Five years ago, Deacon Steve Greco of the Diocese of Orange in Southern California prayed over John DeNisi of Costa Mesa, a man whose medical tests indicated that he had stage 4 lung cancer in his left lung. He was scheduled to have an exploratory procedure done the following day. As they stood praying by an outdoor statue of the Blessed Mother, Deacon Greco put his hand on DeNisi’s shoulder and, DeNisi recalled, “It felt like it was hit by a truck. Then, it felt like fire was going down the left side of my body.”
DeNisi met with his surgeon the following day, who had warned him that testing indicated that there was only “a one in 500 chance” he did not have the advanced cancer. After the procedure, DeNisi said, “The surgeon declared, ‘You’re the one in 500!'” Subsequent testing has shown that DeNisi remains cancer-free.
Some may point to a natural explanation of DeNisi’s experience or that it was not reviewed by a panel of Vatican experts, but he firmly believes he was the recipient of a miracle from the Holy Spirit working through Deacon Greco’s prayer. “Deacon Steve has the gift of healing,” DeNisi said. “I’ve observed it not only in my case, but with others. He’s a humble guy, though, and would be the first to point out that it is not him, but the Holy Spirit working through him.”
Stories of miracles
Deacon Greco can tell of many such wonders during his years of ministry — wonders that he believes fit the Catholic Encyclopedia definition of miracles: “wonders performed by supernatural power as signs of some special mission or gift and explicitly ascribed to God.”
“God loves us and hasn’t abandoned us,” Deacon Greco told OSV. “Because he loves us, he intervenes in our lives to heal us. Most of these healings are spiritual, but at times they can be physical.”
He has many similar stories. Once he prayed over a man who couldn’t walk, and a few days later the man was walking normally. Another time, a woman seven months pregnant was told by physicians that they were unable to detect her baby’s heartbeat; he had died in utero. Following the advice of Deacon Greco’s book, “Expect and Experience Miracles,” she begged God to revive her baby and asked doctors to check for the heartbeat again. To their astonishment, physicians detected a heartbeat, and a healthy baby boy was delivered two months later.
The deacon also shares stories of miracles that do not involve healing. Once, for example, he was part of a volunteer group building homes for the poor in Mexico. They ran out of paint. Only residue remained in the paint cans. He prayed, had his volunteers fill the paint buckets with water, and they were able to cover another 700 square feet of wall space with a thick coat of paint. “It looked the same as regular paint,” he said.
For the deacon, believing in miracles “is believing in the promises that God has given us.” He continued, “Jesus told us: ‘Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father’ [Jn 14:12]. He further tells us, ‘You will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you’ [Acts 1:8]. The miracles in our lives are examples of that power.”
He has even created a “Miracle Index” for his ministry, which poses such questions as: Do you expect miracles in your life? Do you pray daily for miracles to occur?
“The Miracle Index was created to test the faith of individuals on whether they believe in God’s power to heal and bless them. Many people who take it realize they need more faith and belief in God’s reality and that he loves them.”
Beginnings of ministry
Deacon Greco grew up in an Italian-Catholic family in Glendale, California. As an adult he worked as an executive in the pharmaceutical industry and relocated to Irvine in the Diocese of Orange. At age 28, he had a personal conversion experience through prayer and Scripture, and developed a passion for sharing his faith with all whom he encountered. He recalled being invited to a Super Bowl party and meeting a man while dipping a chip in a dip bowl. He asked the man, “Do you know Jesus?” He joked, “It was the last time I was invited to a Super Bowl party.”
At the suggestion of his pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Irvine, where he now serves, Greco entered the diaconate program for the diocese. He was ordained in 2007. In 2014, he founded Spirit Filled Hearts Ministry (SFHM) as a vehicle to evangelize. “I wanted to use the gifts that God has given me and those with which I minister to build up the kingdom of God. Evangelization is at the center of what we need to do as Catholics and for our ministry,” he said.
Ministry programs include prayer meetings and seminars, and conferences and workshops on such topics as building faith, healing, Divine Mercy, the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother. He also has an outreach to young adults that teaches evangelization. While surveys may show a decline in religious belief among the young, it’s not what he’s experienced. “There is a great hunger for truth among our young people,” he said. “We have to reach them in a way that touches their hearts and with a message that they can apply in their lives.”
Other facets of the ministry include a weekly radio program, “Empowered by the Spirit,” presented through Relevant Radio and ESNE, and recorded at the Diocese of Orange’s Christ Cathedral campus. He has released CDs and DVDs, as well as three books on miracles and spirituality, with a fourth, “Miracles through Forgiveness,” due to be released later this year. Deacon Greco also has led parish missions in Asia, with a particular focus in the Philippines and Indonesia. Among the deacon’s many projects include raising funds to complete the construction of a church in Tondo, a destitute neighborhood in Manila, and funding a Catholic school in Indonesia.
“Deacon Steve is constantly doing presentations, giving of himself and ready to pray for anyone,” said Mary Giammona of Yorba Linda, California, a volunteer board member with SFHM. “He’s always stepping out in faith, finding new things to do. It’s very inspiring.”
Friends of the mission
Other friends of the ministry include Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange, who has participated in SFHM’s conferences and radio program. Orange Auxiliary Bishop Timothy Freyer also has been a participant in SFHM’s activities, and most recently penned the foreword in “Miracles through Forgiveness.” The deacon regularly meets with Bishop Vann, who, Greco related, gives him one directive: “I want my parishes on fire with the love of Jesus.”
Working in conjunction with Church leadership is an important facet of the catholicity of SFHM, Greco believes. He also encourages people to make use of the traditional means offered through the Church — the sacraments, Scripture, devotions such as the Rosary and Divine Mercy, and various other types of approved prayer — to make the 18-inch journey of their faith from head to heart.
Giammona became involved in SFHM after attending one of its “Life in the Spirit” seminars. “Deacon Steve is an enthusiastic, prayerful guy, and I rejoice to be in his presence,” she said.
Her Protestant husband also came to a seminar and decided to convert to Catholicism.
Kerry Ann Caswell of Irvine has known Deacon Greco for more than 30 years. “The ministry has really taken off,” she said. “It brings love and healing to those who are in pain, whether spiritually or physically.”
While the challenges of leading a growing Catholic ministry are many, and the secular world surrounding the Church may seem increasingly hostile, Deacon Greco believes the effort is more than worth it. “It is my great joy to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world, in hopes that those we encounter come to know God’s love and surrender their lives to him.”
Jim Graves writes from California.