Sixty years after the first Cursillo retreat was held in Phoenix — 10 years before the Diocese of Phoenix was established — thousands of Catholics can trace the roots of a deeper faith in Christ to their shared Cursillo experience.
Upcoming Diocese of Phoenix Cursillo Weekends
Mount Claret Retreat Center, 4633 N. 54th St., Phoenix
- Oct. 3-6: Men’s
- Oct. 17-20: Women’s
- 14-17: Men’s Spanish
- 21-24: Women’s Spanish
Retreats in Flagstaff
- 22-25: Men’s Spanish
- 12-15: Women’s Spanish
The lay-led movement fosters a deeper knowledge of the Catholic faith and a friendship with Christ by way of a retreat. To mark the 60th anniversary, Cursillo retreats in English and in Spanish will be held at Mount Claret Retreat Center in October and November.
Originating in Spain in the 1940s following the horrors of World War I and the Spanish Civil War, the Cursillo movement soon spread to Europe and then the United States. Waco, Texas, was the site of the first U.S. Cursillo retreat in 1957. By 1958, when Phoenix was still under the auspices of the Diocese of Tucson, the first Cursillo retreat was held at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in the heart of downtown Phoenix. Sixty years later, some 35,000 men and women have experienced a Cursillo in Phoenix through more than 900 retreats.
Fr. Kilian McCaffrey, pastor of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Sun City, is one of them. He made his Cursillo in February 2000. Six months later, he began his seminary studies. Other priests in the diocese, he said, can also point to their Cursillo experiences as a way they heard their call from God to the priesthood.
“The Cursillo experience has obviously had a major impact on hundreds of thousands of lives. You can see the hand of God working — it’s an invitation to come closer to the love of God,” Fr. McCaffrey said.
Five years ago, he met the late Santiago Garcia, one of the first Cursillistas in Phoenix. “He was the closest I have ever come to meeting a living saint,” Fr. McCaffrey said.
Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares, who was appointed the new National Episcopal Advisor of the Cursillo National Secretariat effective Oct. 1, said the Cursillo retreat has had a significant impact on the diocese.
Cursillo, one of the lay-ecclesial movements of the Church, helps “lay people take on their role and responsibility in terms of their baptismal call of being a light to the world and salt for the earth,” Bishop Nevares said. The peer-to-peer model of Cursillo helps spread the faith.
“The beauty is that once these people have encountered the living Christ and have come to know a great friendship with Jesus, they are energized in their baptismal call and they become witnesses of that living friendship with Jesus wherever they are,” Bishop Nevares said.
Gene Keller can attest to that. The St. Thomas the Apostle parishioner made his Cursillo in November of 1998. Other than his wedding day and the birth of his children, he said, the Cursillo retreat was “the most impactful single event that I’ve ever been involved with. … It led to more involvement as head of my family as well as in my parish and the community in general.”
Though he was a practicing Catholic and had received a Catholic education, the spark was missing.
“Church — I was the guy who always would go but if the kids started crying, I got up and took them to the back because that’s where I wanted to be,” Keller said. “Cursillo took me to a different level where I got more involved.”
Sheila Broglia of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Tempe, made her Cursillo 21 years ago. “It was a good experience,” Broglia said. “There were a lot of deep discussions about faith and what it is to live your faith as a woman.”
Cursillo helps Catholics become more involved in their parish but “for the right reason,” Keller said. “You don’t do it for personal accolades but to carry out Christ’s message to the world, starting with your family and moving on.”