Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 15, 2021 / 17:30 pm (CNA).
Today, August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, is also the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Eternal Word Television Network–EWTN.
From its humble beginnings in a garage-turned-studio in Alabama to a global network broadcasting from all around the world, EWTN’s foundress Mother Angelica relied heavily on her faith that God would provide–if it was His will to do so.
“I said, ‘We’re not going to build a garage.’ He said, ‘What are you gonna build?’ I said, ‘A television studio.’”
— Catholic News Agency (@cnalive) August 15, 2021
Here are three stories from EWTN’s early days that demonstrate just how much the Lord came through for Mother Angelica.
1. “I don’t need you, I only need God”
After arriving in Birmingham with the sisters, Mother Angelica began making programs at a local television station. She also was making programs for Christian Broadcasting Network. (At the time, CBN wanted to expand their Catholic offerings.)
However, that relationship did not last.
“She had a falling out with the manager there who was going to air something called ‘The Word,’” Fr. Joseph Mary Wolfe, MFVA, told CNA. Wolfe is an EWTN chaplain
“And this is an important element,” Wolfe explained. “So this film was calling into question the divinity of Christ. And there was supposedly this ancient document that was discovered, and it was questioning the Gospel and the divinity of Christ.”
That didn’t fly with Mother Angelica, who told the manager that he shouldn’t air the film. He brushed her off.
“And she said, ‘well, I’m going to stop making my programs here’,” said Wolfe. “And he said, ‘well, nobody’s going to give you the good deal I give you.’”
That didn’t matter for Mother Angelica, said Wolfe. Mother Angelica responded with “I don’t need you, I only need God.”
“And so she came back and the garage became the studio,” setting the stage for the creation of a “network to defend the truth of the divinity of the Word,” explained Wolfe.
“That’s why it’s called the Eternal Word Television Network.”
That garage, by the way, still stands. It’s now a control room on EWTN’s Irondale campus.
2. A surprise in the Yellow Pages
After deciding to go her own way and build a television station, Mother Angelica sought to expand into the still-nascent world of cable and satellite television. She was told that to do this, she’d need a satellite dish, a license, and a lawyer.
She was advised to get the lawyer first.
Mother Angelica’s birth name was Rita Antoinette Rizzo, and both of her parents were of Italian heritage. So perhaps it’s not too surprising that when she was presented with a list of Washington, DC-based attorneys to potentially help her get a license to broadcast, she immediately was drawn to the one with the extremely Italian name: Bob Corazzini.
“She said, well, Bob’s an Italian, he’s gotta be a good guy. Let me give Bob a call,” Michael Warsaw, CEO of EWTN Global Catholic Network, recounted to CNA. “And so she phoned Bob at his Washington, DC office and explained that she was Mother Angelica, a cloistered nun in Birmingham, Alabama, and she wanted to start a cable television and satellite programming network.”
Warsaw said that Mother Angelica was met with stunned silence on the other end of the line. So she repeated herself.
“And finally Bob said, ‘well, okay’,” said Warsaw.
What Mother Angelica had no idea of knowing at the time was that Bob Corazzini was not only a lawyer in Washington, but he also was a lawyer who exclusively did communications law. And as luck–or perhaps Providence–would have it, he would actually be heading to Atlanta in the near future to meet with a client, and he would be able to meet with her in nearby Birmingham.
(That client, naturally, was Ted Turner, and Corazzini was heading to Atlanta to discuss the formation of a small little television network called “CNN.”)
3. The satellite dish
Having secured a lawyer, Mother Angelica then turned to the next big hurdle in breaking into the world of cable television: obtaining satellite dishes.
Satellite dishes are, as one can imagine, expensive. And an order of cloistered nuns is, as one can imagine, not exactly swimming in cash.
So Mother Angelica did the totally rational thing of ordering the satellite dishes and saying that she would pay for them when they were delivered. And then began to pray. Big time.
“And finally the [delivery] day came and the truck driver called and said, ‘I’ve got your satellite dish. You need to have a check for me before I can offload it for you.’ And she said, ‘well, come to the property,’ knowing that she didn’t have the money,” Warsaw told CNA.
“And so she, as she did in all things, when things got difficult, she went to the chapel and she went before our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. And she said, ‘you know, Lord, I guess I’ve messed this up.’”
Mother Angelica thought that perhaps she had not fully understood God’s will, and out of desperation, prayed “is there anything you could do to help me with this?”
One of Mother Angelica’s nuns came to the chapel, saying that there was a man on the phone who wanted to speak to her. Initially, Mother Angelica brushed her off, and then changed her mind and answered the call.
The man on the other end of the call was on a yacht in the Caribbean. His son, who was struggling with drug addiction, had come across one of Mother Angelica’s mini-books, and that book prompted him to enter rehab and change his life around. The man wanted to make a donation to Mother Angelica out of gratitude for what she did for his son.
“And so he said, ‘I want to send you $600,000,’” said Warsaw, which happened to be the exact amount needed for the satellite dish.
“Mother Angelica, being mother, you know, didn’t miss a beat and just said ‘do you think you could wire transfer that to me?’,” said Warsaw. She then told one of her nuns to write the check for the delivery man, and the dish was delivered to the studio.
That satellite dish still stands at EWTN’s campus in Irondale, Alabama four decades later, and has been the principal uplink antenna to broadcast EWTN’s programming around the world.
“I can tell you over the years that I’ve been here now, these 30-plus years, those kinds of stories repeat themselves time over time and time again,” said Warsaw.
“You know, not just with Mother, but I think with all of us who are engaged in the apostolate of EWTN, you see, without question, God’s providence at work time and time again.”
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