Father Philip and the Holy Spirit

In 1980, Philip Scott experienced the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit, leading him back to the belief in Christ that he had abandoned as a teenager. In his zeal to be faithful to God, however, he took a detour away from the Church.

Eventually, God led him back not only to the Church, but also to the priesthood. In 1989 he founded a new religious order, known as the Family of Jesus Healer, which is currently a private association of the faithful seeking to become a public association. Its members, seven men and four women, live a life of poverty and prayer. They evangelize among the poor in Tampa's Ybor City.

Father Scott recently spoke with Register feature correspondent Tim Drake.

Drake: Tell me about yourself. Where are you from originally?

I was born in Lima, Peru, and come from a family of six.

My identical twin brother and I were the youngest two children. My father worked for the Shell Corporation and we moved to the United States when I was 5 years old. We spoke Spanish at home.

My immediate family currently lives in Maryland. My twin, Father Richard Scott, is also a priest. He serves the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

I understand that you fell away from your faith?

As a young boy I knew Christ, but between the ages of 15 and 20, I started living a lifestyle that wasn't in accord with my Catholic faith. The harder I would party, the deeper emptiness I felt. I wasn't a happy young man.

In 1980, I had an encounter that charismatics would describe as the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Basically, I told Jesus, “I don't know who you are but I give you my life.” For the following week I would awake at 12:30 a.m. each night and felt an overwhelming sense of God's presence. I knew that he died for me and that he loved me deeply and that he was calling me to a conversion.

Shortly after this experience my brother-in-law, who had left the Catholic Church, noticed the change in my life and he began posing questions and objections about Catholicism. While I was reading the Bible with great zeal, I found that I didn't know how to answer him. I had never been catechized.

I was convinced of the errors of Catholicism and felt the Church had lied to me. I became a fundamentalist. I began asking my parents the same questions. My father told me that as long as I lived under his roof I had to still attend Mass with the family.

How did you end up becoming a priest?

I was anti-Catholic because that is what I was being fed. I started dating a Hispanic woman and together we began attending a weekly Catholic prayer group that was an offshoot of Communion and Liberation. Through that group I met three priests from Spain that lovingly and zealously explained the faith to me. These priests were scholars and they lived their priesthood.

It was exciting to see priests that loved the Pope and were on fire for their faith. I was shocked to see how thoroughly Catholic they were — praying the rosary, reading Scripture, studying the Church Fathers. This experience was something entirely new to me in Catholic circles and I felt drawn to them. I couldn't wait to attend each week.

My girlfriend and I had a very Christ-centered relationship. I was working as a commercial artist and had asked her to marry me. She said Yes. Before making our engaged encounter weekend we decided to attend a retreat with these priests and nun friends from Communion and Liberation.

During the retreat, as I sat holding my girlfriend's hand, I was listening to one of the priests speaking about being “fishermen of men.” Suddenly, I was no longer aware of holding my girlfriend's hand. It felt as if it were the priest and I in the room alone together. The thought that filled me was this: “Leave all and come follow me.” I remember responding, “All, meaning her also?” Christ's response resonated within me — “All!”

The rest of the weekend I was preoccupied by this experience. My fiancée sensed this and thought I was being attracted by another girl. At first I attempted to fight the call, but it followed me like the hound of heaven. After a month she confronted me and told me that I hadn't been myself since the retreat. I told her that I could not get the idea out of my mind and told her that it wasn't fair to her.

In 1982 I entered seminary to become a priest with the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

How did the Family of Jesus Healer community come about?

I always wanted to be a Franciscan, but the communities that I visited did not appeal to me. While in seminary the idea started coming to mind of starting a new religious community. I was a new seminarian and so at first I didn't pay any attention to it.

One day, in 1983, my spiritual director pointed his finger at me and asked, “Philip, do you think that God will one day ask you to start a new religious community that will be missionary and go to Latin America?” I was stunned. I laughed in his face, but it was nervous laughter because I wondered how this guy could know that this had been on my mind. That scared me.

Eventually I went onto Mount St. Mary's in Emmitsburg, Md. During the summer of 1986 I did a come-and-see with the Missionaries of Charity in the South Bronx. I was attracted to the radical life which they lived, and found that during my two-week stay with them that the idea of a new community stuck to me like chewing gum sticks to a shoe.

Every moment before the Blessed Sacrament the idea was on my mind.

At first, I rebuked it as a temptation. Eventually, as the idea persisted, I brought it in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and was filled with a peace and joy I cannot put into words. I had received the gift of healing in 1983 while at Lourdes and so the idea came to mind that the community would involve healing, and living a radical lifestyle of ministry to the poor.

In the summer of 1986 I was invited by the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla., to give a retreat on healing. During my stay in Tampa the idea came to me that this was where Christ was calling me to begin the community. The priest in St. Petersburg arranged a meeting with the bishop and I asked him if he would accept me as a priest for his diocese and permit me to start this community. He responded, “We will take you and whatever you owe, our diocese will pay.”

I was ordained for the Diocese of St. Petersburg on May 6, 1989, I gave away everything that I owned, and on April 1, 1989, my German shepherd, Moses, and I officially started the community in Tampa's Ybor City.

Tell me about the order. What makes it unique?

Our charism is healing the family by bringing back the Gospel as it is fully and prophetically taught by the Catholic Church. Our community is a living example of family life. Families have been attracted by that. God has evangelized them without us even knowing it. Once a month we host picnics for families. We study [Pope John Paul II's 1981 Apostolic Letter on the family in the modern world] Familiaris Consortio and pray the Liturgy of the Hours with them. They also join us in feeding the homeless. Something wonderful happens when a family meets Christ in the poor. The poor evangelize without words.