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Fifty Years of the Catholic Charismatic Movement: 1967-2017

Cheryl Wilcox


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“In all four Gospels, John the Baptist introduces Jesus, not only as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, but as the one who will baptize in the Holy Spirit. So being baptized in the Holy Spirit is one of the central things that Jesus does. And, thanks be to God there's a growing, growing awareness of that today in the Catholic Church,” states Dr. Ralph Martin, Catholic Theologian.

Pope Francis began Pentecost 2017 celebrations with a prayer and praise vigil at the ancient Circus Maximus in Rome. Thousands of Christians from around the world joined the Pope to mark the 50th jubilee of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

The college-aged American pioneers of the Renewal are now its elders, and many were in attendance. In their lifetime, the renewal has sparked a “new Pentecost” among Catholics worldwide. The movement began in 1967 when the gifts of the Holy Spirit were bestowed upon a group of Duquesne University students on retreat at The Ark and The Dove. Kevin and Dorothy Ranaghan remember when friends first told them about the Duquesne outpouring.  

“So, my reaction here was pretty negative and so was Dorothy's. But, we knew these people well. I mean, they were solid, responsible renewal-minded Catholics and they were scholars. We were all students or professors in theology, church history, and philosophy,” recalls Kevin Ranaghan.

“And we could see that even in their faces there was something changed and different, and so although we wanted to discount what they were saying as sounding a little fringy, we could not deny the experience we saw they had, had changed them.  And whatever it was, I think we came to see we wanted that too. We wanted more. We didn’t even know what the "more" was sometimes, but we wanted more, more of the Lord, more work to do, and more empowerment. We felt like a lot of things in the world needed to be changed, and that we were the changers,” says Dorothy Ranaghan.

Newly married at the time, Kevin taught theology at St. Mary’s College in Indiana, and Dorothy was a Catholic High School teacher. Both earned Master’s degrees in theology from the University of Notre Dame.  After hearing about his colleagues at Duquesne, Kevin embarked on a six-week study of the Scriptures and received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit at a Bible study among fellow Catholics.

“This was a personal experience of Jesus standing next to me,  which I had never had before. And it was very powerful,” recalls Kevin. “And it was so changing. I mean, suddenly, even that night, Scripture was alive, my faith was renewed, filled with joy.”

Dorothy received the Baptism the next day alone in a chapel.  

Dorothy recalls, “It was like the Lord – planted a flag in the center of my life and said, ‘This is permanent, hang on to this!’”

The couple sought out the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship, an organization with roots in Pentecostalism, to learn how to use the gifts for ministry.  

Kevin recalls, "And I can't imagine how [they] reacted in this phone call." ‘Hi, we're a bunch of Catholics from Notre Dame, and we've just been baptized in the Holy Spirit, and we would like to find out about the spiritual gifts. Can you help us?’ ”

After spending some time with the Full Gospel Business Men, the Ranaghans began to lead meetings on the Notre Dame campus and witnessed the gifts of the Spirit flowing freely.

Dorothy recalls, “Large prayer meetings, sometimes 400 people every week. And they were – they were amazing meetings in that we were all so new to this.”

“So we started praying for everybody if they wanted healing, and quite often, we saw healing,” remembers Kevin.  

Just after Easter in 1967, Catholic students from top American Universities met at Notre Dame to learn more about the Duquesne outpouring. Ralph Martin, a Notre Dame philosophy graduate, was a campus ministry leader when he brought forty students from Michigan State to the gathering.

Dr. Ralph Martin says: “They called it: ‘The First International Catholic Charismatic Conference’ because there was one nun from Canada who came.”

Later members of the Renewal movement launched ministry enterprises, like New Covenant magazine, which spread the news of the outpouring around the country. That summer, several Duquesne University students lived with Luthern Pastor and founding CBN board member, Harald Bredesen, in his parish home near New York City to learn street evangelism.

“It was like discovering, in his school, in the Holy Spirit's school of Harald Bredesen, what it was to walk in God's providence, what it means to evangelize,” remembers Patti Mansfield.

“And we realized that we had a responsibility not just to preach the Gospel, but to learn how to do it well and to be effective at it, not just kinda throwing it at people,” says David Mangan.

Back at Notre Dame, Catholic priests, nuns, and lay leaders attended the Renewal meetings while on campus for continuing education.

Kevin Ranaghan explains, “When they went home they took this with them. They went all over the United States. They went to Australia.  They went to the Philippines.  They went to various countries in Europe. I can remember one night being in that room and hearing a prophecy that I remember this way, ‘Fire, fire, fire, spreading from east to west.’  And, it went on to talk about what we were experiencing spreading around the world.”

After the National Catholic Reporter ran newspaper coverage of the outpouring, Pope Paul the Sixth sent Cardinal Suenens of Belgium, one of the four moderators of Vatican II, to evaluate what was happening. The Cardinal met with Ralph Martin and observed various student groups.

Dr. Martin recalls, “He (Cardinal Suenens) said, ‘I've been searching for wherever the Holy Spirit's working, trying to understand what's happening. I came here, I see the Holy Spirit's working, I want to do whatever I can to help you integrate this and open the whole Catholic Church up to it and bring you into the very center of things.’ ”

Cardinal Suenens invited Ralph Martin and his young family to Belgium to help lead the renewal in Europe. By 1975, 10,000 Catholic Charismatics from around the world joined Cardinal Suenens in Rome for Pentecost.

Cardinal Suenes said,  “You’re a sign to the world! And show them by the radiance on your face, Christ is risen!”

Pope Paul the sixth entered St. Peter’s Basilica and addressed the movement as “a chance for the church.”  

“So right from the very top, this open door to the Holy Spirit, and it just kinda went on from there,” says Dr. Ralph Martin.

The Renewal also birthed new religious orders and increased the number of those called into ministry.  In the early 1970s, Father George Montague, a Pauline scholar and professor at St. Mary’s University in Texas, received the baptism in the Holy Spirit after a nun who had attended the Notre Dame meetings demonstrated spiritual gifts.

Father Montague remembers: "Well, here's the New Testament alive right in front of me.  I was ordained as a Priest, you know?  And so all those things kinda blocked me a little bit because, you know, what more do I need?”  

After 25 years of ministry in the renewal, Father Montague, along with Father Bob Hogan, formed “Brothers of the Beloved Disciple” to serve in San Antonio, Texas.

Father Bob Hogan says: “The Holy Spirit empowers our ministry through the spiritual gifts, so that people can say, ‘Wow, truly God is in your midst. Truly Jesus is reaching out to me.’ ”

A fruit of their ministry is Marcela Solis, a widowed retired schoolteacher from San Antonio, who spent thirty years away from the Church. She says the Renewal led her back to Christ.

Marcela says, “I was so depressed and I was so lost and I was in such darkness that I knew I had to go back to the church. The first thing the Renewal teaches you is ‘God loves you so much. You have no idea. God is your perfect Father.’ And that was life changing for me. This connection with the Holy Spirit today, oh, it's real.  It's real.  It's palpable.”

Today more than 120 million Catholics in 240 countries enjoy life in the Spirit.

“Celebrating the Golden Jubilee of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal,” declares Michelle Moran, President of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services, as she unveils a cross of Christ sculpture to mark the event.

In February 2017, Fernando Nascimento traveled from Brazil to The Ark and The Dove for the 50th Anniversary of the historic outpouring. Fernando’s entire family came to Christ after a word of knowledge, and a prayer of deliverance rescued his alcoholic brother.

Fernando remembers, “So they laid hands on my brother, and he knelt an alcoholic, and he stood up full of the Holy Spirit, you know? And this was a wonderful changing, you know?  
I saw my brother coming on that evening…shining!  Really shining!”

Today, the brothers preach the Gospel all over Brazil, and Fernando hosts the Brazilian TV show, “Praise the Lord.”

As the pioneers of the movement recall their history, they anticipate greater Holy-Spirit-wonders ahead. From Sister Elena’s urgent letters to Pope Leo XII to the 1901 outpouring in Kansas to the Azusa Street Revival to the Duquesne weekend and beyond— all of these events declare the gifts of the Holy Spirit are intended for every generation, as the Spirit works to unite all Christians to Christ and to each other, in order to reach the world.

Kevin Ranaghan says, “It's a surprise of the Holy Spirit that's opening up great new possibilities. We don't know what's next. I know we have a sense here, the Lord's getting ready to do something big!”

Learn more about the Manifestations of the Spirit.

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About The Author


Cheryl Wilcox is a 700 Club Producer.