Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Kindred Spirits: Mother Angelica and Mother Paula

This is how I remember Mother Angelica.
A media apostle was called to eternal life, fittingly enough on Easter Sunday. There have been some great tributes to Mother Angelica; my favorite was the one by John Allen, who acknowledges that the feisty nun (whom no one would consider "progressive") ought be be recognized by progressives as a woman who achieved what some of them consider impossible in a male dominated, "patriarchal" church. I have my own memories of Mother Angelica, especially from the time I was a guest on her show (in 1990). I am trying to get that VHS tape transferred into a digital format so I can share it with you, but it's going to be a challenge finding enough backward-compatible equipment (the extra proviso being "equipment I will know how to use").

As I have been praying for Mother Angelica's eternal repose, memories of another bold woman Mother Paula Cordero, kept coming to mind. There really are a number of remarkable similarities between the two women:
apostle of the media, our own
  • Both grew up in situations of poverty, albeit very different in kind: Mother Angelica knew the poverty of the Depression in urban America; Mother Paula was from a tiny hilltop village in rural Italy and ended her formal education at third grade. 
  • Both were missionaries to cultures vastly different than their own: Mother Angelica went from a Catholic stronghold to the Bible Belt; Mother Paula from rural Italy to New York City (arriving at the height of the Depression).
  • Both were foundresses, not as originators of a charism (the way St Francis or Blessed James Alberione were) but as "transplanters" of a religious community to a new terrain.  Mother Angelica established a new foundation of the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration not once, but twice: first in her native Canton, OH, and then, famously, in Alabama. Mother Paula was in the first group of Pauline women sent by the Founder to establish the community in the United States. (She was only 23 and had not even made final vows yet.)
  • Both were visionary and creative women who left a legacy that no one could have anticipated. While I am very intimately acquainted with Mother Paula's legacy (starting with my own vocation!), it is clear that, from an external point of view, Mother Angelica has had a far broader impact. (Only God knows the supernatural impact of any mission, so I must leave that judgment to him.) This has long been a sore point for me. For years, I suspected that God must have raised up Mother Angelica because the Paulines, with their charismatic responsibility for media evangelization, had dropped the ball somewhere along the way. And that could be, even though while Mother Angelica was making her first steps in media, Mother Paula was behind the Pauline efforts to build a radio station here in Boston. (The office I am writing in is just yards from the studio*; the building itself was designed to hold the massive satellite uplink that was never installed.) In the mystery of Divine Providence, God chose, as usual (see 1 Cor 1:27!), the least likely instrument to succeed where the presumedly anointed ones would fail. 
  • Finally, both of these prophetic women spent their final years in silence as a result of a stroke. I was privileged to be among those who had a regular turn to provide care for Mother Paula for several years. Many times it was hard for Mother Paula to do more than accept the food I put to her lips. Sometimes she simply refused it. But when I would suggest that she "offer it up for the catechisms" or "offer it up for vocations," she was able to find the wherewithall to do whatever was necessary. Likewise, if her gaze was vacant, all I had to do was mention the latest vocational or catechetical initiative and her beautiful blue eyes would open wide, eagerly communicating her desire to participate in these vital aspects of our life and mission. I do not know what it was like for the sisters who cared for Mother Angelica in these many years but I suspect they had experiences like mine. 
Unable to communicate in their formerly crystal clear and forceful ways, these women of God remained completely at the service of evangelization until the Day of the Lord dawned for them: Mother Paula before dawn on Ash Wednesday, 1991 and Mother Angelica 25 years later on Easter Sunday.  May they rest in peace, and may we be able to count on their intercession that through the wise use of communications technology "the Word of the Lord may speed on and triumph!"

*While our dreamt-of station never materialized, we have been involved in radio for decades. Our Spanish radio programs are broadcast in over 100 stations worldwide. Listen here.


judithmiryam said...

Thank you for sharing your memories of Maestra Paula. I remember my brief encounters with her during the time I was discerning with your community. Then and now, I was convinced that she was a saint!

Association of Pauline Cooperators said...

Thanks for the post