From Hanceville to Irondale

That same day we were on the road to Birmingham where Allan had reservations at another Drury Inn.  We again took advantage of their “Kickback Time” where everyone gets two free drinks and a supper of hotdogs, pasta dishes, chicken tenders, baked potato with the trimmings, chips and salsa.  It’s part of the Drury room cost, along with a hot breakfast of eggs and sausage and waffles and rolls.  Can’t pass it up.

The EWTN Studio was only 15 minutes away, in Irondale, Alabama, and we were up early the next morning for the 7 a.m. daily televised Mass.  The road sign is not big nor elaborate, as you can see.

There is only one entrance, with a guard in the guard house.  When we pulled up, he asked, “Are you here for Mass?”  He probably asks that question every morning at this time.

I thought of The Cross in the Woods, that Shrine up at Indian River, Michigan, where Father Elstan lived and worked after he left St. Victoria in 1996. 

Through the cool morning mist, I thought this must be the chapel.  It was.  On television we see the inside, not the outside.

Off to the right is the EWTN studio.

Off to the left is a rocky hill fenced off and planted with white statues.

Everything at Mass was just as it appears on EWTN — the high wood ceiling, the frosted peak window with angels etched onto the glass, each playing their own musical instrument, the large St. Francis of Assisi crucifix, the altar, the tabernacle, the choir area, the organ — and also Father Mark Kristina.

Father Mark said he’s been a priest since 2003.  Before that he was an engineer, like Allan.  But he’s wearing flip flops, like me.  Maybe he calls them sandals.

Father Brian Van Hove, who is also familiar to me, gave the homily at Mass that morning.  In it he mentioned, among others, Mother Angelica who took on the task meant for her — founding the largest religious media network in the world, among other things.

We visited with Fr. Brian Van Hove and his research assistant for a half hour.  Fr. Brian’s ancestry is Belgian, like mine, and he’s been to Belgium twice, like us.  He told us stories about his Great Aunt Emma.  Would you believe he also has Norwegian in his blood, like Allan?  Also like me.  It’s true.

Father Brian told us that he met Mother Angelica in the mid 1980’s in St. Louis, and they had a conversation, and they talked about EWTN.  She said, “God looked down into the bottom of the barrel and saw there was nobody but me.”  A saint would say something like that.

That afternoon we went on a mini-tour of the EWTN studio and had Brother Leo as our guide.

Brother Leo is often a reader at the televised EWTN Masses and he does a children’s show on Saturday mornings.  I feel I know him too.

The official photo of Mother Angelica is prominent in the studio.  I have one just like it in my Gazette office.

The EWTN studio was launched in 1981 by Mother Angelica, a Poor Clare nun who knew next to nothing about the world of technology and communication, but she wanted to fight the errors in the world with the Truth of God. 

On one of her travels she saw a studio and what it could do.  She said, “I gotta have one of these.”  With a couple hundred dollars and a garage in Birmingham, it began … and then grew to become the largest religious media network in the world.

When Mother Angelica was doing her daily live shows, she often said, “God expects His people to do the ridiculous so He can do the miraculous.”

Mother Angelica always called her viewers “My EWTN family.”  That family has grown to encompass 230 million viewers in 144 countries with satellite, radio, and the web.

Brother Leo also showed us the set of EWTN Live, which was called “Mother Angelica Live.”  In 2001 Mother Angelica had a stroke and it came to mean the end of her television career.

Thank you, Brother Leo, for the tour and for all the good that you do.

Yes, it’s like we’re family.

As we pulled away from the parking lot in back of the studio, we saw this field of satellite dishes.

All started by a Poor Clare sister who gave up the world and yet gained the world.

There are statues planted around the EWTN campus too.

After Mass and visiting, we drove around the City of Birmingham and were surprised how various parking lots and shopping malls were separated by such extreme heights and depths of the rocky terrain.

That evening we drove back to attend the EWTN Live Show hosted by Father Mitch Pacwa.  When Mother Angelica couldn’t do the show anymore, she asked that Fr. Mitch sit in her place.

We saw that the giant cross in the woods shines in the dark.

That’s Father Mitch and his guest on the show that evening.  A busload of people filled all the bleachers and asked all the questions.

The people from Ohio had his rapt attention.

But I moved in next to him and Allan snapped a photo, my prize of the night and the end of our time at EWTN and the home of Mother Angelica.