Something happened to me after my cure. I fell completely in love with Our Lord. Always yours, Rita xxx (An excerpt from Rita's letter to her mother upon entering the monastery.)
Rita Rizzo entered the PCPA monastery in Cleveland on August 15, 1944 and a year later received the holy habit and the name her mother chose for her – Sister Mary Angelica of the Annunciation. Soon after this transition into the novitiate, the Cleveland Monastery established a new foundation in Canton, and Sr. Angelica was chosen to be a member of the new community there. On January 2, 1947 she made her first profession of vows and the same date in 1953, gave herself irrevocably to her Spouse through solemn vows.
During a typical day of work at Sancta Clara Monastery, Sr. Angelica had yet another life changing experience. Thrown by an electric floor-scrubbing machine while cleaning, Sister suffered a terrible back injury and faced an operation that threatened to leave her paralyzed. Not to be deterred in her desire to serve God, this tenacious nun promised God that if she could walk after the surgery, she would build Him a monastery in the South. True to her word and God’s goodness, the surgery was a success and Sister Angelica began the arduous process of obtaining the permissions and raising the funds to build a monastery.
Mother Angelica’s inspiration to build a monastery in the South took shape when Archbishop Toolen of Mobile extended his invitation, “ya’ll come!” The Sisters collaborated on an unusual fundraising project, “St. Peter’s Fishing Lures,” to raise money for the new monastery.
On May 8, 1962, Mother Angelica, Sister Raphael, Sister Joseph, Sister Michael and Sister Assumpta, the founding Sisters of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, left Sancta Clara Monastery in Canton OH for the new foundation in Alabama.
On May 20, 1962, Our Lady of the Angels Monastery was dedicated by Archbishop Toolen. Mother Angelica and the founding Sisters took up residence in the monastery, inaugurating our life of prayer and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament here in the South. Mother Angelica’s mother, Mae Francis, entered as an extern postulant on the same day. A few months later, Sister Veronica, formerly the abbess of Sancta Clara Monastery transferred to the fledgling community.
Mother and the Nuns were received by the people of Birmingham with great love and tremendous support. Visitors began to come to OLAM, evidently drawn to the quiet Presence in the chapel. After the Nuns had made their new home in Irondale and funds were still desperately needed, the creation of the “Lil ‘Ol Peanut Co.” helped to keep the monastery running.
A New Venture for the Gospel
In 1972, almost a decade after the founding of the monastery, Mother Angelica’s charisma and gift of teaching unfolded even more when she began to write “Mini Books.” The first of many books was Journey into Prayer. The Sisters printed, packaged and shipped these inspired works by the thousands.
After many leaps of faith, on August 15, 1981, Mother Angelica launched Eternal Word Television Network at 6:00 PM. It was a day of great rejoicing for all the community. It was hardly foreseeable that this new missionary endeavor that had begun in the OLAM garage with only $200.00, would become the great media apostolate that it is today. The Nuns supported the Network from the beginning, taking calls at the telethons, giving tours to visitors, opening mail, printing programs, and most of all praying for the work God had surprisingly entrusted to these cloistered nuns!
A rather visible change in the Sister’s life occurred in August 1993. Mother Angelica made a decisive public stand for orthodoxy at the Denver WYD, and announced that the Sisters at OLAM would return to wearing the full traditional habit.
Mother’s zeal to make the God she loved, known and loved by others, continued to grow throughout her life unabated. Year after year and opportunity after opportunity gave rise to Mother’s spiritual talks, writing and printing of Mini- Books, studio productions and the beginning of EWTN – what would become a Catholic Multimedia Enterprise – all which ran astride and flowed from her dedication to Jesus, the Eternal Word made Flesh. Mother Angelica’s LIVE show endeared her to people from every walk of life. Her uncanny wit, down to earth humor and ability to relate to the struggles of every-day existence proved to disarm the wary and enabled her to befriend the lonely. Her unswerving commitment and fidelity to the will of God, manifested in the present moment, served to point others to the path of holiness.
Building the Temple
As the Poor Clare Nuns at the monastery in Irondale grew in numbers, and as EWTN continued to expand and thrive, Mother decided to move the community to a more rural place, conducive to the contemplative way of life. The inspiration for the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament adjacent to OLAM, received its beginning from the request of the Divine Child while Mother was traveling in Bogota Columbia for an EWTN promotion. His promise to “help those who help you” in building a Temple in His honor, has been kept these many years. Dedicated in 1999, The monastery and Shrine where Mother Angelica continues to live, is a testimony and instrument of God’s Love.
“I want very much to spread devotion to the Divine Child Jesus. Not only is He powerful, but what you and I need is family— and that Child Jesus will make us one again. He will put love in our hearts, where it should be.” -- Mother Mary Angelica
Suffering With Christ
On Christmas Eve, 2001, Mother Angelica suffered a severe cerebral hemorrhage. She made a remarkable recovery but since that day has never regained full ability to speak. Although her life now does not fully resemble the days past where she was CEO and beloved Mother to millions through her programs, undoubtedly her work is all the more significant in the heart of the Church as she continues to live in silent communion with Our Lord. She was named Abbess Emeritus and she received the papal medal of honor, the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontificae, in 2009, a beautiful tribute to a woman of great faith.
“The heart that does not become disheartened, knows whatever happens is the perfect Will of God.” -- Mother Mary Angelica