Her journey to this pinnacle began in the depths of despair. She was born Rita Frances Rizzo in Canton, Ohio during the depression-era on April 20, 1923 to John Rizzo and his wife Mae Helen Gianfransisco. By the time young Rita was six her parents had divorced and she and her mother were left on their own with only the Church to assist. One of the priests Father Riccardi helped nurture the Faith in young Rita who would experience the agony and ecstacy of emotions growing up. One of the latter was when Fr. Riccardi was gunned down and killed by a gang with Mafia ties in the rough neighborhood Rita lived. She became so depressed that she felt suicide might be the only way out of this kind of existence. Besides fear, she was also ostracized by her fellow students for she had the stigma of coming from a divorced family and in those days that was a terrible scarlet letter to carry, even though Rita had no control over the situation. Though poverty was the order of the day in the Rizzo household where her mother was often depressed, trying to make ends meet, a sign of what God had in store occurred one night when little Rita's guardian angel saved her from sure death as an oncoming car, bore down just a few feet from her in the street. Miraculously she was lifted up and planted on the other side of the street, frightened but safely on the sidewalk out of harm's way. Witnesses relayed the miracle to Mae who rejoiced, realizing intuitively that God had spared Rita's life because He had special plans for her. How right she was!
As poverty increased and Rita's social life was nil, her high school years were as bleak as her elementary ones, yet somehow both Rita and her mother persevered. In 1941 Rita began experiencing stomach pains where x-rays revealed abnormalities in her intestine, diagnosed with a calcium deficiency that would ultimately cripple her to a degree. Though the medical experts were still vague as to a cure, she turned to God and was given a novena card dedicated to Saint Therese of the Child Jesus. After praying the novena her stomach pains intensified so much she thought she was going to die, but on the morning of January 17, 1943 when she awoke for Sunday Mass miraculously her pains had all disappeared. She realized once again a miracle had been visited upon her and she gave thanks to God at Mass that day, not fully realizing at the time that this would be a turning point in her life.
With World War II in full swing, she entered the workforce at a roller bearing manufacturer in town. She wanted to help the war effort, but more important she had a longing to help God. As Mother Angelica recalls in later years, "You know, to be an outcast and suddenly have God single me out for preferential treatment was a dramatic role reversal for me. I fell in love with God and really began to thirst after Him. My life was changed from that point on." It would change even more in 1944 when, in silent adoration before the Tabernacle at St. Anthony's church, Jesus put the thought in Rita's heart and mind that she should become a nun. While this thrilled her, she felt sorrow on how her mother would react for Mae had come to depend on Rita for practically everything. She first visited the Josephite Sisters in Buffalo but was counseled that her vocation was more of a contemplative one, a discernment her pastor Father Habig agreed with thoroughly. He suggested Rita visit the Franciscan Nuns of Perpetual Adoration in Cleveland. It was a perfect match, though Mae resented it greatly at first, feeling abandoned. But Rita asked God to guide her and if a vocation to the religious life was God's will for her, then he would provide. It was that kind of faith and assurance in God's Providence that has sustained Mother Angelica all these years, allowing her to accomplish the impossible.
She entered religious life on August 15, 1944 - the Solemnity of the Assumption, leaving the world behind. A year later on November 8, 1945 she entered the novitiate after a year of postulancy. It was here she was given the religious name Sister Mary Angelica of the Annunciation. Shortly after this an elderly couple bequeathed to the nuns their estate in Canton, with all the buildings and grounds to be made into a contemplative monastery. Sister accompanied several nuns to Canton to begin refurbishing it to make it monastery-ready. During this time she proved her worth not only through her ceaseless prayers, but through her business acumen in dealing with contractors.
It was at this converted monastery, named Sancta Clara, on January 2, 1947 that Sister Mary Angelica to her first vows. She became spiritual director to the new postulants and novices. One of the new postulants she took under her wing would become Sister Raphael who has been at Mother's side ever since. It was also at this new monastery her long-lost father visited her, the first time he had seen his daughter he had abandoned twenty years earlier. Though stilted at first, Mother received him with love though it was, by her own admission, very painful. But the fruits of that visit eased her heart, for shortly after that visit he had a fatal stroke and Mother was happy he had finally made his peace with God and that she could be a small part of that.
Almost thirty-years old, Sister Mary Angelica took her solemn perpetual vows on January 2, 1953. By this time her own mother Mae had also made her peace with God, realizing it was God's will and her own spiritual life had grown tremendously through Mother's own intercessory prayer. In the early days there were only seven nuns at Sancta Clara monastery and so Mae helped out taking her turn at Adoration. When Mother was not praying, she was energetic and working. Never one to tell someone what to do without being willing to do it herself, she threw herself into work despite her difficulty at walking because of a degenerative spinal condition. Her health, always frail, had been the single factor that struck her superiors in religious life as the possible Waterloo to her vocation. As a postulant, Rita had experienced extreme pain in her knees, accompanied by swelling. Frequently she was unable to genuflect or kneel in prayer, as her vocation demanded. To make matters worse she had a run-in with a new electric floor polisher at the monastery. She slipped on the soapy floor, being catapulted into the wall, hurting her back badly. Without complaining she continued her duties but soon her superiors could see she was crippled and hospitalized her. From a full body cast to traction, to finally braces and crutches she returned to the monastery, but was still in great pain. Surgery was the only alternative. Things looked very, very bleak when the doctors told her the odds were not good and that she could be paralyzed the rest of her life.
The night before the operation she prayed, wiping away the tears and humbly made a deal with Our Lord. If He would allow her to walk after her operation, she would build a monastery for Him in the deep south, and would continue to work to make Him known and loved. Little did she realize at the time what she was bargaining! From the results of the operation, Jesus accepted the deal. Though she was able to walk, she needed leg braces and crutches. Non-plussed by this disability, Sister Angelica confidently voiced to her Mother Superior the barter she had made with the Lord. The Mother Superior kindly put off any decision of asking her to leave, concentrating instead on the immediate problem at hand - the welfare of Sister Angelica's physical health.
In time, Sister Angelica rose in the ranks of her sisters to become one of the members of the monastery's council, earning her the title of "Mother." She gave retreats to the novices, and in her these novices saw the proof of God's Infinite Love. She became for them, and for all of her sisters, a "spiritual giant" within the cloister walls. Not letting her superior forget the deal she made with God, her superior finally relented and gave this headstrong nun permission to pursue the work of founding a new monastery in the south. Sister Angelica realized, even though this was God's Will, the regular red-tape had to be endured, which meant permission from the Franciscan Order, permission of her local bishop and permission from the bishop of the see where she wanted to set up a monastery. In addition, because canonically she was too young, permission from the Vatican was needed so she could become an abbess and Sister Raphael her vicar. With patience, prayer, persistence and conviction she won through with all the permissions needed being granted. Mother herself handpicked the nuns who were to be fellow missionaries and pioneers in the fashion of their spiritual father Saint Francis of Assisi and their spiritual mother Saint Clare.
Aided by Sister Raphael and Sister Joseph, Mother Angelica began assembling fishing lures, all with permission of her superior Mother Veronica who still viewed it all with skeptical belief. The lures were advertised with borrowed money and a mailing list of 2,000 fishermen. As the days went by and only two inquiries had been made, Sister Raphael recalls that Mother Angelica and Jesus weren't on very good speaking terms! But God won out, for one of the fishermen to whom the brochures had been sent was Dale Francis, then the managing editor of Our Sunday Visitor. He found out the story behind the fishing lures and the reason for their assembly. He published an article about these stout-hearted Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration and within a week the story was known coast-to-coast. The lures, under the name of St. Peter's Fishing Lures, became the first means to finance the promise Mother Angelica made to Our Lord. It was to be the beginning of the new monastery in the south.
But venturing into Dixie wouldn't be that easy. She wrote to Bishop Thomas Toolen, then the shepherd of the Mobile-Birmingham Diocese. She, Sister Raphael and Sister Joseph prayed for three days, but there was competition underfoot from one of their own who wanted to usurp Mother and proposed to Mother Veronica that she start it instead. With the wisdom of Solomon the Mother Superior requested both Sisters write two bishops and to mail their letters on the same day. The one who received the first positive response would be the one to found a new monastery. Rather than seeing it as someone else trying to horn in on her quest, Mother saw it as the Lord's work, a gentle prodding to motivate her to try even harder. Through God's Providence Mother received the letters first and, along with Mother Veronica, combed the Birmingham area and finally found a parcel of land to build the new monastery as well as receiving a positive reply from Bishop Toolen. Many look at the purchase of Manhattan as a real bargain, but when you see EWTN and the Monastery of Our Lady of the Angels today you'll change your tune and say Mother is the one who knows how to strike a deal! She landed the property for only $13,000 - the same amount raised from the sale of the fishing lures! Having purchased the land, Mother Veronica returned to Canton, leaving behind Mother Angelica, Sister Raphael and Sister Joseph. They moved into a small house adjacent to the land while the building began. They needed another nun to serve as a temporary extern sister, doing errands outside the monastery grounds and freeing the three nuns to pray and work on building the monastery. The new candidate accepted from Canton was Mae Frances Rizzo, Mother Angelica's own mother. She would eventually become Sister David of the Infant Jesus.
Ground-breaking for the new monastery, to be called Our Lady of the Holy Angels, occurred on July 24, 1961 with Bishop Toolen present. There were countless obstacles to overcome in building the new monastery, but in every instance God was there, speaking and working through His instrument, Mother Angelica. On May 8, 1962 she returned to Canton for the last time this time choosing to take with her to Irondale Sister Michael and Sister Assumpta to join Sisters Raphael, Joseph and her own mother Sister David. On May 20, 1962 a month after her 39th birthday Mother oversaw the founding and dedication of Our Lady of Angels Monastery as the sisters closed themselves off from the world in their cloister.
For the second part of this profile, see part two: The Fulfillment Years
There is no time with God: with Him there is neither past nor future; everything is present. "One day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8). "Before the mountains were made, or the earth and the world was formed, from eternity and to eternity thou art God" (Psalm 89:2). "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End" (Apocalypse/Revelation 1:8).
God will always remain the same. He is the "Father of lights, with Whom there is no change" (James 1:17). God cannot change. The God that is God now is the same God that has ever been, the same God that will ever be, from and throughout all eternity, the "Father of Lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of alteration" (cf. James 1:17).
When we say that God is all-good, we mean that He is infinitely lovable in Hiself, and that from His fatherly love every good comes to us. God is Himself love. Love is part of His nature. Compared to God's infinite goodness, the goodness of man is nothing, only the shadow of a shadow. Men, creatures of God, are good because God made them to His image and likeness. <"Oh, taste and see that the Lord is sweet" (Psalm 33:9).
Out of His goodness, God created angels and men, although He had no need of them. God loves His creatures far more than a mother loves the children she has borne. God gives us the beautiful world to live in. He takes care of our body and soul. He showers benefits and graces on us day after day. He prepares for us a place in heaven. Above all, He sent His Son down to earth to die for us.
When we say that God is all-knowing, we mean that He knows all things, past, present, and future, even our most secret thoughts, words, and actions. Before His eyes all secrets, even the most hidden, are clear, even secrets that will not be thought of by man until the end of the world.
God knows us for what we are; we cannot hide anything from Almighty God. "All things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to Whom we have to give account" (Hebrews 4:13). God, all-knowing, will one day make everything known to everybody, disclosing our entire lives for all to read and know. If we think of this power of God to see and know all things, and His promise to make everything manifest on the last day, we can more easily resist temptations to sin. "For there is nothing hidden that will not be made manifest; nor anything concealed that will not be known" (Luke 8:17).
When we say that God is all-present, we mean that He is everywhere. God is all-present, because there is nothing that can have existence apart from Him. All creation exists in Him as thought exists in the mind. There is no place where God is not. "'Do I not fill Heaven and earth?' saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:24). "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). However, we must not make the mistake of thinking that God, in Whom everything exists, is limited by this everything. He has no limits, and exists outside as well as in all creation. God is all-present, present everywhere, at the same time. He is not like man, that cannot be in two places at the same time. God is wholly everywhere at the same time. The presence of God should be an incentive for us to do everything to please Him. As we are careful never to do anything wrong in the presence of our mother, how much more careful should we be in the presence of God! "Shall a man be hid in secret places, and I not see him?" (Jeremiah 23:24).
Although God is everywhere, we do not see Him, because He is a spirit, and cannot be seen with our eyes. Similarly, we cannot see our own soul or that of another. "God is spirit, and they who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24).
When we say that God is almighty, we mean that He can do all things. God can do anything, by a mere act of His will. Nothing is impossible to God. "Things that are impossible with men are possible with God" (Luke 18:27). The only thing God cannot do is to make a contradiction; He cannot will wrong, because wrong is a contradiction of His goodness.
God's omnipotence or power is known to us especially by the magnificence of creation, and by His miracles. Yet God created all the immensity of the Heavens with nothing except His word. "Be light made. And light was made" (Genesis 1:3). In the same way Our Lord worked many of His miracles. "Great is the Lord…of His greatness there is no end" (Psalm 144).
Yes, God is all-wise, all-holy, all-merciful, and all-just. God is all-wise. The more we learn of the wonders of the universe, the more we are amazed by the infinite wisdom of God, by His almighty power. His knowledge is infinite. He knows how to direct all things to the highest ends, and by the most fitting means. God is infinitely holy in Himself. He loves good and hates evil. Therefore He is also all-just. He will punish the wicked and reward the good. "Be ye holy, because I the Lord your God am holy" (Leviticus 19:2).
Partial justice is done in this life, for often the good are happy, and the wicked are tormented by their conscience. But complete justice will not be accomplished till the next life. God is infinitely merciful. He gives sinners time for repentance. He receives us back with joy when we repent. But merciful as He is, we must not presume on His mercy, for "God will not be mocked." "The Lord is compassionate and merciful, long suffering and plenteous in mercy" (Psalm 102:8). "He is long-suffering, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should turn to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
The newspaper Reforma revealed last Thursday that the former abbot of the Basilica of Guadalupe, Father Guillermo Schulenberg had sent a letter to the Vatican's Congregation for the Cause of Saints disputing whether Blessed Juan Diego ever existed and objecting to plans for canonization. Father Oscar Sanchez, in charge of Juan Diego's cause, told the Televisa television network on Friday that the letter only delayed the process of canonization momentarily.
Father Sanchez said he believed the process would soon resume, arguing that Father Schulenberg and two other priests who signed the letter have "zero credibility .... They have no authority." Bishop Onesimo Cepeda, a spokesman for Mexico's bishops' conference, told Televisa that Juan Diego's eventual canonization "is a given."
In a 1995 interview with the Jesuit magazine Ixtus, Father Schulenberg said Juan Diego "is a symbol, not a reality" and he called Juan Diego's 1990 beatification by Pope John Paul II "recognition of a cult. It is not recognition of the physical, real existence of a person." He soon retired as abbot of the Guadalupe shrine following the controversy caused by his remarks.