Feast of St. Francis Benediction -- Our Lady of the Angels Monastery -- October 4, 2009

Homily of the Most Reverend Robert J. Baker, S.T.D., Bishop of Birmingham

Today, we celebrate St. Francis’ tremendous impact on the Church and on people who do not claim the name Catholic or even Christian. We celebrate His humility, simplicity, fidelity, wisdom, and his promotion of human life and life in all its forms.

 Also, we have the privilege of acknowledging the contributions to our church of another person in the great Franciscan tradition, whose link to St. Francis is through St. Clare. To be specific, a daughter of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration spirituality and life, Mother Angelica.  

The Holy See has seen fit to present to her the pontifical medal “Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice,” in recognition of her founding what is now the largest Catholic television network in the world, The Eternal Word Television Network.

 EWTN is located in Irondale, Alabama, and was founded 28 years ago by this Poor Clare nun. Mother Angelica traveled from Canton, Ohio to Irondale, Alabama in 1961 at the invitation of Archbishop Toolen, whose Diocese covered the State of Alabama, to build a monastery in the south.

 Archbishop Toolen broke ground on Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Irondale on July 24, 1961, and dedicated that monastery on May 20, 1962. At the time, no one suspected that the 15-acre site would become a worldwide television network.

 Mother’s first foray into television was a 60-part series for the Christian broadcast network filmed from May to August in 1987. In November of that year, Mother learned that the local Birmingham station where she was filming her second series planned to air a blasphemous movie. She confronted the station manager, who told her that her television work would end without facilities. Mother decided instead to build her own network – funded entirely by contributions from viewers.

 Mother Angelica’s broadcasting went from the original four hours a day to 24 hours a day, from pre-taped programs only to live shows in the U.S. and around the world, from one channel in English to eight channels in English, Spanish, German, and French, from television to radio, to shortwave to internet, going now into more than 150 million homes.

 The “Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice Medal” is a significant acknowledgement by our Holy Father, of Mother’s labors of love in support of our Church and of our Holy Father. By giving awards, the Church is not saying people or institutions are perfect, but we are saying that Mother Angelica, through this network, has made a significant contribution to the New Evangelization heralded and promoted by recent Popes. Mother Angelica’s effort has been at the vanguard of the New Evangelization and has had a great impact on our world.

 Against very significant odds, she launched this network and, for that, we commend her.

We thank you, Mother Angelica, for your wisdom, stamina, and faith that enable EWTN to bring a message of faith, hope, and love 24 hours a day, around the clock and around the world, every day of the year. 

Also, being recognized with the Pontifical Medal “Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifice” is Deacon Bill Steltemeier, who has perpetuated this global Catholic apostolate as chairman of the board, and until recently, as chief executive officer. He is still helping EWTN carry out its mission to join with the Holy Father and the Magisterium in sharing the light of the faith in every possible part of the world. We are grateful for the progress in programming that Deacon Bill has promoted through his leadership at EWTN.

 On the Feast of St Francis, I am happy to acknowledge the labors of a steadfast woman of faith, Mother Angelica, and a man of faith, Deacon Bill Steltemeier, in gratitude for all they have done to make Christ known, loved, and served by all – through the Eternal Word Television Network.

Following our blessing with the most Holy Eucharist in this service, I will present these awards. Because of Mother’s health, she will receive this papal honor in her private quarters.  

May God bless the good work of the Eternal Word Television Network and all who serve the Church through efforts like EWTN


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