Fr. David J. Simonetti & Mother Angelica
I have been influenced greatly by Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, PCPA – Foundress of the Eternal Word Television Network (born Rita Antoinette Rizzo; April 20, 1923 – March 27, 2016). Below is a brief summary of her inspiring story of love and trust that I would like to share with you describing her tenacity, creativity, and perseverance. I have had the great grace to be on EWTN Live and preach the morning Mass televised from Irondale on multiple occasions, very grateful to the Lord that I could contribute something to this work of His.
In 1959, the year before she became Mother Angelica, she spotted an ad in a magazine for fishing lure parts. She decided that the nuns would go into the fishing-lure business, thus was St. Peter’s Fishing Lures born. In 1961, Sports Illustrated honored her with a plaque for her “special contribution to a sport.” Remarkably, this half-crippled nun with no business experience was able to garner national attention for her entrepreneurial acumen. It was just the beginning.
Building a monastery in the South in the early 1960s, especially one that would service African Americans, was not exactly a popular enterprise. It didn’t take long before local opposition mounted, even to the point of violence: Mother Angelica was shot at one night by one of the protesters (he barely missed). Amidst what seemed like eternal struggles to keep the revenue coming, Mother started the Li’l Ole Peanut Company. Score another hit: By the end of 1968, she paid off all the monastery debt. Over the next decade, she would write books and give talks, managing to walk with an artificial hip.
Mother would also begin a printing press to put out her little tracts and teachings of the faith, recording her talks for distribution, and doing whatever she could come up with to move the mission forward.
In March of 1978 during a 7 day visit to Chicago Mother visits a Baptist run television station, Channel 38 which I remember. Seeing how many people could be reached by this medium broadcast out of this tiny station she famously exclaims, “Lord, I gotta have one of these!”
In November of that year Mother is taping a second series of talks that will be sent over and aired on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) at a local Birmingham television network affiliate and learns that the very place she is filming is planning on running a blasphemous movie about Christ and tells the station manager she will pull out if he goes through with this showing. The station manager threatens that if she pulls out her television work will come to an end without his facilities. Mother replies that she only needs God and will build her own studio. He retorts that she can’t do it and Mother replies, “You just watch me!”
Armed with only $200 and 12 cloistered nuns with no television experience Mother asks the construction crew of her Monastery to make the garage 10 feet longer and 12 feet wider to accommodate the studio. After many trials and struggles, with Divine Providence – and her absolute Trust in that Providence Mother launces the first Roman Catholic television network –EWTN – The Eternal Word Television Network on August 15, 1981 – Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, the Mother of God. They begin transmitting for 4 hours per day to 60,000 homes and now 34 years later EWTN is a Global Television and Radio Network sending out the Word of God to the ends of the earth whereas Mother was fond of quoting Scripture, “it does not return void.”
What I so deeply admire about her, and there are many, many things, is her being open to the inspirations from the Lord and acting on them, trusting, and seeing where it goes. Mother was not afraid to fail, and in fact it was in those failures (the proverbial two steps back) that would send her into the direction the Lord needed her to go.
I have tried to live this way, being open to the Lord’s inspiration and acting upon it throughout my 11 years of Priesthood. At my first parish I felt an inspiration to build a large Shrine to St. Michael the Archangel dedicated to Police, Fire, and Military Personnel while sitting at my presider’s chair following Holy Communion at morning Mass the day before the Feast of the Archangels which was on Sept. 28, 2006. That day I began what would be 9 months of great labor and struggle, daily Holy Hours and prayers to St. Michael before the Blessed Sacrament, not to mention enormous struggles and interference to match from forces of opposition to the Shrine (the statue itself arrived only the day before the Dedication Ceremony due to lengthy shipping port delays and the hydraulic truck broke down while setting the statue in place, leaving St. Michael dangling high in the air). Venting to my priest friend Fr. Gordon Reigle about all of the difficulties and opposition he said something that struck me and that I cherish to this day, “Oh, you didn’t think you would build a Shrine to the archenemy of satan and get a free pass did you!” The Shrine was Solemnly Dedicated and Blessed on June 3, 2007 by Cardinal Francis George, OMI, Archbishop of Chicago amid a great showing of Chicago Police, Fire, and military personnel – streets lined with fire-engines, police motorcycles, bagpipers, and news crews covering the story. Thank you Jesus!
I built an Adoration Chapel Dedicated to Pope John Paul II the Great here at my current parish, specifically using the title the Great. Again I felt a great inspiration to do so and knowing that if the Lord is behind the inspiration He will confirm it in the community. While building this, and catechizing the parishioners during this 9 month process the Lord confirmed it to me this way. I was praying and asking God for a relic of the future Saint. But where to find one? Perhaps a second or third class relic of some sorts? I left it up to Providence. One day I was in a store shopping for cloth material for the Chapel and I received a phone call. It was Providence on the line! A woman I know, Angie Fiello called me to say she had a great surprise. A friend of hers, Oscar had been an NBC correspondent and had taken groups in and out of the Vatican a number of years back. Upon one such visit he had the opportunity to meet Pope John Paul II and was given his white zucchetto (Papal cap) by the Holy Father himself, right off of his head, the Pope even signing it in of all colors, blue on the underside. After all these years this man had recently been feeling increasingly inspired to give that prized relic to someone – but to WHO! In conversation Angie told Oscar what I was doing at my Church, building an Adoration Chapel to Pope John Paul II and he immediately now knew who was meant to have it. Turns out he was baptized at our Church 46 years earlier as his dad was the town doctor and attended here. Oscar was baptized on the date of the future Pope’s election to the Papacy. Trust and Providence! Thank you Jesus!
The Pope Benedict XVI Academy of Excellence
I wanted to share with you a little something of the great gift of grace permeating this beautiful work of Catholic formation and development of the whole person, body and soul. In the beginning as I was inspired to found the Academy dedicated and modeled on Pope Benedict XVI for his excellence in learning and excellence in virtue. After dinner on the evening of Sunday, April 6, 2014 I felt a strong desire and inspiration to found a private and independent Catholic college-prep academy (in union with the Bishop and Office for Catholic Schools) that would remain faithful to the official teachings of the Magisterium of the Church, small in size, and affordable to the average family. I began that very moment! A few weeks later I found myself at the Lansing Knights of Columbus Hall celebrating Clergy Night and as the evening drew on I went outside for a walk and came upon a statue of St. Joseph in front of the lake which had fallen into dismal condition beyond repair. I stopped before the image to say a prayer that this school which would honor the Christ, the Source of all knowledge would be blessed. I asked St. Joseph for his assistance, “St. Joseph, I am trying to build this school to teach Truth faithful to the Church and to give the young a place of Catholic formation in the virtues. If you help me I promise to purchase another statue to replace this one. I am placing this great work under your worn leather apron.” I prayed and as I started to walk away was inspired, and turning to St. Joseph once again promised, “But I will not wait to thank you. I will thank you in advance for your help and build a whole new Shrine dedicated to you. If your Son answers yes or no to my request I trust that it will be the right answer.” I did remind St. Joseph however though, “But I’m saving my receipts!”
Within a few days I purchased the needed materials and in my work clothes, Panama Jack hat and tools piled in my car I set out to the Knights Hall. Once there I prayed a Rosary and prayers to the Holy Spirit as I walked the grounds looking for the place the Lord wanted this Shrine. I wanted to work alone so that my sacrifice offered for “thanksgiving in advance” would be complete. What emerged was a Shrine to the Holy Family, a place where people could come and pray for their family needs and employment. Bishop Joseph N. Perry came to offer Mass and dedicate the Shrine on the beautiful afternoon of August 3rd, 2014. Thank you Jesus!
After a year and a half of enormous prayer, struggle, hopes, let downs, labor, and using my own financial savings, along with the accompanying great labor pains of opposition to our Academy, this great child of Truth had been born. On the beautiful morning of Friday, September 4th, 2015 we began with an Opening Mass and blessing of students, families, and classrooms. Our motto: “Not A Crowd, But A Community!” I received from the mouth of Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago. Thank you Jesus!
Our Academy is placed under the care of the “just man,” St. Joseph the Worker and Our Lady Seat of Wisdom.
COMMUNIO SAUCES – It’s More Than A Meal, It’s the Way Back Home!
Reflecting on Mother Angelica’s resourcefulness and steadfast determination believing with her whole heart and soul that, “God gives you the grace AS you’re taking the step!” I knew I would need an ongoing source of revenue to assist this great Family work that was now underway. We are trying to provide students with a personal high quality education at a price families can afford and so I have developed and launched a line of non-profit Rustic Spaghetti, Pizza/Parmesan, Creole sauces called COMMUNIO. As an Italian I love to cook for others as part of relationship. I figured Mother Angelica tied fishing lures and tested them by leaning over the bathtub, roasted peanuts, etc. to move the mission forward. Well, my fingers are too fat to tie lures, I’ll throw my back out leaning over the tub, and I can’t eat peanuts – I know, I’ll do what I am PASSIONATE about, making Italian sauce! There is a sticker placed on top of each jar which states, “The Meal That Heals!” Coming together around a table has the power of developing and strengthening the bonds of relationship. As a matter of fact when you look at the list of ingredients on the label, which must be listed according to amounts, most to least, you will find the word LOVE. That is right – Love! Imported San Marzano tomatoes, the finest and most coveted in the world are a distant 2nd. These sauces are a delivery system for love. I am also trying to teach the students to leave room for the next guy, to care for others, and so we are going to set aside some of our revenue after expenses for those designated charities that care for seriously ill children and their families. Everyone wants a Home! Everyone wants a place where they are loved. We want to be part of your family, and for you to allow us to be part of yours! I have placed this work under the patronage of Mother M. Angelica – a future canonized Saint! Thank you Jesus!
The Good Padre
I told my parents I put them on the label to make up for my teens and twenties. Mother of Mercy pray for us!
First day of production – Thursday, March 10th, 2016.
Faith is what gets you started. Hope is what keeps you going. Love is what brings you to the end.”
– Mother Angelica