EWTN is campaigning for Mother Angelica fans on Twitter to send tweets before the nun who founded the global TV network turns 91 on Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014. (EWTN)
IRONDALE, Alabama - EWTN Global Catholic Network has begun a Twitter campaign asking for fans of the network's founder, Mother Angelica, to send tweets by her 91st birthday, which falls on Easter Sunday, April 20.
EWTN asks for people on Twitter to tweet @EWTN why they love Mother Angelica.
Mother Angelica, the nun who founded the largest Catholic TV network in the world, enjoyed cake, ice cream and helium-filled birthday balloons when she turned 90 last year.
We wanted to make it as special as we could, said Sister Marie St. John, one of the nuns who lives with Mother Angelica at the Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville. People dropped off cakes. The sisters blew up a bunch of balloons and put long strings on them.
Mother Angelica was wheeled into the dining room on a gurney to see a birthday cake with a picture of the Divine Child Jesus on it. She looked around at her balloons.
She looked and had a smile on her face, Sister St. John said. Her speech is really impeded. Her eyes say it all. Then she fell asleep.
EWTN went on the air in 1981. She started it in a garage at the monastery in Irondale, now international headquarters for the network. It's now available in more than 225 million television households in more than 140 countries and territories.
Mother Angelica, still the face of EWTN, hasn t hosted any live TV shows since a stroke rendered her mostly incapable of speech.
She suffered her second major stroke on Christmas Eve 2001. That left her with partial paralysis and impaired speech. Mother Angelica retired from active leadership of EWTN in 2000, stepping down as chairman of the board and CEO.
Her taped shows, several hundred of them, still air regularly on the network as ''Mother Angelica Classics.''
EWTN President Michael Warsaw said she remains popular worldwide.
"The one thing we keep hearing from our viewers around the world is that Mother's shows are as relevant now as when they first aired," Warsaw said. "Even translated into other languages, her message resonates with people across all cultural and geographic boundaries.
"I still marvel at what God accomplished through this great woman, and what continues to be accomplished with the ongoing prayers of Mother Angelica and the nuns. That a cloistered nun with no experience was able to build a worldwide Catholic media network based in Irondale, Alabama reaffirms my faith every day. It is nothing short of miraculous."
The once talkative, wisecracking nun now seldom speaks.
She was one of the greatest communicators in the church, said Sister St. John.
Now she communicates with a nod, or a grimace.
"She definitely recognizes people and smiles; she s cognizant of what s going on around her," Sister St. John said. "She definitely makes it known if she is not happy with something. She sleeps a lot. She s earned that right to sleep.
In her waking hours, she spends a lot of time watching the network she founded.
"She has been completely bedridden for a couple of years now," said Sister St. John. "She s able to watch the Mass every day, when she s not sleeping, on the network she founded, that has been a source of consolation for so many. She lives a very contemplative life now."
Sister St. John, who was known as Molly Gilbert when she graduated from Mountain Brook High School in 1989, is one of more than 40 cloistered Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration who live at the monastery that Mother Angelica moved from Irondale to Hanceville in 1999. EWTN's headquarters remains in Irondale.
"The sisters take round the clock care of her," Sister St. John said. "Sisters stay with her through the night. Three sisters rotate nights, with one eye open to see if she needs anything."
Three sisters also take turns during the day. The care the sisters give her is amazing, Sister St. John said. The sisters who take of her, I ve never heard a single complaint, even I m tired.
Sister Mary Michael, who was elected mother vicar at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in 2012, is the only remaining nun who came to Alabama from Ohio when Mother Angelica started the monastery in Irondale in 1962. Sister Mary Michael, who used to be a full-time cook for Mother Angelica, usually brings her dinner and sits with her while she eats.
Since a painful accident when she was a teen named Rita Rizzo in Ohio, Mother Angelica has suffered from severe back and leg pain.
That suffering has borne incredible fruit," Sister St. John said. "It s been a marvel to observe. She once told us, I m not one who goes out looking for suffering. I never want to refuse what he (Jesus) asks of me. We all go through tough times. She made holiness graspable."
Viewers worldwide still send letters saying they're praying for Mother Angelica. "God bless people s prayers for her, Sister St. John said. I think that s why we still have her with us. It really is a blessing the Lord kept her with us. Her life, everything was geared to our Lord."
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