This is such an amazing story!
In 1943, Rita Rizzo (later EWTN founder Mother Mary Angelica) was 19 years old and suffered from severe gastrointestinal problems. She couldn’t eat anything but crackers, tea, and stale bread. She endured severe stomach spasms and pain.
“I couldn’t sleep or eat. My hands would shake and my left arm would get numb,” Mother Angelica wrote for Raymond Arroyo’s book, Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles.
Her only alleviation from pain was a surgical corset that tore into her skin causing blisters.
One family friend suggested Rita meet Rhoda Wise, a supposed 20th century stigmatist, mystic and convert to Catholicism. Wise also once endured severe health problems, including a ruptured bowel and wounded abdomen, as well as a severe leg wound. Her problems were so severe that she prayed for death.
Rhoda Wise’s Visions of Jesus & St. Therese
In 1939, Wise said Jesus and St. Therese appeared to her in her Ohio home. St. Therese came to her bedside, opened her abdominal wound, and spoke to her.
“She then placed her hand on my abdomen and said: ‘I am the Little Flower. You have been tried in the fire and not found wanting. Faith cures all things.’”
Wise said following that moment, she “was astounded to find that the wound on my abdomen was entirely closed…The ruptured bowel, too, was entirely healed.”
Wise said St. Therese appeared to her an additional time, also healing her severely wounded leg.
“The Little Flower stood by my bed and said, ‘That is a very little thing. Stand up and walk.’
“I placed my feet on the floor and stood up, and as I did so the cast, over a foot long, split open from top to bottom, and I easily stepped out of it.
“The Little Flower then said: ‘Go to church now,’ and immediately disappeared.”
(According to Arroyo’s book, “Msgr. George Habig, Wise’s reluctant spiritual director, told friends and church officials that he believed the healings to be authentic and supernatural.)
Wise also received the stigmata, suffering Christ’s wounds on the First Friday of every month from 12 pm – 3 pm from 1942-1945. She also suffered “invisible wounds” until her death in 1948.
Rhoda Wise Meets Rita Rizzo (Mother Angelica)
Rita’s mother, Mae Rizzo, wanted Rita to meet with Wise.
Rita had her speculations, because her faith was not developed. However, Mother Angelica said she was “so happy that my mother wanted to go that I figured, what can I lose?”
When Rita and her mother arrived at Rhoda’s home, Rhoda suggested Rita sit in “Our Lord’s chair,” where she said she had conversations with Jesus.
During their visit, Rhoda gifted Rita with prayers to St. Therese. She told her to pray this novena and make a sacrifice along with her prayers. She also requested that Rita spread devotion to the Little Flower if God cured her.
Rita prayed and sacrificed as Rhoda requested for the novena. Throughout the novena, however, Rita’s stomach pain and spasms continued.
On Jan. 17, 1943, after the novena’s ninth day, Rita experienced the most extreme pain and spasms she had ever known early that morning.
“It seemed that something was pulling my stomach out,” Mother Angelica told Raymond Arroyo in his book.
At the time, Rita’s surgical corset was removed due to skin blisters, and because of her severe pain, she thought about putting it back on before getting up.
However, she heard a voice say “get up and walk” without the corset.
Although she continued experiencing pain in her stomach, she said “it was different from the other pain.”
“I knew I didn’t need that brace and I knew I was healed.”
“When the Lord came in and healed me through the Little Flower, I had a whole different attitude,” Mother Angelica added.
“I knew there was a God; I knew that God knew me and loved me and was interested in me. I didn’t know that before. All I wanted to do after my healing was give my life to Jesus.”
Rita did not know how to give her life to Jesus, so she leaned on Rhoda Wise, who “became her model of sanctity and a seminal spiritual influence.”
Mother Angelica went on to spread devotion to St. Therese, as she initially promised, by sending letters, prayers, and badges of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to those who sent letters to Rhoda Wise’s house.
Rita wrote the following about her conversion in a 1943 letter:
“…before I was cured, I was a lukewarm Catholic…now I love [our Lord] so that there are times when I think I will die. When I think of all that He has done for me and how little I have done for Him, I could cry.”
Let us remember the lives of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Servant of God Rhoda Wise, and Mother Angelica. They are all incredible models of sanctity and holiness!