Not even two months after her death on March 27, Easter Sunday, Raymond Arroyo has published another book on EWTN founder Mother Angelica, Mother Angelica: Her Grand Silence. The Last Years and Living Legacy.
The first part of the book has clearly been written for a while and, I’m guessing, was intended as an addendum to the original biography. It is a thoroughly researched and well-told account of the stresses and fractures that developed within the community from Mother Angelica’s initial 2001 stroke onward. It’s quite interesting and even startling reading. Startling not because such fractures are news – anyone familiar with religious history and the history of religious orders is familiar with the dynamic of a religious order undergoing change after a founder’s death or after an original charism has faded into memory.
No, it’s just startling – but in a good way – to see these matters concerning a still-existant community written about (seemingly) so forthrightly. The divisions, the dynamic, the personalities are all explored. It makes sense. The monastery was subject to a Vatican-ordered visitation, a matter of public record, so there is no reason to pretend otherwise.
This was also interesting to me on a personal level because these events came to one of their climaxes shortly after we moved here in 2008. I knew something was going on and all was not well at the monastery, but no details. In the fall, a young woman who had left the monastery became Mike’s secretary – a lovely young woman who has since found her place in another religious community – and the events described in the book – which came to a head in the spring and early summer of 2009, after Mike had died in February – helped all of that click into place for me.
And the story of Mother Angelica’s trip to Japan in 2004 is fascinating in a borderline horrific way. I had no idea this had happened.
The rest of the book, however, is almost a patische of various elements. Her life story is retold. Again. Arroyo’s own connection with her is narrated again. Many pages are taken up with letters testifying to the impact Mother Angelica had on people’s lives. Arroyo discusses what he sees as how she lived out heroic virtues. He discusses some of her mystical experiences, including a tentative “I’m just throwing this out there” suggestion about bilocation. Hmmm.
Since Mother Angelica had let go of the reins of EWTN in 2000(a still-controversial decision made to prevent influence by elements in the Church – aka bishops – who opposed her vision), the network doesn’t enter into the narrative much, except in places where Arroyo is recollecting his relationship with Mother Angelica. It seems that in that last decade and a half, she was not even interested in the network, wanting the channel changed to Fox News or reruns of I Love Lucy from the station she’d founded. To the extent that she was invested in events, it was the conditions and direction of her sisters that concerned her the most, as far as she was able to be concerned about what was happening around her.
What there is related to EWTN, I was most interested in his description of a tussle regarding Pope John Paul II’s 1997 visit to Cuba.
At the network there were certain individuals (long gone) who wanted to shape our coverage to suit their own political perspective – mainly to establish that Cuban president Fidel Castro was a neutral or even positive actor in the region. This tracked with the views of some in Latin America, markets where EWTN was attempting to secure carriage….” (162)
The narrative of Mother Angelica’s last few years – her health, her daily life and care – is actually sketchy and scattered throughout the book. What is there is a good reflection by Arroyo and her caregivers about the nature of suffering and the different ways that we, throughout our lives and at different levels of physical strength and ability – can use our time for God and for others. But it’s not at the level of detail or spiritual depth that one finds, for example, in accounts of Mother Teresa’s life.
It’s 224 pages – a short book – I read it in little over an hour – and Mother Angelica fans will undoubtedly enjoy it. If you’re interested in contemporary church history, it’s worth checking it out from the library to read over that first section.