Deacon R. William Steltemeier, Jr., founding president of the Eternal Word Television Network, died in Hanceville, Ala. on Feb. 15 at the age of 83 after a lengthy illness.
Michael P. Warsaw, current network president and CEO, called Deacon Steltemeier “a man of incredible faithfulness,” noting that only EWTN founder Mother Angelica was more closely associated with the network.
“As a husband, a father, an attorney and in his vocation as a permanent deacon, Bill always remained focused on serving God and serving others,” Warsaw said.
“He devoted himself totally to Mother Angelica’s mission and sacrificed all he had to help her build EWTN into the tremendous vehicle for evangelization that it has become.”
Warsaw added: “While we mourn his passing, we take comfort from his own example of faith and are confident he has heard those words from the Gospel of Matthew, 'Well done good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your master.'”
Deacon Steltemeier was born in Nashville, Tenn. on June 6, 1929. He married Ramona Schnupp on Aug. 22, 1953. He graduated from Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt Law School before entering the U.S. Army and serving for two years in France.
He co-founded the law firm of Steltemeier & Westbrooke in Nashville in 1960. The firm specializes in bankruptcy and commercial law and continues to operate today.
Bishop Joseph A. Durick of Nashville ordained Steltemeier to the diaconate on April 26, 1975. He was among the first American men ordained to the permanent diaconate.
Deacon Steltemeier first met Mother Angelica at a legal convention in Chicago in March 1978.
When he heard Mother Angelica speak, he heard an inner voice say “Until the day you die.” He believed this to mean his life would be dedicated to serving Mother Angelica.
When EWTN was founded in 1980, Deacon Steltemeier became its first president and board member. He resigned from his law firm in 1985 to serve EWTN full-time. He commuted from his Nashville home to EWTN headquarters in Irondale, Ala. for 22 years.
In 2000, the deacon succeeded Mother Angelica as EWTN's chairman and CEO. He and his wife moved to Hanceville, Ala. in 2002. He retired as CEO in 2009, but was re-elected chairman of EWTN’s Board of Governors the same year.
Deacon Steltemeier worked in various aspects of prison ministry and prisoner rehabilitation. In 1975, the Governor of Tennessee appointed him to the state’s review board for prison reform. He also served as Catholic chaplain to the Tennessee State Prison for Men.
In October 2009, Pope Benedict XVI awarded Deacon Steltemeier the pontifical medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice.
The deacon is survived by his wife of 59 years, his brother Fred Steltemeier of Nashville, and several nieces. His son Rudy Steltemeier III and daughter-in-law Debra Steltemeier preceded him in death.