Faith in Good Things Happening A Priest's Agonizing Decision to Marry Led to a New Spiritual Life

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Soergel, Times-Union staff writer

Francis MacNutt is used to making big decisions.

Decision 1: In his 20s, he was a Harvard graduate with a master's degree from the theater department of Catholic University (Johnny Carson's future sidekick, Ed McMahon, was a classmate). But he decided to enter the Roman Catholic priesthood and become ordained in the Dominican order.

Decision 2: In his 40s, after attending a multi-faith conference in Tennessee, he became convinced that prayer could cure the sick. He was a respected clergyman, and his embrace of faith-healing raised eyebrows among many in his faith.

Decision 3: In his 50s, he fell in love with and married a woman 22 years his junior -- even though it was sure to bring about excommunication from the church he loved.

Decision 4: At 54, he became a father.

Big moves, all of them. And the last three were made in the spotlight, for MacNutt was an influential priest known around the world.

A columnist had named him one of the top five Catholic preachers in the United States. He'd preached in dozens of countries. He'd been president of the Catholic Homiletic Society. He'd written several books, including a 1974 book, Healing, that's still being translated (he just received the Slovakian version this year).

His decision to marry was a controversial one: Some of his close friends and colleagues cut him out of their lives, though many, he said, have become reconciled with him and with his decision. "You live with it," he said, "and you live with the fact that people believe you made a terrible blunder on it."

MacNutt is now 76, a patrician-looking man, 6 feet 4, with a full head of silver hair.

He met Judith Sewell in Jerusalem in 1975. He was there preaching to 5,000 people. She had had a psychology practice in Boston but left to become a Southern Baptist missionary in Israel.

He said he sensed something special about her from the beginning. "I just knew she was very striking. It was a very profound observation," he said, laughing. "Then I got to know her, and found she was spiritually very deep. We are able to pray together."

They were married in 1980 and had two children.

He and Judith, a psychotherapist, work together. They founded Christian Healing Ministries in Clearwater, then moved to Jacksonville in the 1980s.

Life has gone well since their marriage. Their children are now in college. In 1993, they received a dispensation to marry, and the MacNutts rejoined the Catholic Church. There are now 17 people on their staff at Christian Healing Ministries, setting up prayer and counseling sessions for the ill. …