The Tallest Pole in the Tent

04-03-2016Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

The former Rita Rizzo has died. No she wasn't an old girlfriend of mine. You would know her better as Mother Angelica, the Foundress of the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN). All things considered Mother Angelica was nothing more than typical of her ilk, namely Foundresses and heads of communities of women religious. That company would include: Mother Cabrini, Mother Katherine Drexel, Mother Marianne Cope, Mother Teresa, Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton to mention a few. In other words Mother Angelica was one of the tallest poles in the tent.

I first met Mother Angelica in the 1970's when she would come and give teachings at the Charismatic Prayer Groups that were in abundance at that time. Back then she had not yet constructed her monastery nor the cable TV station. But she and her sisters would print small religious tracts covering a wide variety of subjects: the Eucharist, the Saints, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Trinity among others. They were well written, concise and to the point and easily readable. She would give them to us and tell us to hand them out and start a conversation. She had a clever way of making our Faith exciting and relevant. Long before St. John Paul called for the New Evangelization she was actually doing it.

With $200 she started a radio show out of a garage in Birmingham. Then at one point I remember she told us that she was going to start a cable TV Station. We all looked at her as if she had six heads. At that time cable TV was just starting as an experiment and most of the people I knew were emphatic that they would NEVER pay for cable TV when they could get it for free on the networks. (Just like we said we would never pay for water in a bottle when we could get it out of the tap.) Mother Angelica was smarter than the rest of us! Of course the rest is history.

She was a feisty Italian-American Sister who did not take no for answer, ever. She was known for her punchy statements like: "Holiness is not for wimps and the cross is not negotiable, sweetheart, it's a requirement." God had given her a vision and she knew it was her task to implement that vision with His help. Over the years many hands tried to get control of her TV Network or tell her how to run it including the US Bishops Conference and she was never shy about letting them know that it was her Network and she was in charge. For that she was often accused of being unreasonable. But really when you think about it she understood the vision better than anyone and was well aware that the dark side would use sophisticated means to stop her. She just never waivered. Thank God.

Today EWTN is a Global Network that with the aid of satellites spans the world over. Add to that the Radio programming that EWTN produces and the Catholic message is able to reach just about everywhere. In fact many of the shows that you hear on Immaculate Heart Radio are downloaded from the EWTN satellite. Added to all this Mother built a Monastery for her nuns, the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Irondale, Alabama, which today is the world-wide center for Catholic communications. A few years ago Mother Angelica sent some of the sisters to open a monastery here in our Diocese. At this point they have built a chapel in Tonopah and are still in the process of completing the monastery. If you are up that way, it is well worth a visit.

We are also blessed in our Diocese to have in addition to Immaculate Heart Radio a Spanish language station, En Familia that is hosted each morning by Fr. Ernesto Reynoso. Many of you remember him as he was formerly in residence here at Mt. Carmel. Well he is coming back and taking up residence again with us. While Father's primary job is at the Marriage Tribunal at the Pastoral Center for the Diocese he will assist when he can. So when you see him give him a nice big Hola!

Eternal rest grant unto her O, Lord and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.

Fr. John B.