Pope Benedict XVI has awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal to Mother Angelica, founder of the Eternal Word Television Network and also EWTN executive Deacon Bill Steltemeier. The medal is the highest honor the Pope can bestow upon laity and religious.
Bishop of Birmingham Robert J. Baker conferred the awards in a brief ceremony following Sunday benediction at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama.
Noting that yesterday was the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Bishop Baker recalled the lasting impact that the Italian saint made on the renewal of the Church. He then remarked that “We also have the privilege of acknowledging the contributions to our Church of another person in the great Franciscan tradition, whose link to St. Francis is through St. Clare … Mother Angelica.”
Mother Mary Angelica, 86, is a Poor Clare Nun of Perpetual Adoration who founded Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Irondale, Alabama in 1961. She began EWTN in a garage on the monastery property in 1981. In 1999 she relocated the monastery to the grounds of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville.
Deacon R. William Steltemeier, 80, is a former Nashville, Tenn. attorney who left his law practice to join Mother Angelica’s fledgling television network. He served as EWTN’s president and now serves as chairman of the network’s Board of Governors.
Commenting in his homily at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery on Sunday, Bishop Baker said that the medal is “a significant acknowledgement by our Holy Father, of Mother's labors of love in support of our Church.”
“By giving awards the Church is not saying people or institutions are perfect, but we are saying that Mother Angelica, through this network, has made a significant contribution to the new evangelization heralded and promoted by recent Popes,” the Bishop of Birmingham said.
“The Holy Father’s recognition of Mother Angelica and Deacon Bill Steltemeier is a much-deserved honor,” Michael P. Warsaw, EWTN President and CEO said in a statement. “It acknowledges the tremendous faith, hard work and incredible sacrifices that each of them have made throughout the years in founding and building up the Network.”
“Their recognition is also a great honor for EWTN and is a clear sign of the importance of the Network’s mission for the Church and the Pope. We are grateful to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and to Bishop Baker for this honor,” Warsaw continued.
EWTN is available in over 150 million television households in more than 140 countries and territories. In its mission it uses direct broadcast satellite television and radio services, AM & FM radio networks, worldwide short-wave radio, an internet website and a publishing arm. EWTN says it is the largest religious media network in the world.