In 2002, when Amy Coney Barrett moved [to South Bend, Indiana] to begin her academic career, she joined the faculty at the law school where she’d been a student, attended Notre Dame football games and eventually joined a Primal Fitness gym where she’s currently known for her fierce pullup workout. She also connected with one other local community: People of Praise, a charismatic Christian group founded here in 1971.
Many aspects of her life dovetail with a typical high-achieving résumé: the summa cum laude law degree, the steady stream of academic papers, the family’s picturesque 3,800-square-foot brick home and the legendary Mardi Gras parties they’ve hosted over the years, bringing a little flair from her native suburban New Orleans to Indiana.
Her spiritual group, however, has drawn more questions. People of Praise is one of a number of groups that rose up in the 1960s and ’70s to offer intense, highly supportive religious communities, in the style of evangelical churches, within the Catholic tradition. The group, though mostly Catholic, is outside control of the church itself. The group has a website, but doesn’t let reporters visit its worship center. When Barrett was nominated for her federal judgeship in 2017, she didn’t disclose her involvement. Critics, even those wary of making religion an issue in a judicial appointment, have questioned what role its member agreements—it’s “neither an oath nor a vow, but it is an important personal commitment,” the website notes—plays in her legal philosophy. Former members have called it “secretive” and a “cult”—and, above all, it has remained something of an opaque chapter attached to the life of an increasingly public figure.
What’s difficult to understand outside South Bend, however, is just how deeply integrated this group is into the local community. Though the group has only a few thousand local members, and keeps a low profile as an organization, its influence and footprint in the city are significant. That influence, and its resistance to liberal changes in the wider culture, are likely to arise as issues in her Supreme Court nomination hearings, expected to begin Oct. 12. [Continue reading…]