"Cloistered nuns in television is, without question, one of the most ridiculous things that could have ever happened." That's what Mother Mary Angelica, who died on Easter Sunday at 92, told 60 Minutes with a laugh in 1985. Yet Mother Angelica ran a global religious media empire for nearly 20 years. How did it all begin? "It just evolved," she said.
As correspondent Morley Safer explains (full story in the video player above), Mother Angelica was the abbess of Our Lady of the Angels monastery near Birmingham, Alabama, home then to 14 Franciscan nuns. They passed their days in prayer and contemplation -- except for three nights each week, when Mother Angelica took to the airwaves as the host of Mother Angelica Live, a popular television program on the Eternal Word Television Network, which she founded.
Mother Angelica told Safer she was first inspired by a visit to Channel 38 in Chicago. "I walked in that little, tiny, tiny studio. I had never seen a studio, a TV studio before," she said. "But I remember standing in the doorway, and saying, 'It doesn't take much to reach the masses,' and I said, 'Lord, I've got to have one of these.'" So she had a studio built on the monastery grounds.
At the time she appeared on 60 Minutes, in 1985, her homegrown network reached nine million homes in 37 states during primetime hours, seven days a week. Now known as the EWTN Global Catholic Network, its 24-hour programming reaches more than 264 million households in 144 countries, according to the network. It also operates satellite and internet radio channels, a newspaper and a publishing company.
Learning about television took some time, she told Safer. "Most people didn't give us six months," she said. But she took pleasure in her new role, interpreting the bible, hosting guests and dispensing folksy advice to people who called in. "I just want people to know that their God is a loving God, that He sometimes must laugh at the things we do, and I think He does have a sense of humor," she said.
Sometimes her work turned serious, with people calling in for advice on their darkest sins and secrets. "I just want them to know God loves them and God cares," she said. "We care. There are times we have given solutions to some people's problems and answered the same problem for hundreds of other people."
Of course, running a television network doesn't come cheap. "I don't believe in budgets," Mother Angelica replied when asked how much it cost each month. Her estimate -- $290,000-$350,000 - was scraped together each month, from donations and from leasing satellite and studio time.
And what about ratings, that all-important measure of television success? "Your bible is the Bible, but there's a secondary bible in television called ratings," Safer pointed out.
"Well, that's your problem," Mother Angelica laughed. "I never let it be my problem. I don't know what my ratings are. I just don't think the Lord went around counting heads."