Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, a cloistered Franciscan nun who founded the Eternal Word Television Network — the U.S.’s largest Roman Catholic television network — died on Sunday from complications caused by a stroke. She was 92 years old and, according to her biographer, the only woman in TV history to have founded and presided over a television network for more than two decades.
The religious media entrepreneur started her network in 1981 with $200 and a self-made studio in the garage of her monastery where she broadcasted a half-hour advice and commentary program. Over the years, this grew into a 24-hour Catholic programming network reaching more than 100 million homes all over the world until Mother Mary Angelica retired in 2001 after a series of strokes. Known for her “shrewd, yet grandmotherly” TV persona and outspokenness on church issues, TIME described her in 1995 as “arguably the most influential Roman Catholic woman in America.
Mother Mary Angelica held very traditional views and often clashed with other Catholics, as well as liberals and feminists. Some of her pet peeves, according to the New York Times, were gender-neutral language in the church and a change that allowed girls to become altar boys. “Mother Angelica succeeded at a task the nation’s bishops themselves couldn’t achieve,” Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, a member of EWTN’s board of governors, said in a statement for the network. “She founded and grew a network that appealed to everyday Catholics, understood their needs and fed their spirits. She had a lot of help, obviously, but that was part of her genius.” In 2009, Mother Mary Angelica received the Cross of Honor from Pope Benedict XVI for her distinguished service, the highest Catholic honor anyone who is not an ordained priest can receive.
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