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Exploring the Roots of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal

Lucca, Italy
1895

Kneeling in solitude, Sister Elena, a devout Catholic nun and foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Spirit, prayed to God again and again.

“Generi, in nome di Jesus, trasmettono avanti il vostro spirito e rinnovano il mondo.”  

“‘Father, in the name of Jesus, send forth Your Spirit and renew the world.’ ‘Father, in the name of . . .’ over and over.  ‘Father, in the name of Jesus . . .’ Wow! Elena Guerra prayed the way we pray.  She was like a prophetess of this new coming of the Spirit.” 

As the world stood poised to enter the 20th century, sister Elena’s passion for the Holy Spirit would spread far beyond the walls of her small order.

Elena Guerra was devoted to her faith from a young age and established her own congregation in 1866 in order to educate young women. Her deepest passion was to see the Holy Spirit renew the world.

Patti Mansfield, the author of As By A New Pentecost reports: “Elena said things about the Holy Spirit like, ‘If only—if only we would want Him.  If only we would seek Him. If only we would pray to Him, He would surely come.’ "   

Between 1895 and 1903, Sister Elena penned 12 confidential letters to Pope Leo the 13th. She urged the Pope to lead the Church back to the “upper room”—to a posture of expectant prayer displayed by the apostles, Mary, the mother of Christ, and other believers before Pentecost. Elena wanted the Church to experience a “perpetual Pentecost.”

“And the amazing thing is, the Pope took it very seriously, and in fact, responded to that,” states Al Mansfield, Director, The Catholic Charismatic Renewal of New Orleans.

Prompted by Elena’s letters, Pope Leo called for a special time of prayer each year between Ascension Day and Pentecost. The Bishops and Cardinals soon lost passion for the special prayers, but Elena did not.  She encouraged the Pope to teach more fully on the Holy Spirit, which inspired him to write a letter to the Bishops. The letter, titled “Divinum Illud Munus,” emphasized the indwelling and miraculous power of the Holy Spirit.

According to Al Mansfield, “A landmark document on the Holy Spirit. t's still looked on today as just a milestone of writing on the Holy Spirit.”

Still not satisfied, Elena urged Pope Leo to invoke the hymn, “Veni Creator Spiritus”—“Come, Holy Spirit”—over the first day of the new century.  (That would be January 1st, 1901.)

“Pope Leo XIII went into St. Peter's Basilica and, surrounded by the Bishops and Cardinals of the Church, saying in a solemn way, they need Creator Spiritus, ‘Come Creator Spirit.’  And he (Pope Leo XIII) solemnly dedicated and consecrated the 20th century to the Holy Spirit. And, of course, at the very same time January 1, 1901, in Topeka, Kansas, there was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the little group there gathered at the Bethel Bible School,” reports Al Mansfield.  

Agnus Ozman, a student at the Bible school, received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues late New Year’s Day after prayer and the laying on of hands. Her experience—echoed by several other students—sparked the modern Pentecostal movement.  

“You see this amazing convergence of prayer to the Lord for a new coming of the Holy Spirit,” reflects Patti Mansfield.

“It's very interesting how the Lord began the 20th century by pouring out His Holy Spirit that way,” states Al Mansfield.

By 1906, members of the Bethel Bible School group, most notably William J. Seymour, were leading the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles.  Healings, salvations, and the renewed power to witness all flowed from Azusa Street, just as signs and wonders flowed from the upper room of the disciples’ day.

“We owe a great debt to our Protestant brothers and sisters who have been witnesses to the reality of the Holy Spirit for so many years,” states to Dr. Ralph Martin, a Catholic Theologian.

Sister Elena’s prayers again bore fruit in 1958 when white smoke billowed from the chimney over the Sistine Chapel, signaling the election of Pope John the 23rd, who, like Sister Elena, longed for the Holy Spirit to renew the church. He said the Holy Spirit had inspired him to reset the Church’s relationship with the world.  It was time.   

Dr. Ralph Martin says of the era, “As we see the hostility to Christ and the Church that's growing in our culture, people are realizing, ‘ You know what?  If we keep on doing business as usual that's not gonna work.’ ”  

In 1962, Pope John convened a church council, later called Vatican II, hoping to pave the way for Christian unity. He asked Christians everywhere to join him and “joyfully echo” his prayer to the Holy Spirit: “Renew your wonders in our time, as though for a new Pentecost.”   

“He was looking for energy.  He was looking for power from on high.  He was looking for God to do something. He was looking for new Pentecost.
He anticipated that Vatican II was going to open the windows of the Church to the Holy Spirit, and apparently to signs and wonders,” says Dr. Martin.  

Pope John passed away in 1963 before Vatican II concluded. Pope Paul the 6th followed and found the world devolving into chaos. A new generation was thumbing its nose at convention. Students took to the streets in protest. Turbulence ruled the decade.  

“At that point a lot of people were questioning everything and questioning God,” recalls David Mangan.

David Mangan was a graduate student in physics at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. He belonged to Chi Rho society, a group of Catholic students who met before classes to pray and study Scripture. Hungry for more of God and seeking this “new Pentecost,” they went away together on retreat at The Ark and The Dove in February 1967.  

“We were given a little paperback book called The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson, who was a Pentecostal pastor who worked with drug addicts and, in miraculous ways, brought them to healing and salvation merely through prayer,” remembers Mangan.  

Patti Mansfield recalls, “I kept saying, ‘This is happening today? Well, why aren't these things happening in my life?’  I thought, ‘Here I am, I’m baptized, I’m confirmed, I’ve received the Holy Spirit. Why isn't the Holy Spirit doing this in my life?’  And, we were told to to do three things, first, pray with expectant faith. The next thing was to take the Bible and read the first four chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. To tell you how ignorant I was of the Scripture, I had no idea where to find the Acts of the Apostles. I figured it was the New Testament because I knew the Apostles were in the time of Jesus.”   

The students opened each session of the retreat with the hymn “Veni Creator Spiritus”—“Come, Holy Spirit”—the same hymn Pope Leo invoked over the 20th century.  One of the speakers taught from Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8 (NLT), “. . . but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”  

“The word for power is the same Greek word where we, in English, would get the word dynamite. And He (Jesus) likened the coming of the Holy Spirit to dynamite”, says David Mangan. “And, that struck me extremely deeply, because although I’d been raised a good Catholic boy, and I was with the Lord. He hadn’t abandoned me at all and I knew that’s where I belonged and where I was but, I don't think I could have used the word “dynamite” as an adjective to describe my spiritual life at that point.“

David joined his small group session and asked a question: “Where is the dynamite?” He later recorded in his notes his desire to hear someone speak in tongues. “And then I put a dash.  And I put ‘me!’ with an exclamation point.”

David went off by himself to reflect on the teaching.

“When I opened the door and walked into the chapel, the presence of God was so powerful, I could hardly move. The only way I could say this, ‘I was lost in Christ, and happy to be so.’  And, I forgot—completely forgot—about all my pushing to say, ‘Where's the dynamite? Where's the dynamite?’ And that's exactly what it felt like. It felt like little explosions in my body were going off as part of this whole experience. I don't even know how to describe it beyond that. So, I started opening my mouth to thank God for what he had done, and I started praying in another language,” recalls Mangan.  

Later Patti joined David in the chapel.

Patti Mansfield remembers, “I began to tremble.  I remember thinking, ‘But God is here.  And he's holy, and I’m not holy.’ And so, just kneeling there in the quiet of my heart . . . I said, ‘Father, I give my life to you.  Whatever you ask, I accept it.’ I was lying there prostrate, and I felt immersed in the love of God. I felt like I was swimming in the mercy of God. I remember thinking, just [whispering] to Him, ‘Stay, stay, stay.’ “  

Other students were drawn into the chapel.   

“Some people were laughing for joy, others were weeping for joy.  Some said they felt like they wanted to praise God, but they didn't know if it was going to come out in English.  We were there and just in awe of the sovereign God,” recalls Mansfield.

David Mangan remembers, “Everything changed at that point . . . Now, I didn’t spot it all right away,  but  I mean everything was different, as it turned -   after-after this happened to me.”

The small gathering of Duquesne students who walked away from that retreat center say they were never the same. But, what they didn’t know at the time was that their life-changing experience was meant to be shared—and it was just the beginning. 

Learn more about the Manifestations of the Spirit.

The Pope celebrates Pentecost.

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