Actor Jim Caviezel pays his respects at the casket of Mother Angelica before her April 1 funeral Mass at the the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Ala. Mother Angelica, who founded the Eternal Word Television Network and turned it into one of the world's largest religious media operations, died March 27 at age 92. (CNS photo/Jeffrey Bruno, EWTN)
Actor Jim Caviezel pays his respects at the casket of Mother Angelica before her April 1 funeral Mass at the the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Ala. Mother Angelica, who founded the Eternal Word Television Network and turned it into one of the world's largest religious media operations, died March 27 at age 92. (CNS photo/Jeffrey Bruno, EWTN)
Mother Angelica and the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) have strong and deeply personal connections for me. Between 1997 and 2000, the diaconate program for the Archdiocese of Portland utilized — for the academic component of formation — the University of Dallas’ now defunct Institute for Religious and Pastoral Studies. One of the professors was Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa, a collaborator of Mother Angelica’s since the beginning of EWTN in Irondale, Ala. Father Pacwa and I became friends and it was his invitation to appear on EWTN Live after hearing me on Mater Dei radio that began my tenure at the network.

I have hosted or co-hosted six television series on EWTN since 2006. I travel 150,000 miles every year around the world, and can attest to Mother Angelica’s impact and influence on the lives of tens of thousands of people, including my father.

My dad was not Christian but an agnostic who never went to church. He fathered numerous children with other women, and got divorced from my mother during my junior year in college.

Many years later when my EWTN series, Behold the Man: Spirituality for Men debuted, my father received, phone calls: “Isn’t that your son on TV?” My father, who as far as I knew only set foot in a Catholic church on his wedding day, began watching the program. Then he began watching the Mass. Then he started watching reruns of Mother Angelica. Then he started praying. Like Lazarus coming out of the tomb, he called me and we spoke for 31 minutes and 12 seconds, which is the longest conversation we’d had in almost 20 years. He spent most of the call talking to me about his relationship with Jesus Christ and, miraculously, he reconciled with my mother before she died. Thanks to Mother Angelica, I was shown the awesome power of divine mercy, forgiveness, and healing in my own family.

As Mother Angelica was dying, I received an email from the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word, one of three religious orders she founded. I was asked to serve as Deacon of the Gospel, and as deacon for Archbishop Charles Chaput during the Rite of Committal after the funeral. It was an honor; I am grateful and blessed to be part of the EWTN family.

Approximately 3,000 people attended the funeral at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Ala., about an hour north of Birmingham. In attendance at the funeral were dozens of individuals who have appeared on EWTN over the years, including Raymond Arroyo, Johnnette Benkovic, and Fathers Wade Menezes, John Trigilio, and Andrew Apostoli. There were also a few surprises, like actor Jim Caviezel and Archbishop Carlo Viganó, apostolic nuncio to the United States, who read a letter of condolence on behalf of Pope Francis.

The liturgies, including Solemn Vespers for the deceased, a Solemn Vigil and rosary service, and the funeral Mass were among the most beautiful I have ever had the privilege of attending. The highlight was the music provided by the Resurrection Choir and Orchestra of St. John Cantius Parish, Chicago, who performed a deeply moving rendition of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem. It was truly heaven on earth!

Mother Angelica has made a significant and lasting impact on the church throughout the world via EWTN and her religious orders. Thanks to her deep faith, tireless efforts, and dogged determination, generations of Catholics will benefit from her life’s work and legacy. May she rest in peace.

The writer, a deacon for the Archdiocese of Portland, is founder of DynamicDeacon.com, a Christian evangelization organization. He is frequent contributor to EWTN and hosts shows on Catholic radio.