Mother Angelica and Five Questions

In my last blog, I discussed EWTN and its foundress in general terms. After some reflection, I decided to focus clearly on the life of Mother Angelica in the context of the development of Conservative and religious media. Mentioned in my last post, Mother Angelica formed Eternal Word Television Network in her monastery’s garage. Since its founding, it has become the mouthpiece for conservative Catholics throughout the nation. Mother Angelica hosted a long running show where she discussed various Catholic theological issues.  As a widely recognized figure who has not be thoroughly studied, I believe that her life will be an interesting topic to discuss. The foundation of any good research project is a good research question. To move closer to this goal, I will share five questions I have for this project.

  1. What is the history of women in conservative media and how does Mother Angelica fit into it?

In the book I read a few weeks ago, Messengers of the Right, men dominated the conversation. While there were some women who worked with conservative media activists such as Phyllis Schlafly, the movers and shakers of the movement were men. In the contemporary period, we have many women conservative media personalities such as Anne Coulter. She is one of the most widely known and listened to media personalities. In the span of fifty years, women went from having a limited role in media to being heavily featured. I believe that Mother Angelica played a role in this transformation. This project can uncover this role

Anne Coulter

2. What is the role of religious television and how does Mother Angelica and EWTN fit into it?

American media is filled with religious programming. While Mother Angelica created the largest Catholic television channel, there are numerous other programs for Protestants and other faith traditions. It will be useful to place Mother Angelica’s endeavor within the broader context of religious television and media. These other programs can function as a way to contrast Mother Angelica’s work with other work at the time. Was EWTN more or less political than other religious channels? I can also contextualize EWTN’s programming in its context as religious programming.

3. What is the history of Catholic media in the United States and how does Mother Angelica and EWTN fit into it?

I am generally aware of famous Catholic media figures such as Bishop Fulton Sheen and Father Coughlin who commanded large audiences in the 30’s and 50’s respectively. There is a history of Catholic figures being media personalities. One can read Mother Angelica’s stardom within this context. While these two figures are the most famous, there must have been other radio shows, programming, literature meant for a Catholic audience throughout American history. By learning more about these sources, I will be able to place EWTN and Mother Angelica properly within Catholic history

Fulton Sheen, who had one of the most popular shows of the 1950’s

4. How much of a role did Mother Angelica have in creating EWTN?

Modern EWTN uses Mother Angelica almost as a patron saint. They air reruns of her show and she is featured prominently on their website.  While Mother Angelica might have had an important role in the channel’s founding, she must have had people she worked with. EWTN portrays Mother Angelica as a mythical figure who formed the channel through her own sheer will. I am interested in checking the authenticity of this claim. it would be interesting in learning the different important characters in the creation of EWTN.

5. How political was EWTN’s programming?

I categorize EWTN as conservative because they discuss topics that conservatives focus on such as pro-life activities. Modern EWTN has a news show and other such programming. Was the channel always so political? When Mother Angelica formed the channel was it dedicated to televising mass and discussing theological topics like the sacraments? If the channel was not overtly political, when did they begin discussing political topics. These questions open up wider questions regarding the politicization of topics. Why do religious programs choose to discuss specific issues or political topics?

A portrait of Mother Angelica

These questions provide many avenues to explore this topic. While I may have avenues, I need a vehicle. The sources that will take me down these avenues will come from a variety of sources. There are online archives of her show from 1991 to its end in 2002. While this archive does not have the episodes from 1983-1990, I believe that they will provide many opportunities to see Mother Angelica’s show. I will also use Loyola’s newspaper archives to see how the channel evolved in the public eye. I have recently sent an e-mail out to EWTN to inquire about the papers of Mother Angelica and other episodes of her show not online. While I have not received an answer yet, I am looking forward to a response. I will also use a variety of academic books and articles to place Mother Angelica into historical context.

I believe that this project is on a good track and will be very fruitful.

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