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The birth of a global spiritual renewal

STEVE LAVERY looks back at how the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement was born in the USA in 1967

A group of students at Duquesne University in Pennsylvania went on a weekend retreat which was to change their lives and affect the whole Church. These young people prayed that they would experience the grace of the Sacraments of Initiation, Baptism and Confirmation.

They asked one their professors, Ralph Keifer, who had experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, to lay hands on them and pray over them.

Their desire was most certainly answered as they experienced what can only be described as an infilling of the Holy Spirit and an encounter with Jesus, the Risen Lord. They began praying in tongues. What they experienced is known as Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

On their return to campus they shared with all they met what had happened and the same desire for a personal relationship with Jesus was ignited in many of the students. Before long, starting with Notre Dame University in Indiana, it spread to other campuses across the USA.

The charisms of the Holy Spirit were manifest in the prayer meetings where these young Catholics came together. Soon this phenomenon spread to parishes across the country and abroad.

As news of the phenomenon spread it became necessary for loose links to be strengthened and that some form of organisation was needed if charismatic conferences were to be run in different places meeting demand.

From the very start, there was a strong ecumenical aspect to the new movement. By the early 1970s the number of people involved had grown significantly and huge audiences gathered at conferences.

At one such conference at Notre Dame University in the mid-70s, 30,000 people came together in praise of God and to listen to the speakers call them to declare Jesus as Lord.

In 1975 a leaders’ conference held in Rome was addressed by Pope Paul VI who said: “How then could this spiritual renewal not be a chance for the Church and for the world? And how, in this case, could one not take all the means to ensure that it remains so?

“Nothing is more necessary for such a world, more and more secularised, than the testimony of this spiritual renewal, which we see the Holy Spirit bring about today in the most diverse regions and environments.”


As the movement grew an umbrella body had to be established to help organise international events. This body started off in Michigan run by Ralph Martin and was known as the International Communications Office.

This developed to what we now know as International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services recognised by the Holy See as a body for the promotion of the Renewal. In 1979 the Council was invited to a private audience with St Pope John Paul II who said in his address: “The world is much in need of this action of the Holy Spirit, and it needs many instruments for this action… Now I see this movement, this activity everywhere.”

Charismatic Renewal is established in more than 200 countries, touching the lives of 120 million Catholics. Although the numbers attending prayer groups has fallen across Europe and the West, it is growing in other parts of the world. Here in Scotland it all began in Aberdeen in 1973 after Australian Anne Schnieder, a teacher in the city, experienced baptism in the Holy Spirit at the Gregorian University in Rome.

When she returned and told her friends Helen and Jamus Smith about her experience, they were baptised in the Spirit as they heard her speak.

They, like their friend, wanted to tell others, so invited parishioners to their home.

Expecting a small number to come, they were astonished to find 50 or so people arrive. Scotland’s first prayer group was born and the first prayer meeting was held in a tiny cottage in the grounds of Sacred Heart Convent, Aberdeen on September 19, 1973, with 12 people in attendance.

At that time a Benedictine priest, Fr Matt Dilworth OSB, returned from Pecos, New Mexico, USA, where he had received baptism in the Holy Spirit in the same year. He contacted his old friends in Aberdeen. Soon the Aberdeen group received enquiries from other parts of Scotland, so the first national day was organised in the Sacred Heart Convent in Kilgraston, near Perth.

In 1978 a small group travelled south to Hopwood Hall near Manchester for a leaders’ meeting and from that conference a group emerged in Glasgow. This then saw the development of diocesan service teams and a National Service Committee.

Things grew from there, from seeing 1,000 people gather in the Ccathedral in Edinburgh and residential weekends become massively oversubscribed, to filling the Kelvin Hall.

Over the years prayer groups have come and gone, and numbers have fallen reflecting the trends with the Church in the West. It is estimated there are now about 48 prayer groups in Scotland, varying in size from about 25 to as few as six. Under the broad umbrella of the Renewal there are communities and movements that have baptism in the Spirit at their heart.


Although there are fewer weekly prayer meetings many people attend days of renewal in most of the dioceses around the country. Craiglodge House of Prayer is a very popular retreat centre where the resident community endeavour to live a life in the Holy Spirit.

Another fruit of an Edinburgh couple’s encounter with the Renewal is New Dawn in Scotland where for a week every summer hundreds of people come together to praise God and grow in their Faith.

This year in October, ‘Celebrate,’ a Catholic charismatic family conference will come to Scotland. This has proven very popular across England and Wales.

On the first weekend in March this year to celebrate the Golden Jubilee the National Service Team are inviting everyone who has ever been involved in the Renewal to a national conference where one of the four speakers will be Patti Gallagher Mansfield, who is one of the students who back in 1967 went on a retreat like no other.


What is at the heart of this ‘move of the Holy Spirit’ we know as Catholic Charismatic Renewal? What is it that has seen it grow to touch so many people? It is a personal encounter with Christ through an openness to work of the Holy Spirit.

From the earliest of the conferences run by the Charismatic Renewal the one phrase stands out: “Jesus is Lord.”

It is this that is the heart of Renewal, and as one member of the National Service Team in Scotland said: “What else can one do but praise Him? The more I praise the closer I come to Him and focus is removed from self.”

He went on to quote Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who when addressing a meeting sponsored by Renewal in the Holy Spirit in St Peter’s Square in May 2012, said: “Dear friends of Renewal in the Holy Spirit do not grow weary of turning to Heaven: the world stands in need of prayer. It needs men and women who feel the attraction of Heaven in their life, who make praise to the Lord a new way of life. And may you be joyful Christians!”

Pope Francis said: “The Charismatic Renewal has reminded the Church of the necessity and importance of the prayer of praise. When we speak of the prayer of praise in the Church, Charismatics come to mind.

“Your movement’s birth was willed by the Holy Spirit to be ‘a current of grace in the Church and for the Church.’ This is your identity: to be a current of grace…

“The Charismatic Renewal is a great force meant to serve the preaching of the Gospel in the joy of the Holy Spirit…

“I expect you to share with everyone in the Church the grace of baptism in the Holy Spirit—a phrase we find in the Acts of the Apostles.”


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