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A Bad Karma On Main Line

Philadelphia Inquirer/ September 28, 1980

By Julia Cass

It was the teenagers who first reported "strange goings-on" at the 45 room Main Line mansion that once belonged to Arthur E. Pew, Jr. "They used the mansion's tree-shaded grounds as a shortcut.

As they walked across the grounds one night after the new owners moved in, the youths reported they heard a "weird sort of humming" coming from the mansion's sunroom. A group of people sitting in the lotus position, a statue of Buddha in the room.

It wasn't long before Joe Sousa, the zoning officer of Radnor Township heard an exaggerated version of the teenagers' experience, got calls from area residents, who reported as many as 20 cars parked at the mansion on weekends and who suspected the operation of some sort of church.

Sousa went to the mansion and was told by one of the new owners, Maureen Macchio, that she was from NY and she and some of the other owners were ministers of a "nondenominational" California-based group called the Church Universal and Triumphant. While they hoped to establish a church in the Philadelphia area, she said they were using the mansion as a residence and for weekend visitors.

On September 12, the Maccios and several hundred devotees of the Church Universal (CUT) gathered at the University of Pennsylvania's Zellerbach Theater to hear their spiritual leader, Elisabeth Clare Prophet, reveal secret teachings from the "archives of the ascended masters."

There was a crush of members signing up for the $33 weekend sessions and purchasing books published by the church E. Gene Vosseler, a perpetually smiling former Lutheran minister who heads the department of theology at a California university run by CUT, explained in a two-hour interview, how CUT began in Washington in 1958 when Mrs. Prophet's late husband, Mark L. Prophet got a "call."

"There's a high degree of fear involved in the group," one former member said. "Once you accept that Mrs. Prophet is the "messenger of God, then you've got to do everything she says. Your every action is a test of whether you're achieving higher consciousness."

As for CUT's plans in Radnor, ex-members said that purchasing a mansion and holding a conference signal a major recruiting effort in the Philadelphia area. Local officials say they have never dealt with anything like this before.

[Update: Zoning ordinance to exclude churches from residential neighborhoods was enacted on November 24.]

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