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Mother Angelica, Founder of Catholic Network EWTN, Dies at 92

Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, founder of the Catholic TV powerhouse EWTN, died Easter Sunday at age 92, the network confirmed Sunday night.

She succumbed about 5 p.m. (6 p.m. ET) in Hanceville, Alabama, to the aftereffects of a stroke she suffered many years ago, according to the network's Catholic News Agency.

Mother Angelica — born Rita Antoinette Rizzo in Canton, Ohio, in 1923 — began what would become the Eternal Word Television Network in Irondale, Alabama, in 1981 with $200 and 12 nuns and little television experience.

IMAGE: Mother Angelica in 1999
Mother Angelica in March 1999. AP

The network opened a German edition of its Catholic News Agency in Munich in October, by which time it employed more than 400 people broadcasting mainstream Catholic programming to more than 250 million homes in 144 countries from its headquarters in Irondale, population 12,000.

Mother Angelica, a member of the Franciscan Poor Clare Sisters, was the network's star for much of its history, dispensing traditional Catholic lessons and advice with both a look of reproval and a twinkle in her eye.

"I'm not here to win friends and influence people," she was fond of saying. "I'm here to do God's will."

Pope Benedict XVI bestowed the church's highest honor for laity, the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice award, better known as the Cross of Honor, on Mother Angelica in 2009 for "outstanding service and zeal." Pope Francis sent her his blessing and a prayer request last month from the papal plane on his way to Cuba.

With their "daily emphasis on the orthodox social teaching of the Catholic Church," Mother Angelica and EWTN became "the single most important para-church influence on the Catholic vote in the United States," conservative Catholic publisher Deal Hudson wrote in his 2008 book "Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States."

"EWTN is the closest thing to the Moral Majority or the Christian Coalition that Catholics have," he wrote.

"She founded and grew a network that appealed to everyday Catholics, understood their needs and fed their spirits," said Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, a member of EWTN's board of governors.

"She had a lot of help, obviously, but that was part of her genius," Chaput told the Catholic News Agency.

EWTN said an invitation-only Mass of Christian Burial was scheduled for 11 a.m. (noon ET) Friday at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama, where Mother Angelica founded Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in 1999.