February /March 2017 - Vol. 90
50th Anniversary of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal

Pope Paul VI meets with
                              charismatic leaders
Pope Paul VI meets with Charismatic leaders at the Vatican in 1973
Early Growth and Development of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal

by Fr. Pat Egan

The Spirit comes with long preparation and lasting effects, but on occasion he arrives at a dramatic moment that can be set down precisely.

His coming on Pentecost, with rushing wind, tongues of fire, and gifts of' praise and preaching, occurred at just 9:00 a.m.

The modern Pentecostal movement was launched at Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, on the evening of January I, 1901, when Annie Ozman began to praise God in an unknown tongue. The birth of the contemporary charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church can be as precisely dated to the evening of Saturday, February 17, 1967.

The Duquesne Weekend Retreat
Two theology professors at Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, and students in a Christian "study and  action" group gathered for a retreat that February weekend. The professors had experienced a release of the Holy Spirit after reading The Cross and the Switchblade, a first-person story by Pentecostal minister David Wilkerson, and through the prayers of some Episcopalians, but they had not described this to the students. Student speakers came with notebooks crammed with comments on the Acts of the Apostles - the text for the retreat - but no idea of an experiential encounter with the Holy Spirit.

That, however, was exactly what God had in mind. Speakers found themselves making statements about the power of the Spirit that went beyond anything in their notes. One speaker was interrupted several times by prayer and praise, and began praying in tongues during the applause and worship that broke out at the end of her presentation.

The well at the retreat-house stopped working on Saturday morning, almost forcing an early end to the retreat. But it started again in the afternoon after prayer. The young man who discovered that the water was running rushed to the chapel to thank God, where he found himself overwhelmed-literally prostrated-by the presence of God.

That evening students came one by one to the chapel and unexpectedly experienced the reality of God's love for them. To some the chapel seemed to grow brighter, to others hotter. The young people knelt, saying over and over, "Yes, Lord," Of, "I love you, Jesus." Praying for one another and worshiping on their knees, singing and worshiping in tongues, they remained in the chapel until 3:00 a.m.

Without any human design, the Catholic Pentecostal movement had begun.

After the weekend, the participants found themselves in a new dimension of spiritual power. They continued to experience a sense of God's presence, gifts of tongues, prophecy, and healing, a thirst for prayer and scripture, an effectiveness in telling others about Christ. Some of the participants in that 1967 weekend began lives of serious Christian service which have continued to the present day.

From this beginning at the "Duquesne Weekend" Pentecostal renewal has spread around the world to millions of Catholics. [Current estimates are some 120 million Catholics in 235 countries around the world.]

Since the Duquesne weekend Pentecostal renewal has brought nominal Catholics to personal faith in Christ and serious Catholics to new depths of fervor and service. It has stimulated personal prayer and evangelism and has brought a new liveliness to corporate worship, sacred music, and Bible reading. This renewed personal faith has led to increased ecumenical awareness among Catholics and the growth of countless local groups, regional centers and communities, and the reappearance of spiritual gifts on a wide scale in the Catholic Church.

The influence of the Cursillo on the charismatic renewal
The movement is one of the wonders of God in our day. How has it achieved such remarkable growth?

Among the original group of students and recent graduates baptized in the Holy Spirit in February 1967 were some already passionately involved in evangelism and church renewal, notably in the Cursillo movement, an evangelistic movement begun in Spain after World War II. Not only were they keen and zealous; they had established networks with other young Catholic leaders of similar outlook, especially students at Notre Dame University, in South Bend, Indiana, and recent graduates. Among these were Kevin and Dorothy Ranaghan, Stephen Clark, Ralph Martin, Bert and Mary Lou Ghezzi, Philip O'Mara, George and Mary Martin, and Kerry and Barbara Koller.

These young men and women were well-educated, intelligent, deeply committed Christians, loyal to their church. They formed the matrix in which charismatic renewal spread rapidly among Catholics and developed into a movement seeking to be a force for renewal within the Catholic Church rather than apart from it.

Their deep desire for integration in the wider Catholic Church was soon reciprocated by Catholic authorities who moved from suspicion to watchfulness to cautious acceptance, and, in some cases, to personal endorsement and even vigorous approval.

Many times God acted powerfully and in startling ways to win approval for the fledgling movement. Just as God had once inspired both Peter and Cornelius in order to open the church to gentiles, so now he worked simultaneously in the hearts of high ecclesiastics and these young lay leaders. Vigorous leadership by Bishop Joseph McKinney, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Cardinal Leo-Joseph Suenens, of Malines-Brussels, Belgium, and powerful friends in Rome soon won the support of many bishops and gave the new movement world-wide credibility.

Favorable factors for rapid growth
The Catholic charismatic renewal turned out to have been launched at a strategic time and place. Just as the pax romana contributed to the spread of the New Testament church, so many modern factors contributed to the spread of Catholic charismatic renewal from the United States in 1967: the wide diffusion of the English language and American influence; the Catholic Church's openness to change after the Second Vatican Council; the evident weakness of current Catholic pastoral methods in the face of secular culture; a new Catholic ecumenical spirit; a significant declericalization and democratization in the Catholic Church; the accessibility of the media to Christians in the United States. This unique combination of favorable factors enabled the Catholic Pentecostal renewal to expand with astonishing speed.

But even these are not explanations enough. When he convened the Vatican Council in 1961, Pope John XXIII asked Catholics all over the world to pray for "a new Pentecost in our day and a renewal of faith, with signs and wonders." Catholic charismatic renewal is best understood as God's wonderful answer to that prayer.

The 1970s: brushfire growth
The late 1960s and the 1970s were a time of rapid growth for the Catholic charismatic movement in the United States, evidenced by the appearance and expansion of conferences and publications. The hub of early activities was Indiana and Michigan. In September 1967 a meeting of 50 people was held at Notre Dame University, which became an annual national conference, continuing to the present. The annual conferences at Notre Dame drew 5,000 participants from 10 nations, including 3 bishops and 23.0 priests, in 1971; and to 11,000 participants, including 6 bishops and 400 priests, in 1972. By the following year, when attendance reached 20,000, participants came from all 50 states and 25 foreign nations.

The spectacle of supposedly staid Catholics enthusiastically expressing their faith and love of God intrigued the media, who followed these annual conferences closely. The rallies received extensive and generally sympathetic press coverage; front page pictures impressed the imagination of many Catholics.

May 1968 saw the first national leaders conference at Ann Arbor, Michigan. These continued for several years afterwards at New Year's, beginning with 53 attendees in 1969 and increasing to 500 by 1971.

A stenciled Pastoral Newsletter for leaders in the movement was begun in Michigan in May 1969. In June 1970 it became an eight-page printed publication, which climbed to a circulation of 1,200 in the United States and abroad. Renamed New Covenant in July 1971, the periodical became a 64 page popular monthly, which reached a circulation of over 70,000 subscribers in more than 100 nations in the mid 1980s.

To facilitate the spread of the renewal plans were made in the spring of 1969 for a national communication center, which was set up in South Bend and later evolved into the present Charismatic Renewal Services. By the beginning of the 1980s CRS was shipping more than a ton of books and other materials a day.

By the end of the 1970s the period of most rapid, visible growth in the movement in the United States seemed to be coming to an end. The circulation of New Covenant stabilized.

The largest annual charismatic renewal conference at South Bend took place in 1976, drawing 30,000 participants. After this the total number of people attending regional and city-wide conferences across the country continued to grow, but the sense of constant vigorous expansion in the movement faded. The largest Catholic charismatic renewal conference took place during this period, in 1977, when a regional conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey, brought together 35,000 Catholics.

In 1970 a "service committee" of six laymen and two priests was formed to take responsibility for the communication center, the national conferences in South Bend, the leaders' conferences in Ann Arbor, and the beginnings of New Covenant. Soon, an Advisory committee" of 26 members was also formed to help guide the service committee's work. The National Service Committee, which was renamed Chariscenter USA, has not attempted to direct the Catholic charismatic renewal but to strengthen it by offering conferences, publications, and counsel.

Bishop Alexander Zaleski, of Lansing, Michigan, in whose diocese much of the early activity was taking place, recommended to the national assembly of Catholic bishops that the movement be received with cautious approval and that the bishops assist it by providing it with the leadership of wise and experienced priests. This essentially foreshadowed the approach taken by the assemblies of Catholic bishops in the United States and other countries, and by the Vatican.

An important aspect of the Chariscenter's work has been to develop lines of communication between the movement and the bishops and clergy. An early meeting was held with a bishops' working group in March 1971. Individual contacts with local bishops followed, leading to the appointment of priests as liaisons in most dioceses to facilitate communications between the bishop and the movement in each diocese. These liaisons, in nun, have formed a national association for communication among themselves. The bishops as a body have also established a standing committee to relate to the overall charismatic renewal.

Initiation and expansion
One of the major achievements of the group of early leaders was to discover how to introduce Catholics in a stable and enduring way to new life in the Holy Spirit, with its personal relationship to Jesus, expectant faith, and empowerment for witness. How could this new life be sustained after the initial emotion of Pentecostal conversion faded? The "Life in the Spirit Seminars," which used a catechumenate method for Christian initiation and incorporated the newcomer into an active fellowship of believers, provided this for thousands, perhaps millions, of Catholics in many different parts of the world.

In the seventies, shaped by its capable and methodical North American leaders, the Catholic charismatic renewal expanded outside the United States. Through North American missionaries who met the renewal while on home leave, or as guests of prayer groups and renewal communities, the movement spread quickly, first to Canada and France, then all around the world.

Major theologians soon realized the potential of the movement, among them Avery Dulles and Kilian McDonnell in the United States, Heribert Muehlen in Germany, and Louis Bouyer in France. Their interest led others to take the movement seriously.

In 1973, at Cardinal Suenens's urging, the first international leaders conference was held in Rome, where several prayer groups had already been established by North American students in the theology schools. As time went by, Italian, French, and Spanish-speaking prayer groups developed among theology students in Rome, who spread charismatic renewal as they returned home on graduation. The international leaders meeting in Rome in 1973 brought together 120 men and women from 34 nations. Thirteen leaders at this conference were invited to meet Pope Paul VI, and his address of welcome was printed in full in L 'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's official newspaper, with a worldwide 'circulation.

Contacts like these made possible a great Rome conference in 1975, when 7,000 Catholics, led by Cardinal Suenens, descended on the city. At the conclusion of the conference Pope Paul offered Cardinal Suenens the privilege of using the papal altar, and so the closing liturgy was celebrated at St. Peter's itself. There the closing prophecies of the conference were given and the Pope addressed the participants. The pictures of this event showed that Catholic charismatic renewal had indeed arrived!

Pope Paul VI had responded to the movement's desire for official approval by giving it his blessing. Now many influential churchmen followed suit, among them Cardinals Miguel Miranda in Mexico, Basil Hume in London, and Reginald Delargey in New Zealand.

In the same year [1975] the International Communication Office moved from Brussels to Rome, where it is now housed in offices belonging to the Vatican. By the end of the 1970s, then, in the United States and around the world, ecclesiastical approval had been sought and had been received, lines of communication were in place, and the time had arrived for charismatic renewal to flower in the Catholic Church, especially in Latin America and Africa.

In 1977 more than 50,000 people from over a dozen Christian traditions in the U.S. gathered in Kansas City, Missouri, for the first ecumenical charismatic conference. Ecumenism was highlighted as a major thrust of the charismatic renewal.

[This article was first published in Pastoral Renewal Magazine, September 1986]

Sources on early history and development of Catholic Charismatic Renewal:
  1. Before Duquesne: Sources of the Renewal, by Jim Manney: This is a fuller description of the antecedents of the charismatic renewal, written soon after the movement began (1973) and written by someone who knew the chief events and leaders. From New Covenant Magazine, February 1973.
  2. It Was the Time and Place, by Steve Clark: This is a “testimony” requested by Patti Gallagher Mansfield for the second edition of her book As By a New Pentecost. It is perhaps the best place to begin, because it gives an overview in somewhat short form, both of the antecedents and the continuation afterwards.
  3. The Beginnings of the Life in the Spirit Seminars, by Steve Clark: From the fiftieth anniversary issue of Pentecost Today, a short description of the beginnings of the Life in the Spirit Seminars, one of the more important instruments for developing the charismatic renewal from the beginnings.
  4. A Collection of Important Source Documents for the Beginnings of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, including: Early Structure of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and Comments on the Early History of CCR, by Steve Clark
  5. A Vision for Christian Community, by Michael Shaughnessy, and A Pioneer of Ecumenical Covenant Communities, by Paul Dinolfo, Living Bulwark, May 2009
  6. As By A New Pentecost, by Patti Gallagher Mansfield, Amor Deus Publishing, 1992, 2016.
  7. Trends: Catholic Charismatic Renewal Nears 20-Year Mark, by Fr. Pat Egan, Pastoral Renewal, September 1986, Ann Arbor.

[Fr. Pat Egan is a Priest-Sociologist and Chaplain to the Ave Maria Foundation and a regular broadcaster on scripture on WDEO and its affiliate, located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. He was.ordained in London, England, and since 1980 he has been active fin Catholic charismatic renewal, ecumenism, and in lay movements in the United States and abroad. He is the founder of the Ann Arbor Catholic Men's Movement and has served as liason for the national Catholic Men's Movement and Promise Keepers.

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