Mother Angelica, born Rita Rizzo on April 20,1923, grew up in Canton, Ohio. The future foundress of Our Lady of the Angels in Alabama, forged her way through a difficult and rough childhood before she entered the 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.
A Covert Entrance
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.
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.
Welcomed by Archbishop Toolen of Mobile, Alabama, the new Mother Angelica and five founding Sisters made the journey South after much labor and fervent prayers to Divine Providence. Our Lady of the Angels Monastery was solemnly consecrated on May 2, 1962.
A New Venture for the Gospel
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.
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 received the significant Pro Ecclesia et Pontificae award in 2009, a beautiful tribute to a woman of great faith.