Thursday, July 27, 2006

Reliving the Duquesne Experience

Catholic Charismatic Renewal's Beginning - A First Hand Account


"As I made my preparation for the retreat, I found myself wondering why as a Catholic I did not experience more of the power of the Holy Spirit in my life."
It is a widely accepted fact that the beginnings of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal were at a retreat for college students at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania in February 1967. The students who spent much of the weekend in prayer, asking God to allow them to experience the grace of both baptism and confirmation, had a powerful and transforming experience of God, which came to be known as 'baptism in the Spirit'. Thus began the story of the Charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church.

In this rare three-part interview, Ms. Patti Mansfield, one of the first students part of the historic "DUQUESNE WEEKEND", reveals to Dr. Edward Edezhath, the great experience and the countless fruits of the work of the Spirit that since then became manifest in the worldwide Church.

Q: The Duquesne Experience is today well known as the starting point of the Charismatic Renewal. Can you lead us through the experience of those eventful days?

A: I was part of a Scripture Study group of about 20-25 students from the Duquesne University. In February 1967 this group made their annual retreat based on the theme of the Acts of the Apostles. To prepare for the retreat, we read the first four chapters of the Acts and the book 'The Cross & the Switchblade'. As I made my preparation for the retreat, I found myself wondering why as a Catholic I did not experience more of the power of the Holy Spirit in my life. And so before leaving for the retreat, I knelt down in my room (I was a third year University student) and I prayed a very simple prayer. I was alone and I said, "Lord as a Catholic I believe I have already received Your Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation. But if it is possible for Your Spirit to do more in my life than He has done until now, I want it." And I am sure now 40 years later that God did hear my prayer.

It was interesting that each time we left for a session we used the ancient hymn of the Catholic Church, 'Veni Creator Spiritus' to invoke the Holy Spirit. We began our retreat in an upper room chapel of a retreat house in the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And the first event of the retreat was the meditation on our Lady. The Professor who presented it was someone I had as teacher in class. That night he seemed different. What none of us students knew at that moment was that this professor and three others (professors from Duquesne University and one of their wives) for months had been praying that they could experience the Holy Spirit in a deeper way. They were praying and hoping that something would happen to us during our weekend retreat. Well in fact it did. On Saturday, one of the young men, David Mangion had a wonderful suggestion. He said, "Each year we Catholics renew our Baptismal promises at the Paschal vigil. Why don't we close this retreat by having a ceremony where we renew our confirmation? Now that we are young adults, we can make real these graces we received when we were young people." But before even we could get to that point, the Holy Spirit intervened in a very sovereign way. Saturday later in the afternoon I wandered into the Chapel; there were just a few students there. I didn't have any intention to pray. I was just going to tell any students up there to come down for a birthday party we were having that night.

And when I entered the Chapel that particular night, February 18th 1967, for the first time in my life I knew why we Catholics call Jesus in the tabernacle 'the real presence'. Because I really began to tremble with the sense of the majesty of God and His greatness. I remember thinking "If I stay here in the presence of Jesus, something is going to happen to me". I felt somewhat afraid and wanting to kind of run and hide myself. Much greater than my fear of a total surrender to Jesus was the need that I had to do just that. I just prayed a prayer like this - "Father I give my life to you and whatever you ask of me - I accept it. And if it means suffering, I accept that too. Teach me to follow Your Son Jesus and to love the way Jesus loved." The next moment I found myself prostrate before Jesus in the tabernacle. And I was flooded, from my fingertips down to my toes, with the incredible mercy of God's love. I remember only one word of prayer that came to my mind, "Stay, stay, don't ever leave me!". I tasted and I saw for myself the sweetness of the Lord. I didn't know then that David had been into the Chapel a few hours before me and had an identical experience.

Q. At that point did any of your realize that the experience would radically revive the spirituality of the Church in the coming years?

A. Neither of us knew that what had happened to us that night February 18th 1967 would begin a movement in the Catholic Church called the Charismatic Renewal. All we knew was that we wanted to renew our Confirmation, we wanted to accept Jesus as our Lord, Master and Saviour. After my experience there was a sovereign outpouring of the Spirit. Not all but half the students wound up in the Chapel before the tabernacle. Some were weeping, some were laughing. Some others said they wanted to pray but they knew it wasn't going to come out in English. We all prayed in tongues but we did not know it was the gift of tongues. Some, like myself, found their arms tingling and burning. One of the professors walked in, and witnessing this scene he said, "What's the Bishop going to say when he hears that all of these kids have been baptized in the Holy Spirit?" I heard those words 'Baptized in the Holy Spirit' for the first time. I still had no idea that what was happening would be a grace that would transform millions in the coming years. It took some time for us to kind of stumble into the Charismatic gifts like healing, discernment of spirits, prophesy and the like. We did not have any teachers; only these brothers and sisters from different denominations. They were helping us but of course there were no Pentecost Gatherings in Rome with the Holy Father! It was really just a matter of being led by the Holy Spirit day by day. As I commented in the presence of the Holy Father at the Vigil of Pentecost, my immediate reaction after the experience was to take up the documents of Vatican II and seek references to the Holy Spirit and Charismatic gifts. I said to myself, "What if the Church does not approve of such a thing? "And I knew that I would sooner deny my personal experience than ever think of leaving the Church. So it was with great joy that I read in Lumen Gentium that "Charismatic gifts are the tools that are exceedingly useful for Catholics of every rank". And so there was the Church in its documents giving me the assurance that I should open myself up to the Holy Spirit along with these wonderful surprises, which were the Charismatic gifts.

Q: I was also wondering, did you receive any help or have any plan for formation to help this renewal of the Spirit grow? Tell me, was there anything specific you planned as a community or in a prayer meeting?

A: There were prayer meetings that existed prior to the outbreak of the Charismatic Renewal and many young people who made it to the weekend were part of it. They had group reunions where they gathered for reviewing how their week went, praying with one another. But once we were baptized in the Holy Spirit, it was natural to want to be with one another - not to discuss but to be with one another to pray. And as I was saying, the gifts of the Spirit were just beginning to blossom, we didn't even know that they were the gifts of prophecy, praying in tongues, interpretation and the like. So we were just going to begin a mode of discovery of these wonderful things. Some of the marvellous leaders like Ralph Martin and Steve Clark who experienced the Charismatic Renewal put together a short course which came to be known as the 'Life in the Spirit Seminar', an experience of 7 weeks where there were very basic presentations on the love of God, salvation in Jesus, the gift of the Spirit, receiving the Charismatic gifts. There was a week when people were prayed with, that they might commit their lives to Jesus as Lord and allow the Holy Spirit to baptize them. The last topic was ongoing transformation, about how the Lord uses trials, difficulties, sufferings of this life to really conform us more and more to His image. So it was a very basic course called the 'Life in the Spirit Seminar' which has been adapted in different locales, cultures, gone by different names but that has been a vehicle for millions and millions of people being baptized in the Holy Spirit. In many places it happens spontaneously, I know in our area we give weekend Holy Spirit retreats - many people have been baptized in the Holy Spirit. There was also this desire from the very earlier days to form ecumenical relationships in community. And these communities have been formed in different ways all over the world. There are some here in my country - sometimes called covenant communities. There have been others like the Emmanuel community in France which alone I think, has given birth to 130 priestly vocations.
(End of Part I)


From the early days of the Renewal Patti Gallagher Mansfield has served as a leader through teaching, writing and pastoral ministry. Patti is married to Al Mansfield, Co-ordinator of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal of New Orleans, Louisiana, and has four children.

Taken from the Jesus Youth International Newsletter, July 2006 - Download

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