I met Mother Angelica only once. It was sixteen years ago. We spent an unforgettable hour together, just the two of us. What made it unusual was that several million people were watching and listening to our conversation. I was her guest on “Mother Angelica Live.”
How did I get there?
A year earlier, I had been invited by Marcus Grodi to be on his EWTN show, “The Journey Home,” where he interviews notable Catholic converts. I certainly did not consider myself in that category—I’d only been a Catholic for two years—but he wanted to do a series on “Classic Converts,” which would include G.K. Chesterton. He contacted the American Chesterton Society to see if I could recommend someone who could talk about Chesterton’s conversion. I said I knew someone who could talk about it, but I couldn’t recommend him because it was me. But when he found out that my own conversion was influenced by my reading Chesterton, he insisted that I come on the show. So off I went to EWTN in Birmingham, Alabama, knowing very little about the Catholic cable channel, except that there was a feisty nun who had started it. “The Journey Home” interview went very well, and at the conclusion of the show, the producer eagerly approached me and said, “We have to do a whole series on Chesterton!” I said that was a great idea and I would think about who could do such a thing. He said, “No, we want YOU to do it.”
A year later I was back at EWTN, taping the first season of “The Apostle of Common Sense.” Just before I arrived, I was told that Mother Angelica wanted to interview me on her show. By this time, of course, I had a much more complete idea of who she was: the Poor Clare who brought four nuns to the heart of the Protestant Bible Belt to open a convent; started a TV station in a garage; saw a satellite dish and said; “I gotta get me one of those.”; used the tool of television (and also radio) not only to evangelize and educate millions around the world, but to challenge those who would water down the Gospel, dumb down the liturgy, and secularize the faith, give into the world rather than standing up for God. She bucked all the trends absolutely without fear, a full-powered jet engine in a nun’s habit who personified Chesterton’s line: “A dead thing goes with the stream, only a living thing can go against it.”
I was looking forward to meeting her.
I was taping my series during the day and staying at a guest house next to the EWTN studio. I was told that someone would pick me up in the evening and take me to Mother’s office to meet her before her show. I didn’t understand why I needed to be “picked up” since it was only a short walk up to the studio. Then there was a knock on the door, and a Franciscan friar stood there and grinned, “Dale, your ride is here. Do you want to drive?” It was a golf cart. We got in and chugged up the hill at four miles an hour. I was then escorted into Mother’s office, but no one was there. I waited. A few minutes later, the door opened and she walked in, but just as she was about to greet me, she turned and saw the architect’s model of the shrine that would soon be built at Hanceville. “Oh, it’s here!” she said with a childlike glee, and she reached out to touch it, but immediately broke off one of the walls. “Oh dear!”
Her producer walked in behind her. “Mother, have you met our guest?”
“Could you get some tape or glue or something to fix this wall?”
The producer looked around helplessly.
Another assistant came running in. “We’re on in five minutes!”
“Could you get some tape or glue to fix this wall?”
The assistant stopped dead in her tracks and stared like a deer in the high beam.
Then the Chief of Security came in, a beefy pocked-marked fellow who didn’t have to explain that he was carrying a gun.
“Could you get some tape or glue or something to fix this wall?”
The tough guy was reduced to quivering jelly by a nun.
Then someone else came in and breathlessly announced, “Mother! A woman called and said that Our Lady appeared to her and she has a message for you.”
The nun had a discerning look on her face. “I know what she wants,” referring to the woman who called, not to Our Lady. “Tell her we’ll give her a room for the night, but she’ll have to leave tomorrow.” And then she added, “Could you get some tape or glue or something to fix this wall?”
The messenger grew perplexed.
The producer pointed to her wrist. “Mother, we have to go on.”
“Then I suppose we should say a prayer.” And we all took hands, and Mother said the most wonderful prayer, asking for strength and guidance from the Holy Spirit. She said Amen. And then: “Could somebody find some tape or glue or something to fix that wall?” She finally turned and addressed me directly for the first time: “I have a one track mind, don’t I?”
I responded: “So do I, Mother. G.K. Chesterton.”
She smiled broadly. “Oh, I love Chesterton!”
And she took me by the hand and led me into the studio where I was miked up and introduced to the hundred or so people seated in the live audience. Then it was lights, camera, action, and the show began. We got to know each other on the air. She asked great questions, had wonderful reactions to my answers, joked with me, expressed her excitement over the new series on Chesterton, showed a clip from the episode we had just taped, pitched the American Chesterton Society magazine Gilbert, and essentially launched my little enterprise from a ground operation to something in the upper stratosphere. I will never be able to calculate the extent of the reach that she gave me. My show on EWTN would bring Chesterton to a wider audience and have a greater impact than I could ever have imagined.
I never met her in person again. On my subsequent trips to EWTN, she was ill, and her illness would only grow worse until God poetically called her to her new life on Easter Sunday.
I was standing around backstage after her show concluded that evening sixteen years ago, still basking in the glow of an amazing hour. After she was done conducting some more business, talking to people from the studio audience, and so on, she made her way back to where I was. This time she allowed no distractions about cardboard walls or apparitions or anything else. She headed right for me and gave me a kiss. She seemed surrounded by an aura of holiness and joy and goodness and truth.
I knew without a doubt that I had met a saint.
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