In the Fall of 2001, I traveled with Father Bill Quinlivan to EWTN in Alabama to gather interviews to be used during a fund drive for the new EWTN affiliated Catholic radio station in the Diocese of Buffalo, WLOF. One of those interviews was with Mother Angelica at the monastery where she lived and where she had recently built the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
If I'm being honest, my impression of her before then was of - and I realize it is a less-than-flattering stereotype - a tough old nun. What I found instead was a deeply spiritual, kind, generous and engaging woman of God. We covered a lot of ground in our interview and her years of media experience were apparent as well. I probably asked less than a half dozen actual questions yet we talked over an hour. She was certainly was comfortable in front of a microphone. She was open, honest, gracious and witty.
She said she never thought of building a shrine ("temple" in her words) before receiving a vision during a mission trip to South America. "If you don't have money for this kind of building," she chuckles, "you don't think about it. Unless you're a dreamer."
That wasn't the only thing she remembered seeing on that trip. While visiting a basilica she recalled, "In passing I looked in the corner of the courtyard and I noticed the bust of a priest. And it said 'Father John Rizzo.' That was my father's name.
"And I thought, 'By god, there was one decent John Rizzo in this world.' So, not a very happy thought but it was mine."
About the earliest beginnings of the modest studio which became the global Catholic EWTN network she said, "I was always thinking that the Lord was going to just use it as a place where people could come for free and make programs."
I asked Father Bill to share recollections of that meeting with Mother Angelica, which he gladly did:
"I was surprised at first that she was behind the grille of a cloister. It was easy to forget that because on television she seemed so accessible.
"Gregg handled the interview, and at the end I added one question. I wanted her to address the listeners who had the ability, financially to support the station but had never donated a penny. She answered first, 'Let me pray a minute...' then gave about an 8 minute Mother Angela classic response. She started by thinking generous donors, then proceeded to note that some people cannot afford to give but their prayers are appreciated. Finally she addressed those who do not give a penny but very easily could with a classic, 'Shame on you!'"
You can listen to the entire interview, including her "classic" pitch, below.