Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
Around 1960, the young Poor Clare Sister Angelica was making and selling fishing lures as a means of raising funds for a new community, eventually buying a small building in Irondale, Alabama. With her vision and commitment to her vocation, she formed EWTN which would become the largest religious media network in the world, reaching a quarter-billion people in 140 countries.
Although she died on March 27, 2016, her network continues to thrive and she still inspires many in the Catholic media and leads countless souls to holiness with her wisdom and personal piety.
Today, on the third anniversary of her death, a memorial Mass was held at the Vatican. In 2018, the memorial Mass was celebrated in St. Peter’s, but this year it was held in the Teutonic College, adjacent to the basilica. Once the location of the Circus of Nero, it was the site of numerous martyrdoms of the early Christian Church. During the Middle Ages it became a place of study and in 1527 it was the site where the Swiss Guard held off troops of the Habsburgs in an effort to buy time for Pope Clement VII to escape to Castel Sant’Angelo across the Tiber.
The celebrant was Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Prefect of the Pontifical Household. Archbishop Gänswein has been an influential member of the Roman Curia since 1995, when he became an official for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He was later assigned by Cardinal Ratzinger to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and close to the cardinal’s election as Pope Benedict XVI he became the private secretary to the cardinal. As Ratzinger was elected pope in 2005, Gänswein was appointed Principal Private Secretary to His Holiness.
There is a connection between this German prelate and the Teutonic College and Garden, since it was here that the Emperor Charlemagne founded schools, was dedicated to German residents of the city, and has since in recent years been used frequently as the burial site of German-speaking members of religious institutions in Rome. The college’s Latin name is Collegium Germanicum and has long since its founding been the primary center of ecclesial learning for those of German nationality.
In his homily, Gänswein described the hallowedness of the grounds where the Mass was held. “In fact, this Church is located in the place of the protomartyrs, and more exactly, on the site of the first martyrs of Rome, including the Apostle Peter, who, according to Tradition, was crucified upside down on this very spot.” It was these martyrs, who in Greek translates to “witnesses,” explained the Archbishop, bore witness to the truth in order for our ears to receive this truth generations later: “And that's also why the Catholic Church is an Apostolic Church. It's a Church of witnesses.”
He described Mother Angelica as another type of witness, that of a “mediator,” and endowed this responsibility also on those present that were also Catholic media laborers. “That’s why you are now all called to be witnesses in a completely new and very special way.” He continued, “You as Catholic media professionals are challenged to be better and more professional than your colleagues from non-Catholic media . . . for today, it is no longer the great cathedrals and churches that shape and form our awareness and society, but the images of the media world created by the countless smartphones in our hands.”
Many from the EWTN Rome were present and offered their thoughts and reflections on today’s Mass and their memory of Mother Angelica. Alan Holdren, Chief of the Rome Bureau said, “The anniversary Mass is an occasion to celebrate Mother Angelica's memory with friends and colleagues in Rome. It gives us at EWTN's Vatican Bureau a chance to reflect on her legacy—past, present and future—and our role in it and pray for the peaceful repose of her soul.”
Holdren mentioned that “This year’s Mass was particularly special with the unexpected presence of three Poor Clare nuns from a convent in the Diocese of Rome.”
I also was able to reach out to Martin Rothweiler, Managing Director and Program Director at EWTN Germany, who shared the story of his meeting Mother Angelica for the first time in 1999.
“I had no clue about her, what kind of personality she was before meeting her. I wanted to know about EWTN as some people that I knew had the idea to start EWTN in Germany and thought I could be possibly the person to do it. So, I had a long meeting with her and we talked about God and the world. It was right from the beginning a familiar atmosphere. I loved her clarity regarding the teaching of the Church and her way she talked which made you feel that she was a down-to-earth person. But what convinced me the most was her great sense of humor. At the end of our conversation she turned to a collaborator and said, ‘I think he can do it.’ She left me with that.”
That sums up most impressions of the late Mother Angelica: humorous, wise, and down-to-earth. She came a long way from fishing lures, and with her brilliant example, so may we.
EWTN, in collaboration with Sophia Institute Press, has released several recent books concisely offering the wisdom of Mother Angelica. They are available in the EWTN Religious Catalogue or at SophiaInstitute.com.
Here are more pictures from the memorial Mass, courtesy of Daniel Ibañez: