Bishop James Powers attended the Hearts on Fire celebration for adoration and benediction. He prayed, “Thank you Father for sending your Spirit down upon the world – the Spirit, the Paraclete, that source of wisdom that speaks to the heart and the soul of every human being. Help us to open ourselves to the grace of the Spirit.” (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald staff

Currents of grace. Channels of belief in God’s existence and his active presence through the action of the Holy Spirit. Cooperation of persons open to being instruments.

That is what approximately 100 people had the opportunity to experience at the Hearts on Fire charismatic celebration on Sunday, Sept. 24. Held at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Ladysmith, the schedule included two speakers, praise and worship and time for small group discussion.

Bishop James Powers presided at the Eucharistic adoration and benediction to end the event, which was followed by a potluck meal. Four priests also attended: Fr. Gerard Willger, Fr. Mike Tupa, Fr. Bala Policetty and Fr. Dean Buttrick.

When Bishop Powers asked Fr. Buttrick to be diocesan liaison for the Charismatic Renewal in spring 2017, the priest started by taking a census to gauge interest. Through bulletin announcements, Fr. Buttrick received 70-plus responses. From there, a core group of about 12 people formed to plan Hearts on Fire.

Fr. Buttrick expressed how pleased he was with the attendance.

“The day went quite well,” he said. “We had no idea how many were going to be there: 40, 50 or 60?”

Fr. Buttrick said he was especially grateful for Bishop Powers’ presence as a sign of support.

Speakers Laura Fenzl and Sr. Mary Anne Schaenzer, SSND, gave personal testimonies of their charismatic experiences.

Fenzl, youth director in Rhinelander, shared her introduction to the renewal through the Church of St. Paul in Ham Lake with pastor Fr. Tim Nolan in the late 1980s. The parish exemplified openness to the Holy Spirit, she said: Parish council meetings started with praise and worship, prayer teams were available after Masses, and door-to-door missions reached out to parish households.

“Fr. Tim Nolan moved as fast as the Holy Spirit would go,” she added.

Referencing her work with youth, Fenzl said, “Walking along with teenagers, they teach you!” She has witnessed the healing power of the sacraments with high schoolers at Steubenville youth conferences, and she shared the testimony of a group of seventh-grade girls, mentored in prayer, who prayed for a teacher with infertility. According to Fenzl, she later conceived.

“God used them when he needed them. [Through prayer] he gave them a purpose – to help bring about the creation of a new person,” Fenzl said.

Sr. Mary Anne began with an invitation to reflect.

“My story isn’t about me – I want it to stir up your story,” she said. “How has God worked in your life?” She related how the charismatic renewal began in early 1967 at a student retreat at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Her personal involvement came in 1968, five years after entering the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

Her love for the Holy Spirit started many years prior. As a sixth-grader preparing for Confirmation, she wondered why there wasn’t a more prominent presence of the Holy Spirit in the church. After learning about Pentecost, she concluded, “If they needed the Spirit then, we still need the Spirit today.”

Sr. Mary Anne also credits her mother, raised Protestant, with teaching her spontaneous prayer. In a time when recited prayers were the norm, she was encouraged to pray “with her own words.”

Sr. Mary Anne spoke with high regard of the ecumenical character of the renewal, and of Pope Francis’ support.

For those interested in further study, she referenced authors John Sherrill and Patty Gallagher Mansfield. Schaenzer praised Blessed Elena Guerra, who wrote numerous times to Pope Leo XIII about bringing the Holy Spirit to the heart of Christian life. The pope responded with an important document on the Holy Spirit and his action in the encyclical Divinum illus munus.

Many of those present were baby boomers, and Sr. Mary Anne’s recurrent question was, “Where were you in 1967?”

After a time of praise and worship, the audience broke out into small groups to share their own personal experiences and reflections.

In one group, Fr. Mike Tupa, pastor of the Webster-Crescent Lake-Danbury cluster, shared his answer with a story. “We lived just outside of Chicago. In January 1967 I had just turned six, and there was no snow on the ground. I remember crying to my mom and I couldn’t sleep.”

Distressed, he asked his mother why God wouldn’t give them snow. She replied that he needed to pray for it.

After praying “really, really, really hard” the region was hit with a record-breaking blizzard. The snowfall of Jan. 26-27 still holds the record of 23 inches.

Fr. Tupa mused, “As that snow was coming down, I kept thinking about my praying. And then I was thinking, God certainly does exist. He heard my prayers. This was my first belief that there truly is a God.”

The seeds of Fr. Tupa’s priestly vocation are linked to the charismatic renewal. His family moved to Rhinelander in the late 1970s. They had just returned to the practice of their faith, and Catholicism was new for 17-year-old Tupa. A few weeks after he received Confirmation, the parish held a healing Mass at which the invitation was made for those present to be prayed over.

“The priest presiding said to pray for people as they were coming up. I was in the first or second pew, praying for everyone as they were coming up. And then all of a sudden I felt this warm feeling of the Spirit saying ‘maybe single out one person in line.’” Not knowing anyone, he picked out someone and focused his prayer, repeating, “Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit, come. Come into her life. And when she was prayed over she was slain in the Spirit. No one else in the whole church was slain in the Spirit, just her.”

That experience, combined with a personal vision of the light colored wine turning blood red during the consecration at that Mass, led the young man to meet with his priest and ask what it all meant. The answer was, “I don’t know, but someday you’ll figure it out.” Not long after that conversation, Fr. Tupa felt the tugging of his priestly call and was eventually ordained in 1991.

Another participant in that small group was Tom Gelhaus, of Owen. He and his wife, Mary, are parishioners at Holy Rosary, Medford. He was exposed to the renewal during his time in the seminary in the 1970s. He admitted his cynicism towards the claims of praying in tongues and being slain in the Spirit.

“I was a real doubting Thomas, until I realized the power of prayer at a healing Mass,” he said.

Fr. Buttrick pulled the core team together after the potluck to review the small group discussions. With participants representing all parts of the diocese, many had had some previous charismatic experience. One woman said the celebration felt “like coming home.”

Some attendees expressed a desire for more formation. Given the rural nature of the diocese, Fr. Buttrick foresees offering Life in the Spirit seminars, after which regional prayer groups could start. These would be in addition to existing prayer groups which were promoted through the event’s program pamphlet. Parishes in Barron, Minong, River Falls and Medford all have charismatic prayer groups.

A website is in development. There is a Facebook page for the group – Diocese of Superior Charismatic Renewal. Fr. Buttrick is also available at 715-798-3430.