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Ecclesial Movements: The Catholic Charismatic Renewal

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Renewal for the Springtime of the Church

God sovereignly drew many Duquesne University students into the chapel at The Ark and Dove Retreat Center. Some were laughing, others crying. Some prayed in tongues, others (like me) felt a burning sensation coursing through their hands. God had planned it in the Upper Room Chapel. It was the birth of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal!


By Randy Sly
Catholic Online (
6/5/2011 (1 decade ago)

Published in Vocations

Keywords: charismatic, renewal, pentecost, gifts of the spirit, catholic

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - The Catholic Charismatic Renewal finds its roots at a retreat for Duquesne University's Chi Rho Scripture Study group in February, 1967. The retreat was held at The Ark and the Dove Retreat House, just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

During the retreat, Patti Gallagher-Mansfield and others had a special encounter with the Holy Spirit. I will let her explain it in her own words:

In the Spring of 1966, two Duquesne University professors were ASKING, SEEKING and KNOCKING. They had pledged themselves to pray daily for a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit in their lives using the beautiful Sequence Hymn of Pentecost. In the midst of this time of prayer, some friends gave them two books: The Cross and the Switchblade and They Speak With Other Tongues. Both books describe the experience of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. The men from Duquesne realized that this Baptism in the Spirit was precisely what they were searching for.

In January 1967, four Catholics from Duquesne attended their first interdenominational charismatic prayer meeting - the Chapel Hill meeting - in the home of Miss Flo Dodge, a Spirit-filled Presbyterian. Interestingly enough, a few months before these Catholics came, the Lord led Flo to read Isaiah 48 where He announces that He is about to do "a new thing".

We were planning for our retreat in February and the professors suggested a new theme: "The Holy Spirit." In preparation for the retreat, they told us to pray expectantly, to read The Cross and the Switchblade, and to read the first four chapters of the Acts of the Apostles.

A few days before the retreat, I knelt in my room and prayed, "Lord, I believe I've already received your Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation. But if it's possible for your Spirit to be more at work in my life than He's been up until now, I WANT IT!" The dramatic answer to my prayer was soon to come.

On Saturday a member of the Chapel Hill Prayer Group came to speak on Acts, chapter 2. All we were told was that she was a Protestant friend of our professors. Although her presentation was very simple, it was filled with spiritual power. She spoke about surrendering to Jesus as Lord and Master. She described the Holy Spirit as a Person who empowered her daily. Here was someone who really seemed to know Jesus intimately and personally! She knew the power of the Holy Spirit like the Apostles did. I knew I wanted what she had and I wrote in my notes, "Jesus, be real for me."

Saturday night a birthday party was planned for a few of our members, but there was a listlessness in the group. I wandered into the upstairs chapel...not to pray but to tell any students there to come down to the party. Yet, when I entered and knelt in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I literally trembled with a sense of awe before His majesty. I knew in an overwhelming way that He is the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. I thought, "You had better get out of here quick before something happens to you." But overriding my fear was a much greater desire to surrender myself unconditionally to God.

I prayed, "Father, I give my life to you. Whatever you ask of me, I accept. And if it means suffering, I accept that too. Just teach me to follow Jesus and to love as He loves." In the next moment, I found myself prostrate, flat on my face, and flooded with an experience of the merciful love of God...a love that is totally undeserved, yet lavishly given. Yes, it's true what St. Paul writes, "The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit."

My shoes came off in the process. I was indeed on holy ground. I felt as if I wanted to die and be with God. The prayer of St. Augustine captures my experience: "O Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in You." As much as I wanted to bask in His presence, I knew that if I, who am no one special, could experience the love of God in this way, that anyone across the face of the earth could do so.

I ran down to tell our chaplain what had happened and he said that David Mangan had been in the chapel before me and had encountered God's presence in the same way. Two girls told me my face was glowing and wanted to know what had happened.

Within the next hour God sovereignly drew many of the students into the chapel. Some were laughing, others crying. Some prayed in tongues, others (like me) felt a burning sensation coursing through their hands. Yes, there was a birthday party that night, God had planned it in the Upper Room Chapel. It was the birth of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal!

The experience of the "Duquesne Weekend" quickly spread to other campuses, such as the University of Notre Dame and those serving in campus ministry at Michigan State University in Lansing, Michigan.

The Word of God, an evangelistic outreach at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI was a result of this outpouring. It was founded in 1967 by four men, Ralph Martin and Steve Clark, from the Cursillo movement office in Lansing along with Jim Cavnar and Gerry Rauch from Notre Dame.

The prayer meetings for Word of God continued to grow and became more and more ecumenical, with Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists and Episcopalians beginning to attend. It was becoming significantly ecumenical.

The Catholic Charismatic Renewal also received a boost from the endorsement of Leo Jozef Cardinal Suenens who served as Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel in Belgium and one of the four moderators of Vatican II. Later, in 1974,Cardinal Suenens wrote the book, "A New Pentecost?"

In 1969, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (now the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) gave affirmation to "the good fruits of the Renewal."

To coordinate global inquiries concerning the Renewal, the International Communications Office (ICO) was formed by Ralph Martin in Ann Arbor Ann Arbor at the request of the National Service Committee.

In October, 1973, the ICO sponsored the first International Conference for Leaders of the Renewal at the Franciscan Sisters at Grottaferrata, Italy with 120 delegates. It was held just beyond the boundaries of the Diocese of Rome, since there was still caution among Church leaders about the movement. During the conference a small core of leaders were invited to be received by Pope Paul VI.

Brian Smith, one of the delegates, recalls it this way, "He received us and to everyone's surprise, even though it had not been mentioned in the General Audience, drew from his assistant's brief case a prepared text for us, which has been published. He added personally to us he understood the difficulties that we would be undergoing at this time and promised to say Mass for us."

"During the conference on Pentecost Monday, the 13,000 delegates assembled in Saint Peter's Basilica for the celebration of the Pentecost Mass. Cardinal Suenens was given the rare privilege of being able to be the principal Celebrant and the use of the Papal Altar for the occasion, a rare event in Rome.

"At the conclusion of the Eucharist as we waited for the Holy Father to arrive, there were many alleluias sung and prayers of praise to God. Finally, Paul VI arrived amid great acclamation. It had been told to us that he had been advised not to attend our meeting as it would only strengthen the Movements of the Charismatic Renewal throughout the world. However, he was touched by the prayerfulness and the atmosphere, the praise and worship of God that he could see within the Basilica.

"One of the first gestures he made on arrival was to take the hand of Cardinal Suenens and hold it high in an affirmation of the work and his guiding hand with Charismatic leaders throughout the world."

Of course, the work of the Holy Spirit through these "charisms" (or graces) is not new to the Church. On the Day of Pentecost, the Church was born as tongues as of fire came upon the Apostles and they spoke with other tongues. Gifts of healings, prophecy and others were documented throughout the Acts of the Apostles.

St. Paul talked specifically about these charisms of the Holy Spirit in several of his letters, particularly in Romans 12, I Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4.

The "Catechism of the Catholic Church" describes it this way:  "Grace is first and foremost the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies us. But grace also includes the gifts that the Spirit grants us to associate us with his work, to enable us to collaborate in the salvation of others and in the growth of the Body of Christ, the Church. There are sacramental graces, gifts proper to the different sacraments. There are furthermore special graces, also called charisms after the Greek term used by St. Paul and meaning "favor," "gratuitous gift," "benefit." Whatever their character - sometimes it is extraordinary, such as the gift of miracles or of tongues - charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church." (#2003)

Down through the history of the Church these same charisms were evident in the lives and ministries of such saints as St. Augustine of Hippo (345-430 AD), St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), St. Dominic (1170-1221), St. Catherine of Siena (1330-1380), St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), St. John Bosco (1815 1888), The Cure of Ars (St. John Vianney, 1786-1859) and many others down the centuries. The Cure of Ars, in fact, was reported to have had the gift of tongues.

One particularly powerful event occurred just at the turn of the 20th century. In 1895, Blessed Elena Guerra, who founded the Oblate Sisters of The Holy Spirit in Italy, wrote 12 confidential letters to Pope Leo XIII, calling for a greater devotion in the Church to the Holy Spirit.

The Pope was deeply moved by these letters and published his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, "Divinum Illud Munus," in 1897. In it he states, "We ought to pray to and invoke the Holy Spirit, for each one of us greatly needs His protection and His help. The more a man is deficient in wisdom, weak in strength, borne down with trouble, prone to sin, so ought he the more to fly to Him who is the never-ceasing fount of light, strength, consolation, and holiness.

"We decree and command that throughout the whole Catholic Church, this year and in every subsequent year, a Novena shall take place before Whit-Sunday (Ed. - Pentecost), in all parish churches, and also, if the local Ordinaries think fit, in other churches and oratories.

"And now Our mind and heart turn back to those hopes with which We began, and for the accomplishment of which We earnestly pray, and will continue to pray, to the Holy Ghost. Unite, then, Venerable Brethren, your prayers with Ours, and at your exhortation let all Christian peoples add their prayers also, invoking the powerful and ever-acceptable intercession of the Blessed Virgin."

He also sent a private letter to all of his bishops, instructing them that the Novena for Pentecost should be prayed at the dawn of the new 20th century. The pronouncement was met with a lukewarm response by the prelates.

At the same time the Church was dedicating herself to the Holy Spirit, a new movement was about to be borne into American Protestantism. Evangelist Charles Parham, a former Methodist, has established a Bible school he called Bethel Healing Home in Topeka, Kansas. He was convinced, from his visits to another school in Maine, that there was a deeper experience with God available similar to what was described in the Book of Acts.

After several days of prayer, he and his students held a watch-night service on December 31, 1900 that continued again the following evening. During that January 1 service Agnes Ozman was the first to receive "the fullness of the Holy Spirit" and spoke in tongues. Those around thought it was Chinese.

On that same day, January 1, 1901, Pope Leo XIII prayed to the Holy Spirit. He sang the Veni Creator Spiritus by the Holy Spirit window in St. Peter's Basillica in Rome.

Within the next few days, Parham and others had a similar experience. They closed the school and began to travel, talking of their encounter with the Holy Spirit wherever they went.

In Houston, Texas Parham met William Joseph Seymour, an African American Baptist preacher who received his story with eagerness. Seymour went on to establish the Azusa Street Mission, where the Assemblies of God and other Pentecostal Groups were formed.

While the Protestant Pentecostal Movement continued to grow in America, a focus on the work of the Holy Spirit was renewed by Pope (now Blessed) John XXIII with the beatification of Sister Elena Guerra

Also, during preparation for Vatican II in 1962, the Holy Father prayed for "a new Pentecost."

"Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost. Grant to Your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Savior, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen."

Vatican II addressed and affirmed these charisms. In "Lumen Gentium 12," for example, it states:

"Whether these charisms be very remarkable or more simple and widely diffused, they are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation since they are fitting and useful for the needs of the Church. Extraordinary gifts are not to be rashly desired nor is it from them that the fruits of apostolic labors are to be presumptuously expected. Those who have charge over the Church should judge the genuineness and proper use of these gifts, through their office, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit but to test all things and hold fast to what is good (cf. 1 Thes. 5:12, 19- 21).

In 1975 Pope Paul VI greeted ten thousand Catholic charismatics from all over the world at the ninth international conference of the Renewal by saying, "The Church and the world need more than ever that 'the miracle of Pentecost should continue in history' . . . How could this 'spiritual renewal' not be a chance for the Church and the world?"

Then, in 1978, an office for the Charismatic Renewal, now called International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services was established in the Vatican. This came out of the old International Communications Office. The role of the ICCRS was to "encourage continuous personal conversion to Jesus Christ and a decisive personal receptivity to the person, presence and the power of the Holy Spirit." Most of this is accomplished through support of Catholic Renewal Services around the world.

On November 30, 1990, The Pontifical Council for the Laity also established the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships as a private association.

Today the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is alive and well, with a presence in 238 countries of almost 150,000 prayer groups and has touched more than 119 million lives worldwide.

Pope John Paul II on the Charismatic Renewal:

Sixth International Leaders Conference, October 1987 - "This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church. The vigour and fruitfulness of the Renewal certainly attest to the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church in these years after the Second Vatican Council. Of course, the Spirit has guided the Church in every age, producing a great variety of gifts among the faithful.

March, 1992: "At this moment in the Church's history, the Charismatic Renewal can play a significant role in promoting the much-needed defense of Christian life in societies where secularism and materialism have weakened many people's ability to respond to the Spirit and to discern God's loving call. Your contribution to the re-evangelization of society will be made in the first place by personal witness to the indwelling Spirit and by showing forth His presence through works of holiness and solidarity.

Pentecost 1998 - "The institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential as it were to the Church's constitution. They contribute, although differently, to the life, renewal and sanctification of God's People. It is from this providential rediscovery of the Church's charismatic dimension that, before and after the Council, a remarkable pattern of growth has been established for ecclesial movements and new communities."

Insegnamenti, XXI, 1, 1998 - "For this reason, I also say to you: 'Open yourselves with docility to the gifts of the Holy Spirit! Receive with gratitude and obedience the charisms that the Spirit does not cease to offer! Do not forget that all charisms are given for the common good, that is, for the benefit of the whole Church!"

Ninth International Leaders Conference October, 1998 - "The Catholic Charismatic Renewal has helped many Christians to rediscover the presence and power of the Holy Spirit... and this rediscovery has awakened in them a faith in Christ filled with joy."

Vespers of Pentecost, May 31, 2004 - "Open yourselves meekly to the gifts of the Holy Spirit! Accept with gratitude and obedience the gifts that the Spirit does not cease to give! Do not forget that each charism is given for the common, in other words for the benefit of the Church!"

First Vespers of Pentecost, May 29, 2004 - "Thanks to the Charismatic Movement, a multitude of Christians, men and women, young people and adults have rediscovered Pentecost as a living reality in their daily lives. I hope that the spirituality of Pentecost will spread in the Church as a renewed incentive to prayer, holiness, communion and proclamation."

Pope Benedict XVI (as Cardinal Ratzinger):

On EWTN's "The World Over," September 5, 2003 - "...and the Charismatic Renewal ...I think this is a sign of the Springtime and of the presence of the Holy Spirit, today will give new charisms and so on. This is for me really a great hope that not with organization from authorities, but really it is the force of the Holy Spirit present in the people."


Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online. He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.


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