Duquesne alums recall Charismatic Renewal’s extraordinary beginnings

David Mangan, who attended the 1967 retreat at Duquesne University that sparked the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (pictured behind him), speaks Feb. 17 during a conference celebrating the 50th anniversary of the movement at Eastern Michigan University. (Mike Stechshulte | The Michigan Catholic)

Participants at historic retreat share graces during 50th anniversary conference

YPSILANTI — David Mangan still doesn’t count himself worthy of the things he experienced 50 years ago at The Ark and The Dove Retreat House near Pittsburgh.

One of 27 young people from Duquesne University and La Roche College who were attending a weekend retreat, Mangan had just graduated the year before and was asked to give a talk on the power and work of the Holy Spirit.

“And God in His wisdom gave me the grace to say no,” Mangan said. “I’m a teacher by trade, and one of things a true teacher has to understand is you don’t teach what you don’t know.”

Mangan admits that today he knows a bit more about the Holy Spirit than he did going into the now-famous “Duquesne weekend.” Fifty years later, the retreat is known as the birthplace of today’s Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement, which claims millions of followers around the globe and is focused on spreading awareness of the gifts, or “charisms,” of the Holy Spirit.

Mangan, who lives in Ann Arbor, spoke about his extraordinary experiences during a Feb. 17-19 conference at Eastern Michigan University commemorating the Charismatic Renewal’s golden jubilee. He was joined by Patti Gallagher Mansfield, another student on the retreat, who shared their recollections on the opening night of the conference, “50 Years of Amazing Grace.”

Conference attendees raise their arms and sing during a praise-and-worship session Feb. 17. (Mike Stechshulte | The Michigan Catholic)

Of the two dozen or so students at Duquesne — the full name of which is Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit — “about half” received some sort of mystical experience that weekend, Mangan said, which today he would describe as a “baptism of the Holy Spirit.”

“God knew how little we deserved to be there,” Mangan said. “He knew we did not know what we were doing. He knew we would mess it up. But He did it anyway. The Lord didn’t visit us because we were worthy, but because we were needy.”

As Mangan tells it, he and other students were profoundly affected by the retreat’s theme, which focused on the working of the Holy Spirit in modern times. To prepare, students were asked to read the story of Pentecost in the Acts of the Apostles, and began each session of the retreat with an incantation to the Holy Spirit.

Upon listening to a reading from Acts 1:8, which says “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,” Mangan recalled writing in his notebook his desire to witness this “power” in modern times, writing, “I want to hear someone speak in tongues: me.”

“I wasn’t trying to be defiant,” Mangan said, “but I don’t know if I would have believed it if it were anyone else.”

Moved by the idea, Mangan proposed to the campus chaplain that he and the other students should renew their confirmation promises. Though many of the students seemed uninterested in the idea, he and Mansfield — who herself was deeply impacted by the retreat’s focus on prayer and confession — were determined to go through with it.

When the chaplain asked the pair if they were ready, Mansfield recalled having a moment of trepidation about the idea, but wrote in her own notebook the words, “I want a miracle.”

“Even though I was afraid, greater than my fear was my excitement,” said Mansfield, who today serves as a liaison for the Charismatic Renewal for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Soon after, the pair found themselves praying separately in the chapel of the retreat center before the Blessed Sacrament, when each had an experience that still to this day they have trouble describing.

“When I went into the chapel, for the first time as a Catholic I knew experientially what we Catholics mean when we say the Real Presence,” Mansfield said. “As I knelt there, I was shaking and I was thinking, ‘This is God. God is here, and He’s holy. And I’m not holy. And if I stay here in the presence of this holy God, something is going to happen to me.’ I felt my body was on fire.”

Soon, she found herself prostrated on the floor, trembling and “inundated with the love of God,” Mansfield said. She didn’t want to leave, but instead preferred “to die to be with Him” instead.

Mangan described a similar experience that night, unbeknownst to Mansfield and the rest of the group.

“I fell on my face, and it was not my idea,” Mangan recalled. “I experienced explosions in my body to the point where I didn’t know if I would survive.”

Mangan said all he could think at the moment was the Scripture passage from the Old Testament that “none shall see the face of God and live.” Not knowing what else to do, he began thanking God for the experience, and heard himself speaking in a language he didn’t recognize.

Dazed, he left the chapel and ran into Mansfield, whose smile and “glowing face” revealed that she, too, had shared the experience.

The pair recalled asking retreat leaders about their experiences, who told them about the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Scripture.

“He said, ‘You know there’s a gift in the New Testament called speaking in tongues, and I think that’s what you experienced.’ He said, ‘If it happens again, you’ve got to let it rip,’” Mangan said. “And I’ve been letting it rip for 50 years.”

During the opening night of the conference, Mansfield and Mangan “let it rip” again, leading the hundreds of participants while praying in tongues from the center convention stage. In between praise and worship sessions, those who felt they received a “word” to share with the group were invited to the microphone to speak.

Over the next two days, conference participants listened to talks from others involved in the Charismatic Renewal, attended Eucharistic adoration and participated in Mass celebrated by Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron and other bishops from across Michigan. A youth conference was also presented.

Since the founding of the Charismatic Renewal in 1967, the movement has received words of encouragement from every pope since Blessed Pope Paul VI, Mansfield said, right up to Pope Francis, who called the renewal “a current of grace” to share with the whole Church.

Mansfield said she had no idea the experience would lead to a “worldwide movement,” but said any “credit” for the graces of the Charismatic Renewal are to the Jesus and the intercession of His mother.

“Only the Lord knows how faithful and how unfaithful I’ve been. But to whatever measure I have been faithful, I owe it all to the prayers of the Blessed Mother,” Mansfield said.