Catholics and ORU

Connections Between ORU and the Catholic Church Run Deeper Than They Appear

This article was originally published in the Oracle, the student newspaper of Oral Roberts University, on February 11, 2010.

On May 23, 1912, the ground at Eighth and Boulder in a then scantly-developed downtown Tulsa was broken by parishioners of Holy Family Parish. After years of explosive growth in the still fledgling city of Tulsa, the parish had secured a loan to erect what would become known as Holy Family Cathedral, a downtown landmark and the centerpiece of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tulsa. The cornerstone was laid the following May and the building dedicated on April 1, 1914.

Holy Family Cathedral in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Today, visitors to Holy Family Cathedral enter the heavy doors into a beautiful sanctuary painted in dark reds and ornate golds, filled with beautifully carved pews, and topped-off with a 54-rank pipe organ. The first Sunday Mass service begins at eight o’clock in the morning and is followed by two more morning services and an evening Mass. The traditional Catholic Mass is a ceremony that includes singing of hymns, reading of Scripture, a homily (sermon), and a celebration of Holy Communion called the Eucharist.The Catholic faith expressed in the priceless art in the many cathedrals and monasteries is one which many Protestants have difficulty understanding. Father Michael J. Knipe, pastor of St. Pius X Catholic Church in midtown, helped to clarify some of these doctrinal questions.

Speaking of Catholics-only communion at Mass, Father Knipe said, “Catholics view communion as something much more than a mere memento of a ceremony Jesus performed. We believe the bread and the wine are supernaturally transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Taking communion in a Catholic Church is a way of saying I believe in this or I belong to this church.”

As well, he explained why Catholic priests tend to be unmarried: “Three words: credibility, availability, and spirituality. Remaining single allows a priest to set himself apart for prayer, study of the word, and to make himself able to meet the needs of his congregation.”

With a presence in Tulsa that predates Oklahoma statehood, the Catholic Church has witnessed a great deal of change within the city and within the larger Diocese of Tulsa, which covers all of eastern Oklahoma.

Father Edward James Slattery, a native of Chicago, was appointed the Bishop of the Diocese of Tulsa by Pope John Paul II in November 1993 and was consecrated at St. Peter’s Basilica by the Pope himself.

“I felt very unworthy,” the bishop said. “And I am unworthy. No one is worthy is to be a priest and no one is worthy to be a bishop. None of us is worthy even for God. He’s the one who provides all this through his grace.”

The bishop approaches his duties and God’s calling on his life with a great deal of humility. “Basically what I want to do is surrender my life to God and let him use me as he wishes. And if I do something good, I don’t want to take credit for it,” he said. “Even if I do everything I am supposed to do, I’m still an unprofitable servant. That’s Scripture.”

Many may remember Slattery from his delivery of the benediction at a Chapel service last fall, the first such official visit he has made to ORU in his time as Bishop.

“When I first came to Tulsa, I didn’t know much about the city, but I did know Oral Roberts University was here. Then, when I finally got here, there wasn’t much of a relationship between the diocese and ORU. It wasn’t unfriendly or anything, it just wasn’t there.”

Prior to the visit in early fall, the Diocese had used ORU’s facilities for events and graduations but nothing resembling an official relationship had existed for at least quite some time. “But that all changed when the new president came in,” Slattery said.

The relationship between ORU and Catholic clergy extends back a bit farther than Bishop Slattery however. In the 1970’s, Oral Roberts extended several invitations to Father Francis MacNutt to speak in the class “Holy Spirit in the Now.”

MacNutt, at the time a Catholic priest heavily involved in the Charismatic movement within the Catholic Church, is now married and co-founder with his wife of Christian Healing Ministries based in Jacksonville, Florida.

“My time in the Catholic Church affected me greatly,” he said. “Learning from St. Thomas Aquinas, the founder of my order, we learned from his step-by-step, Scriptural response to doctrinal disagreements, which helped me in my own approach.”

MacNutt could recall at least six times when he visited ORU at Oral’s behest. “One time, after I finished speaking, Oral ran from the audience and told me he had learned so much that he wanted me to forget the panel discussion afterward and keep talking,” he recalled.

“I and my wife were invited to become faculty members at ORU and my relationship with the university has always been good.”

MacNutt, now 84, doesn’t travel as much as he once did, but plans to spend his later years continuing to spread the message of God’s healing. “The Vatican has asked us to sponsor events in the past and we’re trusted by church authorities,” he said. “We really want to see a greater emphasis of teaching in the Catholic Church with regard to spirit baptism and the charisms, specifically healing.”

As well, within the university faculty, there is a professor whose spiritual journey led him to the Catholic Church. “I do not consider myself a ‘former Pentecostal.’ I brought that with me into the Church,” he said.

“Unlike some Protestant groups, the Catholic Church has acknowledged the gifts of the Spirit do persist and that there has been 2000 years of Pentecost.” Shelton is a professor of Theology at ORU and is an instructor for the Pastoral Studies Institute of the Diocese of Tulsa.

Before becoming Roman Catholic in 1996, Shelton was raised in a Pentecostal Holiness congregation and was a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church.

In his time at ORU, he has come to see a need to restore unity to the Body of Christ and sees a closer relationship between the ORU community and the Catholic Church as crucial.

“Oral Roberts would always warn to avoid the spirit of denominationalism. It grieves the heart of Jesus to see his Body, his Bride, in division,” he said. “The Catholic Church needs us, and we need them.”

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