Tom McGuire has a front row seat to seeing the Holy Spirit at work. As the Director of Mount Claret Retreat Center for the past 15 years, he sees the Holy Spirit at work on the property and also in the people who attend retreats at the center, one of them being Cursillo.
Cursillo literally means “short course” in Spanish and is a Catholic-based program that began in Spain in the 1940’s.
A movement that was brought to Phoenix in the 1960s, Cursillo is an integral part of the diocese that has drawn the laity to Christ in a relational setting. Members grow in authentic friendship with each other, and ultimately grow their personal relationship with the Lord.
Cursillo is a weekend retreat which is organized by teams of men and women who’ve previously made their Cursillos. There’s small group discussion, fellowship and celebration of the sacraments. Although a Cursillo weekend ends on Sunday, it’s not supposed to be the end of an individual’s Cursillo. Members who make the same Cursillo weekend get together in small groups on a regular basis to continue their walks with the Lord. Some Cursillo groups have met monthly for the past 30-or-40 years.
There have been 960 Cursillo weekends at Mount Claret which McGuire says wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for Msgr. John McMahon, who purchased the property in the 1980s after it had been condemned. Over the next 20 years, he led the efforts to restore the property to what it is today.
“He was a staunch advocate of the cursillo movement,” McGuire said. “Without his vision of Mount Claret and the need for the Cursillo movement, the movement could have died.”
Now the center is owned by the diocese and has become a prayerful destination for many.
During a typical Cursillo, McGuire tends to the needs of retreatants so they can fully enter into the weekend.
“I consider myself like a concierge. When [retreatants] show up they’re in a tizzy because they’re anxious about their retreat weekend, they worry, they forgot something,” McGuire said. “I try to fill in the blanks for them, provide whatever they forgot.”
McGuire wasn’t new to Cursillo when he started at Mount Claret; he attended a Cursillo weekend when he lived in South Korea in his twenties.
“It was a good shot in the arm, in that stage of my life,” McGuire said. “It helped to reinforce and deepen my faith and my joy of being Catholic.”
McGuire has witnessed others experience that same joy as they take part in their own Cursillo weekends.
“Often people are reluctant to attend. When their retreat starts, their arms are crossed, not very enthusiastic,” McGuire explained. “Then by Sunday there’s a huge joy that is almost universal with all of them. They will be filled with the Lord and motivated by the Holy Spirit.”
Even though retreatants might be reluctance at first, it’s evident that each person on a Cursillo weekend is called specifically by the Lord. McGuire reflected on what he’d say to someone if they’re feeling that call to sign up.
“I’d encourage somebody to have an open heart and open mind and know that there’s hundreds of thousands of people who’ve benefited from Cursillo. They can be one of those people as well. They can experience that booster shot of spirituality by attending a weekend,” McGuire said.
That booster shot of spirituality is also felt during Diocesan Ultreya weekends, a bi-annual event that is like a reunion for those who have been through Cursillo.
“[Ultreya] is an opportunity to reconnect and to reinforce the message of the Cursillo movement. [It] impacts each of us individually in our faith and we can use that to influence our families,” McGuire said.
The next Ultreya will be taking place on October 28th at Mount Claret, and Bishop John Dolan, a Cursillista himself will be the guest speaker. Bishop Dolan appreciates Ultreyas because members are encouraged to bring their children, the event helping ignite the faith in the next generation. Bishop Dolan sees the whole Cursillo movement as one that encourages evangelization and the building up of the laity.
“It’s an excellent movement towards bringing more disciples to the Lord, many of whom are Catholic but don’t know the Lord personally,” Bishop Dolan said. “It creates leaders from within the parish communities. They return to the parish after the retreat, roll up their sleeves and are heavily involved in parish life.”
Bishop Dolan also expressed that Cursillo is effective because of accountability. Members hold each other accountable to pray, grow in knowledge of the faith and invite others into relationship with the Lord. Inviting others is an integral part of Cursillo and is expressed in the motto: make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Christ.
“It’s an authentic form of evangelization where they’re not just trying to grab numbers. They’re trying to be friends. It’s authentic friendship,” Bishop added.
Carmela Gonzalez’s friend lived out the motto of Cursillo and invited Gonzalez to her Cursillo weekend. Gonzalez lived in Yuma, Ariz., at the time. Ever since moving to the Diocese of Phoenix, she has continued her involvement with Cursillo. She became the lay director for the diocese where she reviews by-laws, attends monthly secretariat meetings, prepares agendas and works with the different chairs to ensure successful weekends, Ultreyas and other events.
Gonzalez has noticed the Lord’s provision through Cursillo. One example of the Lord’s provision being her husband’s decision to join the diaconate after his Cursillo experience. She also knew it was the Lord that led her to apply for the lay director position.
“My husband said, ‘What if you don’t get the position?’ I said that if God wants me in the position He will put me there,” Gonzalez said. “I asked the Lord for His guidance and continue to ask him for his guidance. He hasn’t failed me yet.”
Living in Prescott, Ariz., Gonzalez has felt the Lord’s invitation to make Cursillo more integrated throughout the whole diocese, including the north.
“Until we moved to Prescott Valley, there was no Cursillo. My comment to my husband was, maybe God sent us here to bring Cursillo back to Prescott.
“My philosophy is there is one Cursillo movement, one diocese. Everyone should have the opportunity to attend and work a weekend no matter where [they] are located in this diocese.”
Manny Yrique’s parents had the opportunity to make their Cursillo weekends in the 1960s, during the early days of Cursillo in the Diocese of Phoenix. He describes the early days, Cursillo weekends being held at Immaculate Heart Parish, retreatants sleeping overnight on the floor.
“They were hardcore back then,” Yrique said. “I call Mount Claret the Taj Mahal of [the] Cursillo movement. there’s no place other than Phoenix that has a facility that’s all our own where the cost is really insignificant.”
Even though Yrique grew up with his parents involved in Cursillo, he didn’t make his weekend until preparing for marriage with his wife. He made his Cursillo before getting married while his wife made her Cursillo shortly after their wedding day.
“[Cursillo] has been the glue that made our marriage work. We grew up together through Cursillo,” Yrique explained. “It’s Cursillo that has really ignited us as Catholics. There’s nothing that brings greater joy to us and our marriage than serving the church through Cursillo. We saw the joy that we got out of our weekends and we just want to share it.”
The movement will continue to impact generations in Yrique’s family, as his son prepares to make his Cursillo, Yrique acting as his son’s sponsor. Cursillo is integral in his family and he has seen how retreatants who share a weekend together become like family.
“Cursillo does become like a second family but I always warn the men I work with. I say, don’t forget your first church, your wife and your kids. Never let Cursillo interfere with your first church.”
Yrique has also experienced the feeling of family with the other men who he’s led weekends with. Weekends are led by a team of members who’ve already gone through Cursillo. Teams are made up of 25-30 men or women, who prepare for a Cursillo weekend over the course of a few months.
“Even though we may know one another to some degree, we start out like the candidates start out, as strangers,” Yrique recalls. “Through prayer, meditation, study, singing, enjoying one another’s company by eating some meals together, we turn into one body for the Lord to use on that weekend and it’s absolutely unbelievable.”
In the many ways that Cursillo has affected his life, it’s also helped Yrique to step outside of his comfort zone in his own parish. It’s the experience many of us have: attending a parish and recognizing the people who sit in surrounding pews but not really knowing them.
“We sit in the pews with people we’d like to know more,” Yrique explained. “When we finally break down that barrier we find out we have a lot of common and then we start talking, [asking them], ‘Have you ever considered living your Cursillo?’ Then you’re signing him up for his weekend, finding him a sponsor, and then become lifelong friends.”
Cursillo has impacted Yrique’s life in every way imaginable. He has seen so many individuals become a part of the movement and continues to see that the Lord has a different plan for everyone’s involvement in Cursillo.
“Cursillo has something to offer everyone. What you get out of Cursillo is probably not going to be what the person sitting next to you at your table gets out of it, but God plants a seed and then through prayer it germinates and then it becomes life.
“It’s infectious because we have the best product to sell and that’s a personal encounter with Christ. I tell people when they ask me, ‘What can I expect?’ I say that if you’ve never experienced the kiss of Christ on your cheek, you will feel it by Sunday night.”
Interested in making your Cursillo weekend but not sure where to start? Contact Carmela Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org.