The Catholic Charismatic Landscape

While charismatic activity has always been present within the Roman Catholic Church, the current form of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal stems from 1967, when a group of students at Duquesne University received baptism in the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues. They were inspired by David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade and John Sherrill’s They Speak with Other Tongues.

The renewal spread and inspired groups that practiced gifts of the Spirit including tongues, prophecy, and healing. The Charismatic Renewal was recognized as a genuine move of the Holy Spirit and encouraged by the Catholic leadership, including the four popes who have held office since then. The Catholic renewal is often seen as part of the Second Wave of the charismatic movement, in which charismatics tended to stay in and renew their denominations instead of splitting off and forming their own churches, as had happened with the Pentecostals during the First Wave.

 In general, a lot of cross-fertilization happened during the Second Wave, as Protestants and Catholics who had awakened to a new love of Jesus recognized and embraced each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, one in the same Spirit, despite doctrinal and institutional differences. The ecumenism was enhanced by the decrees and Council for Promoting Christian Unity that was established during the Second Vatican Council. Many prominent Protestant Bible teachers, such as David Pawson, recognized to their surprise that, once they had been baptized in the Holy Spirit, they could no longer view Catholics as outside of the family. Catholic charismatics, too, realized that they had much to learn from their Pentecostal brothers and sisters. In the 1970’s, Pentecostal pastor David du Plessis was invited to counsel the Vatican on charismatic renewal, and visited and was honored by Pope John Paul II for outstanding service to all of Christianity.

There was also a lot of crossover between Protestants and Catholics in the divine healing movements of the 1970’s and 80’s. Francis MacNutt was a leader in the charismatic renewal who pioneered physical healing, inner healing, and deliverance ministries. He was mentored by Agnes Sanford, the unsung heroine of divine healing within Protestant circles. The highlight of the ecumenical renewal occurred in 1977 when over 50,000 Catholics and Protestants gathered for the Ecumenical Charismatic Conference in Kansas City.

Early on in the charismatic renewal, Catholic laypeople formed covenant communities in which they practiced intentional discipleship and sought to love one another as the first Christian communities in the book of Acts did. In 1967, Ralph Martin and Stephen Clark founded the Word of God community in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Another major covenant community was People of Praise in South Bend, IN. Some covenant communities were exclusively Catholic, but many were ecumenical (most with Catholic majorities) including Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians. The members pledged to live in covenant with one another, sharing resources, worshipping together, and helping to raise one another’s families. Over time, complaints arose against authoritarian practices in some of these communities similar to what would later emerge in the Shepherding Movement among Protestants. On the other hand, many individuals and families were greatly blessed by their participation in covenant communities, and many of these communities remain and thrive to this day. Amy Coney Barrett, on the short list for Trump Supreme Court nominees, grew up in one of these communities.

At a parish level, Life in the Spirit seminars were introduced in the 1970’s to bring baptism in the Holy Spirit and the associated charisms to the attention of the Catholic laity. By and large, however, the initial charismatic renewal failed to be integrated into the larger life of Catholic parishes or handed down to subsequent generations. Most parishes do not have a charismatic element at all, and in the parishes that do, charismatic activity is often relegated to a side-gathering of mostly older folks whose lives were touched by the Holy Spirit in the move of the 70’s and 80’s.

More recently, there have been signs of a fresh wave of the Holy Spirit among younger Catholics. This newer wave has a lot of crossover and influences from Third Wave Protestant charismatics. For example, Dr. Mary Healy, a leading Catholic theologian on divine healing, had her life changed when she went on a mission trip to Brazil with Randy Clark. The miracles she saw there inspired her to teach and activate Catholics in healing as part of their Christian heritage. Several other younger leaders in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal have also trained with Global Awakening and Bethel and brought insights back into the Catholic Church.

Because Catholic parishes are not typically centered around a visionary leader, and because priests can be assigned and re-assigned at any time by their bishop, fewer Catholic than Protestant churches can properly be called “influential charismatic churches.” Some are:

  • Christ the King Ann Arbor, MI – Christ the King is the leading Catholic charismatic parish in America. In her book Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell cites Christ the King as an exemplary parish with the fruits of intentional discipleship because of its charismatic dimension and roots in the charismatic renewal.
  • Student parish at Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH – In 1974, Fr. Mike Scanlan instituted a charismatic renewal at Franciscan University, and the university has remained a hotbed of charismatic activity ever since. With over 2,500 students, it incorporates vibrant praise and worship very well, with speaking in tongues. Many leaders and prominent speakers in the Catholic charismatic movement have come from there (e.g., Dave Pivonka, Dr. Mary Healy, Patrick Reis). As one Catholic friend says, “If it’s a cool speaker under 50, they’re probably a Steubie.”
  • St Patrick’s, Brighton, MI – This parish is the home of the up-and-coming school of supernatural ministry, Encounter School. It is not well known yet but is transitioning in a charismatic direction.

Just as in Protestant circles, schools of supernatural ministry are also springing up among Catholics. Here are some of the notable ones:

  • Encounter School of Ministry, Brighton MI – founded by Patrick Reis and Fr. Mathias Thelen; Dr. Mary Healy is on their faculty. Featured in the documentary Fearless; cutting edge Catholic school of supernatural ministry; Bethel and Global Awakening influences
  • Stone to Flesh, Azusa CA – founded by Keith Major, a former Vineyard church planter and IHOPKC staff member. He was recently publicly called out by Shawn Bolz and given a word about building bridges between Catholics and evangelicals. Stone to Flesh focuses on worship, evangelization, ecumenism, and life in the Spirit.
  • Damascus Catholic Mission Campus, Centerburg OH – founded by Aaron Richards and Dan Dematte, ministry to middle school and high school students via camps and retreats. Powerful praise and worship with faith formation akin to Encounter’s school of supernatural ministry.
  • Cor et Lumen Christi, Certsey UK – lay community started by Damian Stayne in 1990; healing ministry and weekend schools on supernatural ministry

If you visit a Catholic charismatic gathering, much of it will feel familiar, especially the praise and worship, but with more of an emphasis on the teachings and Tradition of the Church, particularly the sacraments.

2 Comments

  1. thank you for posting this article. i have been interested again in the subject. i have been moved to share my own catholic charismatic experience with my catholic nieces nephews.
    this would be an interesting way to share with them an outside take on subject seeing i am still the oddball jesus freak in the family . was wondering where the movement went after late 80’s. i have not called myself a catholic for most of my walk. i have only really found myself only as a follower of Jesus.

    1. Hi cas, so you were involved in the Catholic charismatic movement before the late-80’s? That’s neat. I first encountered Catholic charismatics when a Catholic brother (he’s affiliated with Encounter School, mentioned above) was the first Christian to ever pray for me with the expectation of healing. He’s young, too. So there’s hope! 🙂

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