In 1994, just a year after taking the reins of Priests for Life, Father Frank Pavone was invited to speak at several events in Birmingham. While he was there, arrangements were made for him to be on EWTN’s live show with Mother Angelica.
Father Frank always wore the “Precious Feet” pin that model the feet of a baby at 10 weeks’ gestation, and I had suggested to him, some time before this appearance on EWTN, that we should glue pink and blue ribbons to the pin. So Father Frank and Mother were in the midst of a conversation on the show, when Mother interrupted him and asked about the pin. “You need new ribbons,” she asserted, “they’re faded.” Her trademark laugh followed, and then she was back on point with their previous conversation.
The next day, the two of them had a private meeting in Mother’s office. With her characteristic bluntness, she said, “The network needs a pro-life show. Would you do it?” Of course Father Frank said yes! Then Mother picked up the phone and said to whoever was on the line, “We’re going to have a show with Father Frank. Make it happen.”
That’s how it was with Mother Angelica. If she wanted you on the air, you were on the air. If she felt a comment needed making, she made it. She was totally led by the Holy Spirit.
Our first season of “Defending Life” aired in 1995 and in the 21 years since, we have featured scores of pro-life ministries on the show and raised awareness of the pro-life cause in ways that just wouldn’t have been possible if Mother Angelica had not opened that door.
I remember another time, it was still in the 90s, when Father Frank and I were at EWTN taping “Defending Life.” He was on the live show again, and as I was waiting I walked into a reception area and found Mother Angelica there. She told me about land she had just purchased in Hanceville, about an hour away from EWTN in Irondale. The property was a former soybean farm, and it was just acres and acres of nothing. But she envisioned a monastery, with a church big enough for an eight-foot monstrance.
Her vision was fulfilled in 1999 when the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament opened in Hanceville, with an eight-foot monstrance in the chapel.
The monastery was beautiful, and I understood Mother Angelica’s desire to get her cloistered sisters away from the hustle and bustle of EWTN, but the truth is I also miss seeing them, and her, when I go there four times a year to tape our shows. It was inspirational to see them at Mass and to hear their singing, and in and around the set, there was always a chance to catch a glimpse of her. They were spiritual, special years.
I was very fortunate to have a chance to visit her at the monastery in 2000. I was at EWTN and one of our guests on “Defending Life” and I received permission to visit one of the sisters and while we were there, Mother Superior let us know that Mother Angelica would like to come out to greet us. Through the iron grate that separated the sisters from the rest of the world, she shook my hand and it was a truly mystical, spiritual moment. In her presence, I felt the very near presence of God.
“May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs receive you at your arrival and lead you to the holy city Jerusalem. May choirs of angels receive you and with Lazarus, once a poor man, may you have eternal rest.”