In January 1966, 36 men took part in the first Cursillo weekend in the Archdiocese, held at Inveralochy, near Goulburn. Half a century later, more than 2,000 people have experienced Cursillo in this region, joining an extended family of Christian believers… 

THIS year, a Catholic tradition and spiritual experience that originated on the Spanish island of Majorca celebrates its 50th anniversary within the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.

The Cursillo movement has contributed significantly to the growth and spiritual development of Catholics in the Archdiocese. It has also been the catalyst for other movements such as Kairos Prison Ministry, Marriage Encounter and Antioch.

In many ways, the members of Cursillo in this Archdiocese have been instrumental in taking the movement to new places and lands. Teams from Canberra and Goulburn have been sent to outreach to Wagga Wagga, Wollongong and Bathurst dioceses and have been part of larger teams introducing Cursillo to Darwin, Perth, Auckland and American Samoa. Local members were also involved in the first Anglican Cursillo in Australia, held in Goulburn in 1979.

The milestone will be marked with a celebration Mass at St Christopher’s Cathedral, followed by lunch and social gathering on Sunday, October 23; as well as a special spirituality weekend on October 28- 30, looking at the teachings of Pope Francis and the role of Cursillo.

“We’re having a celebration, to give thanks to the Lord for the many blessings the Cursillo movement has given to individuals, families, parishes and the Archdiocese in the past 50 years,” Merran Martin, the president for the Canberra and Goulburn Cursillo movement, said.

“Our celebrations are also a time for us to stop and give thanks for the hard work and sacrifice of all those people who came before us. We acknowledge and thank the pioneers of the Cursillo movement in our Archdiocese, the bishops and clergy who have championed it, and today’s leaders who continue to make it available.”

Cursillo is a Spanish word meaning “short course” – in this case, a short course in Christianity. The Cursillo movement began in Spain in 1948.

In 1965, the first English-speaking Cursillo in Australia took place in Armidale, NSW. The first Cursillo conducted in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn followed in January 1966. It was a men’s Cursillo held at St Michael’s Agricultural College, Inveralochy, on the Tarago Road, about 24km from Goulburn.

Fr Lou Heriot from Melbourne was the spiritual director. Thirty-six men participated, including 11 team members, led by John Cooney. Among the participants was Tim Cobham, who would later become a significant driving force in the establishment of the movement in the Archdiocese.

The second men’s Cursillo weekend held in the Archdiocese took place in October 1966, at Mount St Eymard Monastery, Bowral. The entire team of eight were raw rookies who had only made one Cursillo. Fr Joe Rheinberger had been appointed as spiritual director of the movement for the Archdiocese and had been sent to make a Cursillo in Sydney. Tim Cobham was lay director.

In December 1968, the first women’s Cursillo weekend in the Archdiocese, run by a team from Sydney, was held at Ursula College at the Australian National University.

Participants from all over Australia gathered in Canberra last October for the Cursillo National Encounter. Above, local members of Cursillo enjoying the dinner held at the 2015 National Encounter. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Participants from all over Australia gathered in Canberra last October for the Cursillo National Encounter. Above, local members of Cursillo enjoying the dinner held at the 2015 National Encounter. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

The movement continued to grow, particularly throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and it became well established in the Western Deanery. Cursillo weekends were also held in the Northern and Coastal Deaneries. The first Cursillos for both men and women in the Monaro Deanery were held at the old convent in Cooma in 1989. Most influential during this period was the leadership of Fr Harry Morrissey, parish priest of Kippax, where the movement became very strong.

“Since these early beginnings, it is estimated that there have been well over 200 Cursillo weekends held in the Archdiocese with more than 2,000 people undertaking a Cursillo weekend including priests, deacons, religious and lay people,” Mrs Martin says.

The Archdiocese has also hosted three ‘National Encounters’, during which Cursillo delegates from other Australian dioceses gather for the sharing of ideas and friendship. The most recent National Encounter occurred in October 2015.

While the Cursillo movement is essentially a movement of lay people, the continued support and active involvement of priests have been key elements in the continued growth of the movement, according to Mrs Martin.

“The Cursillo experience helps move faith from the head to the heart as it encourages greater commitment to Christ and the living out of faith in everyday life,” she says.

“It is significant that the Cursillo movement does not expect participants to undertake any specific work or ministry, but instead empowers individuals to choose their own area of action, according to their own gifts and preferences in the environments in which they live and move.”

Cursillo retreats take the form of a three-day weekend, normally from Thursday evening through to Sunday afternoon. The weekend includes brief presentations, given by both lay people and clergy, and provides an opportunity for the participants to take time out for prayer, discussion, reconciliation and reconnecting with Christ. The weekend also provides an opportunity to meet people with the same interest in developing a deeper relationship with Christ.

John Duck undertook his Cursillo in January 1976 at Blackfriars Priory, Watson, ACT. He still remembers the experience 40 years later.

“Apart from marriage, Cursillo has been the singularly most significant, life-changing experience of my life,” he says.

“Cursillo led me to take a more active role in my parish and at the Archdiocesan level. In fact, from being an extremely introverted and shy person in public I ended up facilitating live-in weekends for various groups throughout the Archdiocese in the 1980s.”

In the late 1970s the Anglican community asked the Catholic Cursillo community for assistance in establishing Cursillo in their diocese. This support took several forms, one of which was Catholic members being on their first few teams.

“I had the privilege of being on two such teams,” Mr Duck recalls. “As the sole Catholic member, I was way out of my comfort zone but was made to feel welcome from the first training meeting. I was overwhelmed by the way the community supported me throughout, knowing I was the odd one out in the group. I regard those two experiences as among some of the best moments in my privileged life.”

Each person who makes a Cursillo weekend is encouraged to continue to meet with others in a group reunion to stay on track with practices of prayer, study and action. Group reunions are an important aspect of the Cursillo movement and provide ongoing support and encouragement. The Cursillo movement in the Archdiocese also hosts monthly gatherings called ‘Ultreyas’, for people who have already attended a Cursillo weekend.

Mr Duck says the benefits of Cursillo would not have happened without the support of a special group of men.

“They walked the journey with me for some 30 years sharing each other’s joys, hopes and sad times,” he says.

“They supported one another through serious illnesses, the deaths of four of the group, long-term illnesses of spouses, divorce, separation, troubled children – you name it, we were there for one another. But there was also plenty of time for jokes and laughter over a cuppa.

“In the end, I was a reluctant person who found a community and not just a local community but a community of like-minded people from right across the Canberra and Goulburn Archdiocese who have been prepared to share their innermost thoughts and feelings with me. What a privileged journey it has been.”

Joy Harmer undertook her Cursillo weekend 36 years ago with three ladies from her parish, and still recalls it with great fondness and gratitude.

“I thank God that I have belonged to the Canberra and Goulburn Cursillo family for 36 years,” she says.

“Back then it was a particularly sad and difficult time in my life.

“So many beautiful people have loved, nourished, encouraged, laughed and cried with me and shared their faith along this journey. Through Cursillo, I have met wonderful, faith-filled people throughout the Archdiocese in Canberra, on the Monaro, down the Coast, in the Western Deanery and in Goulburn.”

Jo Rummery was invited to attend a Cursillo at the former St Michael’s Novitiate in Goulburn in 1990 at a challenging time in her life.

“Cursillo and the prayerful support of its people helped me when my husband Paul and I were trying to make important decisions while discerning his journey towards ordination to the permanent diaconate,” she says.

“I won’t ever forget members of my Cursillo family who were there for us among our family and friends at his ordination with their prayers and letters of encouragement. We had to let go and let God work within us into a life of giving and receiving. We truly discovered the love of Christ, receiving it through the giving.”

While the movement has a long and proud history in the Archdiocese, it’s important that it continues to grow and flourish in the years ahead.

“We must continue the work of the pioneers of the Cursillo movement in the Archdiocese,” Mrs Martin says. “For Cursillo to flourish in the 21st century, the movement needs to embrace the laity, Church, liturgy, priests and religious of today and not just the best memories of yesterday.”

On Sunday, October 23, a special Mass will be celebrated at St Christopher’s Cathedral at 11am followed by lunch at St Benedict’s Parish in Narrabundah, to celebrate Cursillo’s 50th anniversary. For catering purposes, please RSVP by October 10 to Joe Jambor: irmandjoe@gmail. com. All who have experienced a Cursillo weekend as well as their family and friends are invited to join in the celebrations.