By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

VALLY FORGE – Approximately 500 Catholics from the Philadelphia Archdiocese and surrounding states gathered April 18 at the Valley Forge Convention Center for the area’s annual Charismatic Renewal Conference.

“We prayed that God would bring in people from the north, the south, the east and the west, and that’s what He did,” said Gloria Coyne, archdiocesan liaison for the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (see profile on page 24). “We have people who came from Maryland, Washington, Connecticut, Vermont, all over,” she said.

“I’ve been coming for about 10 years,” said retired Sister of St. Joseph Joan Frances St. Clair. “I also go to conferences in Scranton and Wildwood, and I got to Steubenville (Ohio) once. I like to see everybody praying together and giving glory to God. If we could get the whole world to do this we might have more peace.”

Charismatic Renewal conferences are always lively events and usually draw – what else? – charismatic speakers. That’s what this group got in their morning keynote address, given by Father Dwight Longenecker, a convert from Anglicanism and married father of four, incardinated to the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina.

Most of his talk was of his own faith journey. Born in Pottstown, of Amish and Mennonite stock, he was raised as an Evangelical Protestant.

“My parents didn’t dislike Catholics, they just thought they needed to be saved,” he said.

For college he went on to Bob Jones University in South Carolina where the atmosphere definitely was anti-Catholic. Nevertheless, during this period he became friends with an elderly woman who was a devout Catholic who gave him a more favorable insight into the Catholic Church. He was also influenced by the priests in an Anglican parish in that area.

After his conversion to Anglicanism he went to England to enter an Anglican seminary and was ultimately ordained as an Anglican priest. Although his ministry was fulfilling and he was associated with extremely holy priests in that faith, his personal journey brought him to the Roman Catholic Church in 1995. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2006, just two miles from Bob Jones University. “Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?” he quips.

At this time the chaplain of a Catholic high school as well as a prolific writer on spiritual matters and a speaker in demand, he credits his conversion to the power of the rosary.

“By our praying the rosary the Blessed Mother, through the Holy Spirit, can minister to our needs on a very deep level,” Father Longenecker said. “Pray for yourself, pray for your friends, pray for your family, pray for the world.”

The main afternoon speaker was Eileen George of Worcester, Mass., who through her Meet the Father Ministry has been conducting mostly parish retreats and renewals for 27 years.

George has the reputation of being able to heal through prayer.

“Healing is a fringe benefit God gave,” she said. “My real ministry is bringing people back to the sacraments. That’s what I’m all about.”

Other speakers included Father Thomas Flowers of the Wilmington Diocese and Father Rene Canales of the Camden Diocese.

Bishop Robert P. Maginnis was the principal celebrant and homilist of the 4 p.m. liturgy. The conference also included a healing service, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and impressively long lines for confession.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.