Jim Graves is a Catholic writer and editor living in Newport Beach, California. He previously served as Managing Editor for the Diocese of Orange Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Diocese of Orange, California. His work has appeared in the National Catholic Register, Our Sunday Visitor, Cal Catholic Daily and Catholic World Report.
Some years ago, septuagenarian John DeNisi of Irvine, California, was undergoing a series of medical tests which indicated he had cancer in his left lung. Pessimistic about his chances for survival, he asked the deacon at his parish, Deacon Steve Greco, to pray for his healing. Deacon Greco had invited DeNisi to be part of a men’s prayer group 20 years prior and they were good friends.
Deacon Greco met DeNisi at a local parish after an early morning Mass and the pair stood before an outdoor statue of the Blessed Mother. As Deacon Greco put his hand on DeNisi’s left shoulder and prayed, DeNisi said, “I felt like I was hit by a truck. It seemed like fire was running down the left side of my body.”
Soon after, DeNisi met with a surgeon at the hospital to undergo additional testing and prepare for surgery. The surgeon had previously told him, “Only one in 500 people with your test results does not have cancer.”
But the remarkable came true: additional testing showed no signs of cancer. The astonished surgeon sent tissue samples to the Mayo Clinic to verify his findings, but again learned that there was no cancer at the cellular level.
DeNisi remains cancer-free, and believes God used the deacon as an intercessor to bring about his cure. DeNisi said, “The Holy Spirit used Steve to work a miracle in me. There is nothing else that can explain my cure.”
Unleashing the power of the Holy Spirit is a key focus of Deacon Steve Greco and Spirit Filled Hearts, a ministry he founded in 2014, two years before his retirement as an executive in the pharmaceutical industry. The Holy Spirit is first given to Catholics in the Sacrament of Baptism and Confirmation, he said, which calls us to live out our lives as Catholics as “priest, prophet and king.”
Deacon Greco continued, “We are called to live lives of purpose, sacrifice for the Lord and for others and to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.”
Openness to the Spirit “invigorates” the spiritual life of Christians, Deacon said, “and gives them the zeal and focus on the New Evangelization, as the Holy Spirit directs us on how to share our faith.”
Since launching the ministry, Greco believes the ministry has personally touched as many as 100,000 people, and many times more through his Relevant Radio program Empowered by the Spirit and through other media outlets, with his message of openness to the Spirit, docility to God’s will and living one’s Catholic faith with passion and purpose.
Early Life in Glendale, California
Deacon Greco grew up in Glendale, a Los Angeles suburb, in an observant but not especially pious Catholic family. He graduated from Loyola University in Los Angeles (today Loyola Marymount University) and immersed himself his business career. In 1972, he married wife Mary Anne, with whom he has three children.
The deacon’s faith took a back seat to his career early in their marriage, and the young family suffered. But a series of conversion experiences led him to a greater embrace of his faith. One such experience, he related, is when a Catholic co-worker showed up at a business meeting wearing a Holy Spirit pin. He said in surprise, “Catholics don’t wear Holy Spirit pins.”
The man replied, “I found Jesus. I discovered him on a personal basis.”
On a long drive home, Deacon Greco reflected on the experience, and when he arrived at his Irvine home he offered what he calls a “fervent prayer,” offering his life to Christ and committing himself to Christ’s service. His life changed, he said, as he “dusted off” the family Bible and began reading it for the first time. Deacon Greco said, “The words leapt off the pages at me. It was like I never heard or read them before.”
Among the Scripture verses that most impacted him were John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
Deacon Greco said, “This is the verse that they hold up on signs at NFL games. But, for the first time, it really penetrated my heart: Jesus died for me personally.”
His sinfulness made him feel unworthy of God’s love and undeserving of Salvation, until he read Romans 8:1: “Hence, now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
He reflected, “I had been condemning myself. I had felt that I was not good enough. But suddenly that changed. When you surrender to Jesus, who died for us personally, you will be truly free.”
Active in Parish Ministries
Deacon Greco became active in a variety of parish ministries — along with his wife Mary Anne — including prayer groups, Bible studies and prison ministries. His pastor at the time took note of his zeal, piety and considerable talents he’d acquired in his business career, and suggested he train for the permanent diaconate.
Deacon Greco recalled, “It was a struggle, balancing my business career, family demands and formation for the diaconate. But, as I took classes, it became apparent to me that I’d been called to a life of service as a deacon, working with the poor and those who don’t know Christ.”
But the biggest challenge of all was “striving for holiness,” he said, with such components as daily Mass, frequent confession, additional Scripture reading and regular devotions, including the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
While Deacon Greco might have had initial doubts about the diaconate, Mary Anne did not. She said, “I always thought he’d make a good deacon, but I never expressed it to him. When he expressed a desire to go through the process, I knew it must be God calling him.”
He was ordained by Bishop Tod Brown for the Diocese of Orange in 2007, and assigned to his parish, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The ministry he provides has since been a “team effort,” related Mary Anne, “as we strive to be instruments for Christ in all that we do.”
As Deacon Greco neared his professional retirement, he looked for ways to use his experience building business organizations to create a ministry based on evangelization and healing. Hence, in 2014, he launched Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry. He said, “I was excited that the name was still available. I’d sum up our purpose as helping people make most important journey any Christian can make: the 18-inch journey from head to heart. It’s about putting Jesus Christ into our lives and into our hearts.”
Citing the story of the resurrected Christ walking unrecognized with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), he said, “When Jesus left, the disciples said, ‘Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?’ (Luke 24:32) We’re called to have hearts on fire for Christ. It’s not merely about head knowledge, but about allowing Jesus and the Holy Spirit to empower us.”
Constantly on the Move
In addition to serving at his parish, Deacon Greco is constantly on the move, regularly delivering talks, presenting conferences, leading pilgrimages and heading prayer groups. He has a weekly radio program, is author of five books on spirituality and has recorded a variety of CDs and DVDs.
Four times he has taken mission trips to destitute regions of the Philippines and Indonesia. He began the overseas missions after he received a series of dreams calling him to evangelize overseas, and despite the hardships of Third World travel is planning additional overseas trips in the future.
Dennis Weidman went on all four mission trips, joining Deacon Greco as he prayed with and visited the sick, schools, retirement homes and villages in an effort to “tell our brothers and sisters in Christ the Good News about Jesus Christ.” While the poverty Weidman observed was “unbelievable” and “disheartening,” he also had positive memories of “people’s love, smiling faces, singing and dancing for us, their kindness and sharing, deep-seated faith, reverence and hope, and Jesus’ miracles.”
As DeNisi attests, many participants believe that Deacon Greco has the “gift of healing.” Vivian Klausner believes Deacon was God’s instrument in healing her 26-year-old son, Edward, of autism. It began when she attended one of the deacon’s “Life in the Spirit” seminars and asked him to pray for Edward’s healing. She said, “He asked for it, and we received it.”
Edward’s eyes are now alert, she related, his communication and self-esteem have improved and he has matured. She continued, “It’s been amazing to see. Edward is now asking God for a more normal life.”
Edward’s healing dovetails with another hallmark of the ministry — expecting and experiencing miracles. Petrina Palluzzi believes the miraculous survival of her second child is due to Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry. She had had problems with her first pregnancy, and was concerned she’d have additional problems with the second. Deacon Greco prayed over her multiple times for the well-being of her and her child.
During a C-section delivery of the child, the doctor “gasped,” Palluzzi related. The uterine wall was so thin that both Palluzzi and the baby should have died. Amazingly, however, a healthy child was delivered, and mom was fine as well.
Deacon Greco had a dream a week later, he said, in which “the Lord showed me all the locations and times of my prayers over my colleague and how those prayers had protected her and the baby.” He continued, “God wants us to believe. He wants to heal us according to his perfect will.”
In recent years, Deacon Greco has highlighted the importance of forgiveness, releasing his latest book, Miracles through Forgiveness. He explained, “A lack of forgiveness is one of the greatest obstacles to growing in faith, and allowing God’s gifts and miracles to flow through us. It leads to resentment and hardness of heart and blocks God’s forgiveness of us. Learning to forgive is one of the most important elements of spiritual growth.”
For those struggling with forgiveness or any other aspect of the spiritual life, Deacon Greco offers this advice: “Don’t give up, don’t give up, don’t give up.”
The deacon further explained, “I believe very strongly that understanding God’s mercy is key to understanding His love. If we can understand that love, it will transform us and motivate us to share our faith.”
Wherever he goes and whomever he meets, openness to the Holy Spirit and allowing the Spirit to flow through and empower individuals remains a dominant theme. As Deacon Kevin Helfers of the Diocese of San Diego, another Life in the Spirit seminar participant, related, Deacon Greco’s “encouragement and education helped me to be bolder and more in tuned with the Holy Spirit. He is a gift to our Church and a light in the world.”