People of Praise

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People of Praise
TypeEcumenical Christian organization
HeadquartersSouth Bend, Indiana
about 3,000[1]

People of Praise is a charismatic Christian parachurch organization that provides community, spiritual direction, and opportunities for service to its members. It is not a church or denomination, and membership is open to any baptized Christian who affirms the Nicene Creed and agrees to the community's covenant. The majority of its members are Catholics, but Protestants can also join. It has 21 branches in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean, with approximately 3,000 members including children. It founded a group of nondenominational Christian schools, Trinity Schools.

People of Praise was formed in 1971 by Kevin Ranaghan and Paul DeCelles. Both men were involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, in which Pentecostal religious experiences such as baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues and prophecy were practiced by Catholics. In its early history, it influenced the institutional development of the Catholic Charismatic movement in the United States and played important roles in national charismatic conferences.

People of Praise practices a controversial form of spiritual direction that involves supervision of a member by a more spiritually mature person called a "head". People of Praise maintains that members retain their freedom of conscience under such direction. The community excludes women from the highest leadership positions and teaches that men are the spiritual leaders of their families. At the same time, it encourages women to pursue higher education and employment. Former People of Praise member and Catholic critic Adrian Reimers has accused People of Praise of being too ecumenical and of compromising Catholic teaching by embracing Protestant ecclesiology. Peter Leslie Smith, a Roman Catholic auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon, has been a member since 1983.[2][3]


People of Praise grew out of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, which began in the United States in 1967 and saw Pentecostal religious experience and practices such as baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues embraced by members of the Catholic Church. In the early days of the renewal, a number of Catholic covenant communities were formed, the first major one being the Word of God community in 1967. Another major covenant community was the Mother of God Community.[4]

These covenant communities were influenced by the communitarianism of the 1960s counterculture.[5] Historical theologian Paul Thigpen writes that in general these covenant communities "typically involved a commitment to at least some degree of sharing financial resources, regular participation in community gatherings, and submission to the direction of the group’s designated authorities."[6] Larger communities were often divided into "households", which did not always mean members were living in the same house. However, members of the same household needed to live close enough to each other to share meals, prayer times and other forms of fellowship. Most households were made up of one or two families, but others might be for single men or women.[4]

People of Praise was formed by Kevin Ranaghan and Paul DeCelles in 1971 at South Bend, Indiana.[7] It experienced early growth recruiting from major universities and was especially closely connected to the University of Notre Dame.[8] The group helped develop important institutions for the larger Catholic Charismatic movement. Until 1990, the South Bend community was the headquarters for the National Service Committee (a coordinating body for the various Catholic charismatic groups). It was also the headquarters of the Charismatic Renewal Services (a national distribution center for religious books and tapes) and published a magazine called New Heaven, New Earth. It also played the major role in the renewal's annual national conferences.[9] By 1987, People of Praise had around 3,000 members, including children.[10] By the end of the 1980s, Catholics were 92 percent of the membership.[8]

Members of the community have also been involved with the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services, located first in Brussels and later in Rome.[11] They have also worked ecumenically through participation in the International Charismatic Consultation,[12] the Charismatic Concerns Committee, the Charismatic Leaders Fellowship [13] and, more recently, in the Rome-based Gathering in the Holy Spirit.[14] Members also served with Cardinal Josef Suenens in drafting of Malines Documents I and II,[15] and with Fr. Kilian McDonnell. O.S.B., in the writing of Fanning the Flame.[16] These documents have contributed to the articulation and understanding of charismatic renewal and its place in the Catholic Church. They have also contributed to an understanding of how this movement can be understood by members of Protestant denominations of Christianity.


People of Praise defines itself as an ecumenical, charismatic covenant community "of families and single people who seek to participate in the mission of the church in our time and to live our lives communally".[1] Members live in their own homes, and sometimes single people will live with an unrelated family.[17] There are some households in which only single men or single women live together.[5]

People of Praise is not a church. All members of the community simultaneously remain members of their local parishes.[18] The majority of its members are Catholics, with Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Pentecostals and nondenominational Christians also represented.[19] The Spirit and Purpose of the People of Praise states that "we will live our lives together as fully as our churches permit, with hope that we may soon attain a unity of faith in the fullness of Christ our Lord." [20]

Members of the People of Praise support each other through weekly meetings that include religious teaching, Scripture readings, witnessing, and prayer for those with needs. Local groups may also hold charismatic prayer meetings and meet for dinner, fellowship and praise and worship. Members also meet in small groups.[21]


See also: Church covenant

The People of Praise considers itself to be a "covenant community", in which one becomes a member by agreeing to a covenant, a solemn agreement between two or more parties. The community considers the covenant with its members to be one of mutual care and service in spiritual, material, and financial matters.[22] The covenant is not an oath or vow; a member is released from it if they believe God is calling them to another way of life.[19] The covenant states:

Therefore, we covenant ourselves to live our lives together in Christ, our Lord, by the power of his spirit. We agree to be a basic Christian community, to find within our fellowship the essential core of our life in the spirit, in worship and the sacraments, spiritual and moral guidance, service and apostolic activity. We accept the order of this community, which the Lord is establishing with all the ministry gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially with the foundational ministry gifts of apostles, pastors, prophets, teachers and evangelists. We agree to obey the direction of the Holy Spirit manifested in and through these ministries in full harmony with the Church. We recognize in the covenant a unique relationship one to another and between the individual and the community. We accept the responsibility for mutual care, concern, and ministry among ourselves. We will serve one another and the community as a whole in all needs: spiritual, material, financial. We agree that the weekly meeting of the community is primary among our commitments, and that we will not be absent except for a serious reason.[23]

Membership is open to all baptized Christians who believe in the Nicene Creed.[5] There are two stages of membership in the community: underway and covenanted. People who are new to the community join as underway members. This stage of membership is meant as a time for people new to the community to freely explore (in consultation with the leadership) whether they belong in the community. While a member is underway, he or she actively participates in all aspects of the community life. Full membership occurs when one makes a public commitment to the covenant. Members make this pledge freely after a formation and instruction period that normally lasts three to six years.[22]

Leadership and spiritual direction[edit]

People of Praise is led by an eleven-member board of governors, the chairman of which is the overall coordinator. The board's responsibilities include electing the overall coordinator, establishing new branches, determining official teachings, approving the budget and approving appointments made by the overall coordinator. Board members serve for six-year terms and cannot serve more than two consecutive terms.[24]

Each location of the community is called a branch. The larger branches are led by a group of branch coordinators. These branches are divided into areas, which are each led by an area coordinator. The principal branch coordinator serves as the main leader of the branch. Smaller or newer branches are led by a team of branch leaders. All these coordinators or branch leaders are selected from among the covenanted men in a branch.[citation needed] On matters of great importance, consultations involving all full or "covenanted" members of the community guide the direction of the community, including (within a branch) the selection of coordinators. Branch members nominate three people, and one is selected to be a coordinator by the overall coordinator.[25]

The most controversial aspect of the People of Praise is the practice of headship or pastoral leadership, which, according to anthropologist Thomas Csordas, is where "individual members are supervised in their daily lives by a person regarded as more 'spiritually mature.'"[26] Pastoral care is considered an important service within the community; it is believed to foster relationships of love, service and charismatic ministry.[22]:15. Each member has someone called a "head", who acts as a personal adviser. In general, heads give encouragement, correction, and help in decision-making. Men have other men as their heads. Married women are headed by their husbands. Single women and widows usually have other women as their heads. Men and women with the appropriate skills are assigned as heads by the coordinators.[citation needed] People of Praise uses the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius as a basis for counsel and discernment.[19]

According to Sean Connolly, communications director for People of Praise, the community does not operate in an authoritarian fashion, "Freedom of conscience is a key to our diversity. People of Praise members are always free to follow their consciences, as formed by the light of reason, experience and the teachings of their churches."[19]

As a charismatic community, People of Praise recognizes prophecy as one of the spiritual gifts or charisms. Leaders of the community will consider the meaning of prophetic messages when making decisions concerning group life and sometimes will publish prophecy in community newsletters. There is no formal office of prophet, but the community does have a "word gifts" group made up of members that are recognized as being gifted in prophecy on a regular basis.[27]

Gender roles[edit]

The highest office a woman can hold in the community is "woman leader" (formerly "handmaid"). Women leaders "teach women on womanly affairs, give advice, help in troubled situations" and lead specialized women's activities.[28] The term handmaiden was chosen in 1971 as a reference to Mary, the mother of Jesus, who in the Bible described herself as a "handmaid of the Lord" or a woman who is close to God.[5] The community teaches that husbands are the head of the household as well as the spiritual head of their wives. While it emphasizes traditional gender roles, the organization encourages women to pursue higher education and employment.[28]

In much of community life, men and women work together without distinction. Both men and women prophesy and exhort at community meetings, teach together in the community sponsored schools, serve together as counselors at community camps, or as members or heads of music ministries, and evangelize together in inner cities. Still, there are some significant distinctions in the roles of men and women. As noted above, women are not able to be coordinators. The community, which refers to itself as a "family of families," sees this as following a biblical, traditional, and patriarchal model of the family. Men and women meet separately each week in small groups called 'men's groups' or 'women's groups.' The purpose is to build deeper relationships as brothers and sisters in Christ by discussing their lives and other issues with the goal of gaining wisdom, deepening friendships and encouraging one another to be faithful to God. Traditional roles are reinforced by encouraging men to do most of the heavier physical work involved when a family is moving to a new home or re-roofing a house, and when setting up for meetings and similar tasks. Women are encouraged to provide food and childcare, and run an effective household. However, these distinctions are not absolute. For example, women have also labored side by side with men in the construction work involved in the community's Allendale outreach.[1][29]

Divisions and affiliated organizations[edit]

Campus Division[edit]

The Campus Division of the People of Praise is made up of mostly college students. Members live together in student households. Most households hold regular prayer together and often eat together. While some are not in school, most members of the Campus Division attend a variety of colleges and universities, including the University of Minnesota, IUPUI, Saint Mary's College, Holy Cross College and the University of Notre Dame. Members of the Campus Division consider their common life together to be part of what the People of Praise has labeled as its city-building work.

Action Division[edit]

The Action Division consists of high school students and adults working together "to bring Christ's love to impoverished communities in real and tangible ways."[30] This is how the Action Division seeks to contribute specifically to the building up of the Kingdom of God through its work as an outreach of the People of Praise. At this point, their work primarily involves outreach in a poor neighborhood called Allendale in the city of Shreveport, LA. A second location has begun in inner city Indianapolis, Indiana. However, members say that they could work in other areas in the future. The Action Division aims to "provide those in need with an experience of God's love for them." This consists in providing jobs, affordable housing, strong families and prayer for physical healing. Action Division member work together to "share all aspects of life" with those who are in need; these needs may be material, financial, spiritual, intellectual or social.[31]

Christians in Commerce[edit]

Christians in Commerce (CIC) is a movement of business and professional men and women that is dedicated to help members grow in the Christian life and to influence the world of commerce with the gospel. Although CIC operates independently from the People of Praise, the People of Praise helped form CIC[32] and is actively engaged in its work. CIC is organized into over 35 local Men's Chapters, Women's Chapters and Campus Clubs. These chapters have held retreats (Challenge Weekends) that have been attended by over 14,000 men and women.[33]

Trinity Schools[edit]

Trinity Schools is a group of schools founded by People of Praise which teaches middle school and high school age children. While the schools operate as an independent nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, the goals and procedures are influenced by the approach of the People of Praise. Trinity Schools provide a Classical education heavily influenced by elements of Christian humanism for grades six through twelve. The schools follow an academic core curriculum which includes six years of mathematics, 5 years of science, 11 semesters of writing, 6 years of literature, and 5 years of foreign language. Students also take 1 full year and 2 years of partial courses in music, drawing and painting and two semesters of drama. The schools are ecumenical Christian. On its website Trinity School (in each of its three instances) is self-described as "an ecumenical Christian school witnessing to the fundamental unity of all who are baptized into Christ."[34] Students take 5 semesters of scriptural studies (through a ecumenical Christian approach) and either a Catholic or Protestant doctrine course. Trinity Schools maintain small classes with single-sex instruction except in a few key courses such as drama, art, and foreign languages.[35] The schools teach the theory of evolution.[5]

There are three locations:

Brotherhood of the People of Praise[edit]

The Brotherhood of the People of Praise is a Private Association of the Christian Faithful with Official Status in the Catholic Church.

While the People of Praise community which is the subject of this article has no official ties with any Christian church or denomination, a number of Catholic men who are members of this community have sought to regularize their status with the Catholic Church in order to be ordained Catholic priests. This group of men now has official status in the Catholic Church as a Private Association of the Christian Faithful.[36] "It has a membership of about 12 men, four of them now priests."[37] Peter Leslie Smith, a member of the group, was named an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon by Pope Francis and was ordained a bishop on April 29, 2014.[37][38]


In response to accusations of being cult-like, anthropologist Thomas Csordas has written about the People of Praise and stated, "I would definitely not use the term cult in its popular sense."[5] He said it was theologically conservative with a hierarchical leadership structure, but it was also influenced by the communitarianism of the 1960s counterculture.

The People of Praise has come under criticism from a former member, Adrian Reimers, an adjunct professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, who left the group in 1985.[39] Ecclesiologically, Reimers claims that the People of Praise misunderstands the nature of the Church. Kasper stated: "Protestant Christians do not wish to be a church in the same way as the Catholic church understands itself as a church."[40] Reimers alleges that by embracing a certain form of ecumenism, People of Praise has adopted an idea of what it means to be "Church" which is inherently a Protestant one:[41]

"Sword of the Spirit and the People of Praise misunderstand what the Church is, and this is most especially clear in the 'ecumenically sensitive' down-playing of certain specifically Catholic manifestations of faith. For example, both systems avoid public references to or veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary as something offensive to Protestants. But the ecclesiological significance of Mary is essential: She is the Mother and Model of the Church. Not to acknowledge her is not to know the Church as mother. This is no mere metaphor here, either. The economy of the Incarnation is that just as Mary was indispensable for bringing Christ to birth in the world, so is the Church - the institutional Catholic Church - necessary for the world to encounter Christ. And indeed, if we neglect the motherhood of Mary them we will surely overlook the living maternity of the Church and, in fact, see it as only an institution. Mary is integral to the faith, not an extraneous or non-essential object of sentimental devotion."

— Reimers. "Not Reliable Guides" (PDF). p. 98.

"The Church is most Church when she celebrates the Eucharist. With their emphasis on covenant commitment and the experience of community, People of Praise and Sword of the Spirit make the Body of Christ (i.e. the authentic Christian community) extrinsic to the Church, which is reduced to the role of a service institution. This ecumenism that pretends to live a corporate life of faith independent of any one church and outside the context of the Eucharist is a merely human venture. Wherever Mass is celebrated, Christ is saving His people by offering up a perfect sacrifice to His Father and by laying down His life for them. He is gathering them into one."

— Reimers, Not Reliable Guides


  1. ^ a b c "Official website of the People of Praise". Retrieved 2007-05-01.
  2. ^ "Auxiliary Bishop Peter L. Smith". Archdiocese of Portland. Retrieved July 4, 2018.
  3. ^ "Pope Francis names Father Peter Leslie Smith an auxiliary bishop for Portland archdiocese". The Oregonian. March 4, 2014.
  4. ^ a b Thigpen 2002.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Graham, Ruth (3 July 2018). "Amy Coney Barrett Is Allegedly a Member of a Religious Group That's Been Called a "Cult"". Retrieved July 4, 2018.
  6. ^ Thigpen 2002, "3. Organization".
  7. ^ Agnew 1997, p. 319.
  8. ^ a b Csordas 1997, p. 15.
  9. ^ Csordas 1997, p. 10.
  10. ^ "as early as 1987, People of Praise consisted of some 3,000 people including children" Stanley Burgess Encyclopedia of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity. Routledge, New York, London, 2006. p.130.
  11. ^
  12. ^ ICCOWE (International Charismatic Consultation on World Evangelisation) Archived 2008-07-25 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "group of charismatic leaders that formed the Charismatic Concerns Committee (CCC) in the early 1970s. The CCC was later re-named the Charismatic Leaders Fellowship," Archived 2008-03-19 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "Catholic News". Parish World. Archived from the original on 2008-10-03. Retrieved 2008-03-17.
  15. ^ "Modern Pentecostalism". Archived from the original on 2008-03-21. Retrieved 2008-03-17.
  16. ^ Fanning the Flame: What Does Baptism in the Holy Spirit Have to Do with Christian Initiation? Edited by George Montague and Killian McDonnell (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991).
  17. ^ "For Pastors". Retrieved July 4, 2018.
  18. ^ Csordas 1997, p. 17.
  19. ^ a b c d Connolly, Sean. "Who We Are: Hard to Understand and That's Ok". People of Praise. Retrieved July 4, 2018.
  20. ^ Spirit and Purpose of the People of Praise People of Praise, Inc., 1986.
  21. ^ Buechi, Patrick J. (May 23, 2013). "People of Praise Commit Lives to Christian Community". Diocese of Buffalo. Archived from the original on March 23, 2014.
  22. ^ a b c Spirit and PurposePeople of People of Praise, copyright,1971.
  23. ^ DeCelles, Paul (October 15, 1976). "Our Covenant Commitment". People of Praise. Retrieved July 4, 2018.
  24. ^ "Three Elected to Board of Governors". People of Praise. May 16, 2018. Retrieved July 4, 2018.
  25. ^ Csordas 1997, p. 16.
  26. ^ Csordas 1997, p. 18.
  27. ^ Csordas 1997, pp. 16–17.
  28. ^ a b Csordas 1997, pp. 18–19.
  29. ^ Vine & Branches South Bend, IN. March, 2006.
  30. ^ "Our Action program brings together high school students and adults working to bring Christ's love to impoverished communities in real and tangible ways."
  31. ^ "Action page of official website of People of Praise". Retrieved 2007-05-01.
  32. ^ "Our Work page of official website of People of Praise". Retrieved 2008-10-25.
  33. ^ "Official Christians in Commerce website". Archived from the original on 2000-10-01. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
  34. ^ Trinity Schools Website, accessed March 23, 2014.
  35. ^ "Official website of Trinity Schools". Retrieved 2007-05-01.
  36. ^ "Several of our single men, including four Catholic priests, are members of the Brotherhood of the People of Praise, an organization with official status in the Catholic Church as a Private Association of the Christian Faithful."[non-primary source needed]
  37. ^ a b "Pope Names Portland, Oregon Priest As Auxiliary Bishop Of Portland"
  38. ^ The Oregonian. "Pope Francis names Father Peter Leslie Smith an auxiliary bishop for Portland archdiocese"
  39. ^ Reimers, "Not Reliable Guides"
  40. ^ Kasper, Cardinal Walter, "The Decree on Ecumenism – Read Anew After Forty Years"
  41. ^ Pope Francis asks Catholics to remain within the Church in their thinking and their activity so as not to fall into the same trap as the Pharisees did in making the Word of God a matter of private interpretation. "With humility and prayer, we go forward to listen to the Word of God and obey it. In the Church. Humility and prayer in the Church. And so, what happened to these people will not happen to us: we will not kill to defend the Word of God, that Word which we believe is the World of God, but it is a word that is totally altered by us."


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