The Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the lives of believers

Over 150 million Catholics worldwide are affiliated with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, a movement which began in the late 1960s with two young theology professors, both former Notre Dame students, at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. William Storey and Ralph Kiefer were preparing to lead a retreat for students, seeking a way to foster personal devotion and zealous love for God in their retreatants in response to what they had identified as a widespread lack of commitment and enthusiasm among young Catholics. Individuals on campus today are still experiencing the fruits of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal by inviting the Holy Spirit into their lives in prayer and action.

Fr. Ed O’Connor, C.S.C., who taught the two men at Notre Dame and later became a charismatic Catholic himself, recounted how the movement began. Storey and Kiefer had committed themselves to pray daily for a deeper experience of the Holy Spirit’s presence in their lives. In the course of studies and conversations, they were introduced to the concept of baptism in the Holy Spirit by charismatic Episcopalian friends and asked for prayers to receive it. Their profound experience of the gifts of the Spirit led them to pray for the movement of the Holy Spirit with their retreatants and later with other students at Duquesne. Soon the practice spread to other universities where students were hungering to experience God more fully.

Fr. Raniero Cardinal Cantalamessa, OFM. Cap., the Preacher to the Papal Household since 1980, is a charismatic Catholic who often teaches about the work of the Holy Spirit. In a recent article in Pentecost Today magazine, Cardinal Cantalamessa describes baptism in the Holy Spirit as the reception of “fervor of the Spirit” which enables Christian believers to “mortify themselves,” to practice virtue, and, like the Apostles, to “embrace a new life…to let the flame of love for Christ shine within themselves…and to let God lead them to perfection.”

This experience brings believers into “living and joyful contact with the main truths and realities of faith: God’s love, sin, salvation, the new life and transformation in Christ, charisms, and the fruits of the Spirit.” Cantalamessa states that perhaps the most important fruit of this baptism is “the development of one’s ‘personal relationship’ with Jesus risen and alive. In the Catholic understanding, the baptism in the Spirit is not the end of a journey, but a starting point to mature as Christians and as committed members of the Church.”

Charismatic Catholics believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit described by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 and elsewhere are given to the faithful who pray for baptism in the Holy Spirit. The experience does not supplant or detract from the graces God pours out in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. Rather, God grants these special gifts, as he did in the early Church, to edify, sustain, and renew individual believers and the whole Body of Christ.

By the early 1970s, new Catholic charismatic groups sprouted on many college campuses. Sr. Ann Astell, a professor in Notre Dame’s theology department and a Schoenstatt Sister of Mary, was a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the spring of 1972 when a friend invited her to attend a charismatic prayer meeting led by a priest who had been baptized in the Spirit.

Although she did not know what to expect initially (to her, the concept of charismatic prayer smacked of emotionalism), the meeting turned out to be a climactic moment. She remembers, “I had been going through a lot in the months before that meeting. I started to cry because I sensed the presence of God.” When others noticed her tears, they prayed over her. She then experienced an “extremely healing” encounter with God’s love in Jesus. “When I left that meeting, I thought, oh, I’m healed.”

The new experience of God’s love for her completely freed Sr. Ann from the depression and suicidal thoughts which had been plaguing her in college. She joyfully remembers going to a psychology professor who was her counselor and saying, “I don’t have to come any more.” In her junior and senior years of college, she decided to live in a committed charismatic community with new friends from the movement.

From the earliest days of the Catholic charismatic movement, the University of Notre Dame has been a center of its activity. Starting in 1967, Catholic Charismatic Renewal conferences met on campus each summer. The first meeting drew 50 participants, but attendance grew exponentially in just a few years. At the June 1974 conference, the stadium was packed with over 35,000 faithful seeking to experience life with Christ in a new and deeper way.

Having graduated a month before and in the process of discerning her vocation, Sr. Ann traveled to this conference with college friends from Wisconsin. While listening to a talk, she felt profoundly moved and began to cry copiously, an experience often called the “gift of tears.” After the talk, she recalled, a woman came up to her and said, ‘God will give you the deep desire of your heart.’ Sr. Ann recounted, “I didn’t know this lady! I was having the gift of tears and she just came and spoke to me!”

The next day, Cardinal Leo Jozef Suenens preached at Mass in the stadium: “He said that the Church will fly on two wings, the wing of the Spirit and the wing of the Blessed Mother.” She shared further that “a quite extraordinary and special thing happened to me during that Holy Mass … When I left Notre Dame that same night, I told one of my friends that I was going to become a sister. And now I’ve been a Catholic sister, a Schoenstatt Sister of Mary, for 40 going on 50 years.”

Testifying to the experience of being a consecrated Catholic religious with charismatic spirituality, Sr. Ann explained, “The Holy Spirit has many forms and many ways of renewing the Church. It’s all the work of the Holy Spirit. I think it’s really incumbent upon every Christian to be open to the Holy Spirit, to be transformed by the Spirit. And it works best if you ask Mary to be your partner.”

She herself has done this, embracing both Marian theology and pneumatology in her work at Notre Dame. Sr. Ann teaches a course on the Immaculate Conception, “the great work of the Spirit and of grace in the Blessed Mother.” In her Foundations of Theology class she emphasizes “the lives of the saints, and the interconnection between biblical stories and stories of Christian holiness.”

Sophomore Christian Quilon attested to the ways in which the Holy Spirit works in the lives of individuals. A cradle charismatic Catholic, his family is involved with the charismatic group Missionary Families for Christ, and he participated in many activities throughout childhood. However, in middle and high school, Quilon began to feel disconnected from his faith. He found himself inventing excuses to avoid attending the community’s youth gatherings, preferring to pursue other interests. His first personal encounter with the Holy Spirit came when he finally agreed to attend a summer camp after years of declining invitations.

At the camp, said Quilon, he heard talks that were “very foundational,” about the nature of God and how to live a Christian life, and was introduced to the idea of expressive praise and worship, a common type of charismatic prayer. Both manifested to him “a relational God who’s not stagnant, who’s not far away, who’s not just for old people,” he shared.

Many people are “aching to experience something deeper, something more fulfilling, something or someone that can give them purpose,” Quilon said. Before his experience at the summer camp, he felt the same dearth of purpose, distance from God, and lack of self-worth. But in formative moments at camp, study and worship of the Lord helped him “dive deeper,” drew him back to the sacraments of the Church, and opened his heart to “let the Holy Spirit work.”

His newfound relationship with God was transformative for Quilon. He recalled, “There was a visible change in the way I acted, in the way I talked to people, even in what I talked about to people.” He found himself wanting to draw back from problematic aspects of secular culture. Friends who had thought he was atheist or agnostic commented on the change.

Quilon stated: “Once you accept Jesus into your heart, you want to live just like he did. When Jesus tells us to take up his yoke and follow him, he doesn’t just mean ‘take my language’ or ‘take my appearance.’ He means, ‘take my whole worldview.’ You want to live like Christ because when you live out the Gospel, you might be the only encounter people ever have with the Gospel.”

Quilon believes that the Catholic charismatic movement has much to offer, not just to nonbelievers, but to mainstream Catholics as well. He points out how Catholics can often fall into a legalistic practice of our faith, in which we adhere to what the Church prescribes—receiving the Eucharist, going to confession, praying the Rosary—simply in order to “check off the boxes.” He also identified the temptation to be too cerebral about the faith, focusing solely on knowing God intellectually, not relationally. Since becoming a charismatic Catholic, Quilon has found impetus for his faith in a burning love for God. He says that a Catholic should “love God so much that you want to spend time with him in the Mass, love God so much that you want to learn everything you can about him.”

To foster Holy Spirit-led devotion and further respond to God’s call to spread the Gospel, Quilon started a new charismatic student group this year called Campus Based. Members of the tri-campus community meet weekly to enter into charismatic praise and worship and listen to talks. Quilon described a discipleship program the club is starting, where members are assigned a partner to “build each other up in the spiritual life, hold each other accountable to prayer, and be friends with one another.” Campus Based also intends to host events focused on the wider campus community, engaging the charismatic ‘missionary’ aspect of the club, because, as Quilon says, “If we really do believe that the Good News is good, then why should we keep it to ourselves?”

Another charismatic student organization, the Campus Fellowship of the Holy Spirit, has been present on Notre Dame’s campus since the early days of the Charismatic Renewal. Students meet weekly to engage with scriptural meditations and talks, share about the ways God is working in their lives, and pray intercessorily with each other. Members endeavor to place their academic, personal, and spiritual lives in common to better follow God’s call together.

Senior Claudia Linczer, the group’s president, described the primary goal of Campus Fellowship: To support each other as young Christians whose common vocation is to receive an education. In this club, she said, members, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are helping each other ‘be students’ together: “It is so necessary to have friends to be doing school with.”

Many students recognize the music of the Totus Tuus Praise and Worship Band. The group plays at EXALT Adoration nights, prayer services, and various Campus Ministry events. The talented vocalists and instrumentalists play “all types of worship music, with an emphasis on contemporary Christian genres,” according to their Campus Ministry page. Though not all events where Totus Tuus plays are charismatic per se, freshman Lia Clark shared that the band’s music moves her to prayer in the Holy Spirit, helping her worship and express devotion to God.

Anyone interested in exploring Catholic charismatic spirituality is welcome at both Campus Based and the Campus Fellowship of the Holy Spirit meetings, which both occur on Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. All are invited to join in praise and adoration with Totus Tuus at the final EXALT of the semester on April 8 at 7:30 p.m. in the Lewis Hall chapel, and pray with their music at any time.

Addie Clark is a sophomore studying theology and pre-med. Right now, she’s probably putting the finishing touches on her epic playlist of Lit Choir Holy Week music or engrossed in reading that definitely wasn’t assigned in any of her classes. She welcomes any further diversions from her rightful academic duties at

Featured art: Pentecost, by Titian (c. 1545)