PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Fifty years ago, Catholic Charismatics as a group didn't exist. Today, there are around 120 million of them. Their emergence began when the Holy Spirit came to a dozen or so college-age Catholics in a Pennsylvania forest in February 1967.
They were from Pittsburgh's Duquesne University, out to enjoy a spiritual weekend retreat at a place called The Ark & The Dove.
That February 1967, Patti Mansfield (then Gallagher) had no way of knowing she was about to become one of the very first Catholics in the modern era baptized by the Holy Spirit and changed forever.
50 Years Ago This Weekend
"February 17th through 19th, 1967, was the annual retreat," Mansfield told CBN News. "And the theme of the retreat was the person and the work of the Holy Spirit."
That became a richly ironic point over the next couple of days. Little did those present realize that what was going to happen to them at The Ark & The Dove retreat center was just the start of a sovereign move of the Holy Spirit that would bless hundreds of millions of Catholics over the next five decades.
Retreat leaders had assigned each of the students coming to first read David Wilkerson's The Cross and the Switchblade — the miracle-filled story of the young Pentecostal pastor, Wilkerson, leading violent New York City gang members to the Lord.
As she read it, Mansfield found herself asking, "Why isn't the Holy Spirit doing these dramatic things in my life?"
That led her to pray, "Lord, as a Catholic, I believe I've already received Your Spirit in baptism and confirmation. But if it's possible for Your Spirit to do more in my life than He's done till now, I want it."
Wanted: Tongues and Dynamite
It first hit David Mangan, though, after he listened to retreat leaders that weekend teaching that the Holy Spirit could still bring tongues and power like dynamite. Mangan wanted both — the tongues and the dynamite — and asked the Lord for both because his Christianity felt powerless and pedestrian.
"My spiritual life could not be described as dynamite," he said. "It was limping along. The way I describe it, it was like I was pushing a car uphill."
As for what he was hearing about the gift of tongues, he was so intrigued, "I wrote in my notebook, 'I want to hear someone speak in tongues — me.' I realized I did that because I don't know how much I would've believed it if it was someone else."
Mangan received a powerful answer as he sought the Lord alone that weekend in a chapel located on the upper floor of The Ark & The Dove, a location that's become known now as the Upper Room. That's the same name used for the place where the Holy Spirit fell in the Book of Acts on the disciples after Jesus had ascended to heaven.
Presence of God "So Thick, So Powerful"
"The presence of God was so thick, so powerful, you could cut it with a knife," Mangan said of the atmosphere in that room. "I mean, experientially, it's the most intense experience I've ever had in my life. Time meant nothing to me. I had no idea if it was two minutes or two hours; made no difference. I was lost in Christ, and happy to be so."
And he got his dynamite. Mangan explained, "There were all these explosions going on in my body. It just felt like electrical explosions just kept happening. And I had forgotten all about that I had said I wanted dynamite."
As he began to speak in tongues in that chapel 50 years ago, the overwhelming feeling caused him to run and ask the retreat leaders if it was really possible.
"They said, 'Ya know, it is a valid experience. It's happened through history to a lot of saints and people like that,'" Mangan recalled. "And I thought, 'Well, I'm not a saint.' But, of course, it's for anybody."
This experience did infuse him with a new dynamism and power in his spiritual life -- or as he puts it, "It was like somebody told me that the car I'd been pushing uphill had a motor and now I had the key."
"Immersed in the Love of God"
Shortly thereafter, Patty Mansfield had her own Holy Spirit encounter as she was in the same chapel and His Presence came upon her.
"As I knelt in that chapel, I actually began to tremble with this sense of, 'My gosh, this is God and He's holy!'" she said.
Mansfield soon found herself prostrate, flat on her face. "And as I was lying there, I felt immersed in the love of God," she said.
Mansfield recalled, "What I felt that night was that if I could experience the love, the goodness, the sweetness, the mercy of God like that, anyone could."
"Your Face is Glowing"
His Presence had such an immediate impact on Mansfield, she heard this from two young ladies she encountered right after: "They told me my face was glowing. They said, 'What happened to you? You look different. Your face is glowing.'"
Later she'd remember what Saint Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:18 about how Christians "beholding the beauty of the Lord are being transformed from one degree of glory to another, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit."
She was so excited by what was happening, she dragged the young ladies right up to the Upper Room so they, too, could experience what she just had. She wanted all the students to get hit with it, and about a dozen ended up with her and David Mangan in the chapel.
As Mansfield describes it in her book As By a New Pentecost (ITALICS, LINK), like before, a heavenly Presence filled the Upper Room.
"Felt Like Our Bodies Were on Fire"
"As we were kneeling, some were weeping," Mansfield said. "Some were just laughing for joy. Others, like myself, felt like our bodies were on fire. I felt like my hands and my arms were tingling. Others, like David, knew that they wanted to praise God, but it wasn't going to come out in English."
Mansfield didn't herself receive the gift of tongues at the retreat, and wasn't even sure those getting it were speaking real languages. But then this student of French was sitting next to Mangan at a prayer meeting soon after.
"David starts praying in perfect French, the only foreign language I could have recognized," she explained. "So I said to him afterwards, 'David, I didn't know you spoke French.' He said, 'Oh, I don't speak French. I studied Latin and German.' Well, that really got my attention."
Mangan asked her what he was saying. She told him, "You were praising God for streams of living water. You were thanking the Lord for the Divine Child who had come."
Now she really wanted this gift. One day in prayer, she told the Lord, "I am not getting off my knees until I pray in tongues."
Awhile later, some guttural-sounding words, like a caveman might babble, came out of her mouth.
"And I thought, 'Oh no, here I majored in French for the beauty of the language, and I've got this ugly sounding one.' But when I actually yielded, my hands went up and I was singing this lilting melody. And in my heart I knew exactly what I was singing: 'My soul magnifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.' I was praying the words of Luke 1, which we call the Magnificat."
Speaking a Language No Longer Spoken on Earth
But meanwhile, Mangan still needed even more convincing the tongues he was praying were real. Then he met a linguist who studied languages so obscure, Mangan hadn't even heard of them all.
This man desperately wanted to know if tongues were real and had heard about Mangan. The linguist asked the young man to pray over him and after a few minutes, jumped up with a look of shock on his face.
Mangan recalled, "He said that I was speaking an ancient form of French that was no longer spoken on Earth. Like we have Old English, Middle English, Modern English — he said I was speaking like the equivalent of Middle French in the development of the French language. I don't know any French at all, let alone Middle French."
Mangan was a mathematician by training, and began to add up the odds of what just happened.
He said, "The guy in front of me was one of the few people in the world who could have recognized what that language was. It's phenomenal. It just goes way off the charts. It was God answering my prayer and answering the linguist's question at the same time as He brought us together."
Switched from Ancient French to Arabic
The linguist asked Mangan to pray for him some more.
"Then we finished, he turned around and he said, 'Now you're praying in Arabic.' And I was astounded. I had no idea," Mangan stated. "I know less Arabic than I would know French. None at all for both, actually."
In the months and years that followed, by word of mouth, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal roared out of The Ark & The Dove and Duquesne University and went worldwide, even jumping denominational lines.
That Holy Spirit anointing spread to millions and then tens of millions. Holy Spirit-baptized Catholics and non-Catholics gathered in interdenominational gatherings where their differences and conflicts melted away, and all that mattered was that they were one in the Spirit.
Mark Nehrbas and Deacon Darrell Wentworth are both Catholic Charismatics who worship frequently with non-Catholics.
"I've Seen Many Walls Come Down"
Wentworth, a member of the Charismatic Leaders Fellowship, said to this Protestant reporter, "Even though we worship differently on Sunday, I can recognize that Christ is working in you the same as Christ is working within me. We'll leave it to the theologians to work out all the mess."
Nehrbas, a Charismatic leader at Franciscan University, stated, "What's significant to me is the opening up of doors to more loving relationships with my brothers and sisters who aren't in the Catholic Church — Protestants, Pentecostals and evangelicals. Now we share this new alive faith in the Spirit, a personal relationship with Christ, and I've seen many walls come down."
Wentworth pointed out how Jesus preached in John 17 that such unity is essential for the world to believe.
"The more divisions that we have within Christianity, the less the world believes that Jesus Christ truly is the Son of God," he said. "We need to love one another so that the world can see that the Father loves everybody."
"Who Needs It? Everyone in the World"
Wentworth believes that baptism in the Holy Spirit can give all Christians who experience it not only unity but the power to be a bold witness for God.
Or as he put it, "We are called to be bold witnesses to the Gospel, doing the things that Jesus did, sharing the love of God the Father with everyone in the world who needs it. And who needs it? Everyone in the world."
This Charismatic Renewal is by no means some strange, disrespected offshoot of the main Catholic Church. Pope Francis has encouraged it and urged the Charismatics to bless the entire Church with what they have.
Charismatic Renewal "A Current of Grace"
Mansfield has talked to Pope Francis about it, telling CBN News, "In fact, he calls the Charismatic Renewal 'a current of grace.'"'
And as a pope is promoting the work of the Holy Spirit in this century, there was one praying for it at the start of the last century.
Wentworth explained, "Pope Leo the Thirteenth prayed on December 31, 1900, for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the 20th century. A number of hours later, less than a day, the Holy Spirit fell in Topeka, Kansas, on Agnes Ozman, and she began singing and praying in tongues."
Through a long series of twists and turns, that ignited the Azusa Street Revival in 1906, which launched a worldwide missionary effort to spread the Baptism of the Holy Spirit across the globe.
By mid-century, it was hitting one Protestant denomination after another. And then finally in 1967 at The Ark & The Dove, the Charismatic Renewal came to the Catholics, too.
Spreading the Chocolate Through the Whole Glass of Milk
It's a grace that Nehrbas believes has been nothing but a positive blessing, saying, "For many Catholics, myself included, the power of the Holy Spirit lay kind of dormant within us. We needed to do something to stir it up."
He added with a smile, "It's kind of like this analogy: I think if you have a glass of milk and you pour some chocolate syrup in there because you want some chocolate milk, and the syrup just goes in and sits, which is how we experience the Holy Spirit at baptism and confirmation. But this release and the grace and the knowledge of how to be baptized in the Holy Spirit by Jesus Christ stirs up that chocolate throughout the whole glass of milk. And now we're alive in the Spirit."