The History of Cursillo

The history of the Cursillo Movement is an exciting story of how God taught a small group of men and women to work for Him in an effective way: A way that bears fruit.

The Spanish word “Cursillo” means “short course” or “little course.” The full title is “a little course in living what is fundamental for being a Christian,” but everyone simply calls it “Cursillo.” Even where Spanish is not spoken, the word “Cursillo” is never translated into English.

The first Cursillo was neither a lucky accident nor a blueprint, which came directly from heaven, but grew out of a process of developments. Nor were the first leaders just a chance collection of men. They had been working together for some time trying to bring men to Christ so they could work together to Christianize the world.

The Cursillo Movement came to birth from the renewal of faith inspired by Vatican II. The Cursillo Movement began on the island of Majorca, Spain during World War II. After the Spanish Civil War ended in 1939, there were upheavals in the Spanish church.

The main force of the young laity in the church at this time was called “Catholic Action.” Everywhere in the Spanish church, men and women were seeking to find ways of “bringing the Church to life in the hearts of all people.”

A group of these young people accepted the challenge to bring others to know Christ better, and in turn, they could work together to Christianize the world. These Majorcan leaders were members of the young men’s branch of Catholic Action. With God’s Grace, they founded and developed a tool where a team of men and women working, praying, sharing, studying, and acting together could bring people to a closer relationship with Christ. Out of their common efforts, something new in the life of the Catholic Church was born…the Cursillo.

In the late 1940’s, the first Cursillo was given and the Cursillo Movement began. From 1948 until 1955, Cursillo was limited mostly to Majorca, Spain. During this creative period, the main outline of the Cursillo method and basic understanding of Cursillo were developed and refined.

In spite of setbacks in the 1950’s,the Cursillo spread to the mainland of Spain and today is a worldwide movement with centers throughout the United States, South and Central American countries, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, France, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Far East.

The first Cursillo held in the United States was in Waco, Texas in 1957 under the leadership of Father Gabriel Fernandez and two Spanish airmen who were training with the United States Air Force. In 1959, Cursillo spread throughout Texas to Phoenix, Arizona and then into the entire southwest. In 1962, the Cursillo movement came to the Eastern United States. Men and women from our own movement here in the Biloxi Diocese have been instrumental in establishing Cursillo in the Dioceses of Jackson, MS and Mobile, AL.

The Cursillo Movement in the U.S. was organized in 1965 at a meeting in Kansas City. At this meeting a National Secretariat and National Cursillo office were established.

The Cursillo Movement received the support and blessing of Pope John Paul II in 1980 when he addressed the first National Italian Ultreya. He stated, “Your movement, which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, devotes itself to drawing forth from Christians a commitment to live lives consistent with their faith…, whether individually or as a community…, and to bring this ferment to the environments where you live.”

Other denominations have adopted the Cursillo, including the Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches.

Bishop Brunini introduced Cursillo to Mississippi in 1966. Father Watts, who was appointed the first Spiritual Director in Mississippi, was able to conduct only one weekend before he was stricken seriously ill.

The Cursillo lay dormant in Mississippi until the Holy Spirit began to stir the faithful of the diocese. In 1972, Father Abram Dono and Father Bill Vollor with local laymen made a Cursillo in Louisiana. In 1973, Dr. Milton Reich, a Jesuit retreat master, was loaned to the Church in Mississippi to conduct weekends. The first few weekends were conducted by teams from the New Orleans area, and eventually teams from Mississippi were trained by Father Dono and Father Vollor.

church leadersWhen the Diocese of Biloxi was formed in 1976, Bishop Howze appointed Father Bill Vollor as the bishop’s representative and spiritual director of the Cursillo Movement of South Mississippi. He served until 1980, when he was replaced by Father George Murphy. Subsequently, Father Tony Arguelles served from 1983 to 1986, Monsignor Joseph Mercier from 1987 until September of 1996, then Father Dennis Carver served until 2000. At present, Father Anthony Doan Tran serves as Spiritual Director of the Cursillo Movement and pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Dedeaux, MS where the diocesan retreat center is located.

No history can be complete without a little background on what we lovingly call “The Dedeaux Hilton.” Cursillistas gave the building this name during the early years before the “Hilton” was renovated. There had been continuous weekends held at Dedeaux every year since 1973 until the infamous Hurricane Georges, on September 28, 1998 pounded the Mississippi Gulf Coast leaving destruction in its path. The Dedeaux Hilton was no exception.

The Hilton suffered extensive damage and had to be totally remodeled from top to bottom. After about 14 months of planning, hard work, and dedication by many people (most of whom are involved in the Cursillo movement and the parishioners at Dedeaux), the Hilton was completely refurbished.

The property lies directly on the Harrison/Hancock county line. The dorms are in Harrison County and the dining room in Hancock County. When the counties established their own rural schools, the Dedeaux School was declared surplus and was purchased by Sacred Heart Parish. Old classrooms and the auditorium were turned into dorms, dining room, a chapel, kitchen and a large room where the Cursillo is conducted. They have graciously made the facilities available for our Cursillo weekends and other retreats of the diocese.

The Cursillo weekends start on Thursday evenings and last until a closing on Sunday night. A Spanish term associated with Cursillo that you may have heard of before is “De Colores.” These are the opening words of a Spanish folk song, which means, “the colors.” Although “De Colores” is not the official song of the Cursillo Movement, it is sung traditionally on weekends and usually in Spanish.

The “De Colores” tradition began in Majorca, when a group was returning from a Cursillo and their bus broke down in the middle of a field. During the delay, the Cursillistas observed with delight the beauty of the springtime, sunshine, and flowers. Soon all the Cursillistas were singing “De Colores,” rejoicing in the fact that when the soul is in sanctifying grace, it is as beautiful as the field with springtime colors

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