Since the Mother Angelica Tour began in 2014, pilgrims from around the world have been visiting her childhood hometown of Canton, Ohio. When someone changes the world, their childhood suddenly becomes of keen interest. If they were disadvantaged, we are especially fascinated.

How? Why them? Such has been the case for Mother Mary Angelica (1923-2016), a girl from a divorced and troubled childhood who went on to become the founder of EWTN in 1981. It is the largest religious network in the world and the first network started and run by a woman. 

The tour is still drawing visitors, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how it is being done this summer. Instead of the usual day-long bus tour, the Perfect Pilgrimage is a private pilgrimage that includes the newly opened Mother Angelica Museum.  “We are encouraging people to come for a day of pilgrimage,”  Barbara Gaskell, founder and CEO of St. Raphael Center told the Register. According to her, families and small groups are coming on pilgrimage in their own cars.  The St. Raphael Center originated the Mother Angelica tour and includes a gift and bookstore, chapel, a Lourdes grotto and rosary garden, and now, the new museum.

“While we were closed due to the pandemic, it gave us time to complete the museum,” Gaskell said. “We recommend starting the tour there in the morning.” Eight different stations highlight various times in Mother Angelica’s life starting from her childhood and including the founding EWTN in Irondale, Alabama, which was first was launched in a garage. At each station there are buttons to push for an automated audio tour. “I’ve been collecting items since the tour began,” Gaskell said. “There’s still some family in the area, and they donated many of the items.”

The museum covers the life of Rita Rizzo, the child of divorced parents who grew up in a crime-ridden section of Canton known as “The Jungle,” where her own parish priest was murdered by a member of the mafia. It explains Rita’s miraculous healing from debilitating stomach issues through the intercession of a local women, Servant of God, Rhoda Wise, whose cause for canonization is open. She had the stigmata and suffered a number of physical problems herself. Many people credited Rhoda’s intercession with miracles. Rita’s healing began a life-long friendship that set her on the trajectory to become a nun and ultimately change the world.

The museum is located at the St. Raphael Center. While there, pilgrims can visit the Mary, Ark of the Covenant chapel and the outdoor Lourdes’ grotto modeled after the one in Lourdes, France to honor the Blessed Mother’s 18 appearances to St. Bernadette in 1858. The rector of Our Lady of Lourdes, Father Andre Cabes, sent a letter when the grotto was completed in 2017.  “As you bless the Shrine,” he wrote, “I pray with you that the profound and healing peace of the Holy Spirit descend and remain on that place and all who visit.”  He added that the shrine “will be united in prayer and mission with the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France.”

“We suggest allowing for two hours in the morning and then having lunch at The Little Italian Kitchen,” Gaskell said,  “People can eat anywhere they like, but we mention that restaurant because it was featured on EWTN by [cooking expert] Fr. Leo Patalinghug.” In the afternoon, pilgrims are encouraged to visit the Rhoda Wise Shrine and to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament at the Santa Clara Monastery.

At the Monastery, pilgrims can pray in silence and walk the grounds of the sprawling convent just as Sister Angelica once did as a young nun. According to EWTN’s timeline, in 1946, she had been chosen as one of the founding sisters of a new monastery.  “In addition to pneumonia and a tonsillectomy, Sister begins to suffer with water on both knees, which makes kneeling, a requirement at the time, extremely painful. Fortunately, a retired business owner donates his home and estate to the contemplative order. Although nuns normally cannot transfer to their hometowns and must be fully professed to become a member of a new foundation, the abbess tells Sister Mary Angelica she feels the five stories of steps are causing her knee problems so she has decided to send her to the Sancta Clara Monastery in Canton, Ohio. Sister Mary Angelica awakens to find that both knees are normal. This convinces the order that the young postulant has a vocation. In two months, she makes her first profession of vows, which she did Jan. 2, 1953.

“She was an amazing woman,” Gaskell said. “This tour reminds people that, no matter your circumstances, you can make a difference in the world.”

Gaskell has also written two books about Mother Angelica; The Amazing Life of Rita Rizzo, a biography, and Mother Angelica Tour Prayer Book a devotional that includes some of the same prayers she prayed such as Stations of the Cross from her childhood parish.  The latter also includes more than 30 full color photos from sites in the early life of Mother Angelica.

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