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Catholic TV pioneer Mother Angelica dead at 92

** ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND OF AUG. 12-13 ** A crucifix sits next to the on-air sign leading to the television studios at Eternal Word Television Network, Monday  Aug. 7, 2006, in Irondale, Ala. Mother Mary Angelica founded the TV channel offering nothing but
** ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND OF AUG. 12-13 ** A crucifix sits next to the on-air sign leading to the television studios at Eternal Word Television Network, Monday Aug. 7, 2006, in Irondale, Ala. Mother Mary Angelica founded the TV channel offering nothing but Roman Catholic programming in 1981 with little more than faith in God, $200 and a garage to use as a studio. Now available in 127 countries and more than 118 million households, EWTN will mark it's 25th anniversary this month. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)
ROB CARR, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Mother Angelica, the conservative nun who founded the Eternal Word Television Network, died on Easter Sunday (March 27), 15 years after a debilitating stroke on Christmas Eve. She was 92.

Although she was only able to communicate with a squeeze of her hand for many years, she retained a devoted admirers nationwide who followed the Catholic cable channel she started in 1981. She personified EWTN, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael P. Warsaw said in a news release Sunday, according to The Associated Press.

“In the face of sickness and long-suffering trials, Mother’s example of joy and prayerful perseverance exemplified the Franciscan spirit she held so dear. We thank God for Mother Angelica and for the gift of her extraordinary life,” Warsaw said.

Born Rita Rizzo in Canton, Ohio, in 1923, Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation — as she came to be known — entered the Poor Clares, a branch of the Franciscan order, in 1944. She went on to found a monastery in Irondale, Ala., in 1962 and in the 1990s started the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, where she resided in her last years, about an hour north in Hanceville.

She began her broadcasting career with commercial television spots, created in the monastery garage. When those were pre-empted, she launched EWTN. It became a beacon of conservative orthodoxy thanks in large part to the regular — and distinctive — on-air presence of Mother Angelica herself.

Wearing a black-and-white habit and a sweet but steely smile, Mother Angelica would not hesitate to scold church leaders who she felt were too lax in their teachings or practices. She promoted traditional devotions and rites and claimed to have experienced mystical visions herself.

Then, in 2001, she suffered a series of strokes that began limiting her appearances, and a massive hemorrhage on Christmas Eve that year left her largely incapacitated. “Mother Angelica Live” classic broadcasts remain popular on the air and on the Internet.

Under the direction of a lay board, EWTN continued to grow, and today it claims to be “the largest religious media network in the world,” broadcasting 24/7 in multiple languages to more than 258 million television households in 145 countries and territories. EWTN also has a popular website and since 2011 has operated the National Catholic Register newspaper. It merged with the Catholic News Agency in 2014 and formed EWTN Publishing Inc. in 2015

A Mass will be celebrated at 11:00 a.m. Friday (April 1) at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville. Interment will follow in the shrine’s Crypt Chapel.

(David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS. Cathy Lynn Grossman contributed to this report)