Diocese grateful as Cursillo celebrates 1000th weekend

Photo Caption: Mary Slevin, who was part of the first Cursillo in the Diocese of Peoria for women in 1965, chats with Marta Templin following Cursillo’s celebration of its 1,000th weekend in the diocese.

By: By Jennifer Willems

Score one for the Holy Spirit.

Actually, make that 1,000.

Cursillo in Christianity has offered 1,000 weekends of spiritual renewal in central Illinois since 1964 and the men and women who filled St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria last Saturday night filled the church with songs of joy and prayers of thanksgiving for the countless blessings Cursillo has brought them.

Joining them for the celebration was Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, who presided at the Mass and then went to the Spalding Pastoral Center to mingle with the Cursillistas and their guests.

“It is simply true that there are a lot of folks who go to church every Sunday, but still have never met the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said in greeting them before Mass. “From the bottom of my heart I give thanks to God for the thousand Cursillos that you folks represent.”

The words of gratitude went both ways.

Jo Fuller, lay coordinator for Peoria Cursillo, praised Bishop Jenky for embracing the Roman Catholic movement and standing firm on allowing Protestants to participate, if they choose.

“Our dear bishop, with his perseverance, has enriched Cursillo and our lives,” she said. “From the bottom of our hearts, Bishop Jenky, we thank you.”

Cursillo is a Spanish word meaning “short course” and is designed to be a short course in Christianity. That happens through lay witness talks coordinated with talks on grace and the sacraments given by clergy.
It is estimated that more than 40,000 men and women in central Illinois have strengthened their relationship with God through Cursillo.

At the reception that followed, the Cursillistas were asked to think of their sponsors and give thanks for the gift of Cursillo that was shared with them.
Then Maureen Alouan, diocesan lay coordinator, invited them to “pay it forward.”

“The only way this wonderful movement can continue to bear fruit is by sponsoring others to experience Cursillo,” she said. “Look into your hearts and ask our Lord who he wants you to share Cursillo with this year. Then put your apostolic action into practice and go out and make a friend, be a friend and bring that friend to Christ.”

Alouan said if everyone present sponsored just one person in 2012, the eight Cursillo weekends planned at the Spalding Renewal Center would not be sufficient to accommodate all the candidates.

Alouan also recognized some of the “faithful servants” in the Peoria Cursillo community, starting with the past and present spiritual directors and assistant directors. Among them were Deacon John Skender, current spiritual director for the Diocesan and Peoria Cursillo; Father Tom Henseler, Sister Jacqueline Schroeder, OSF, Msgr. Tim Nolan, Msgr. Brian Brownsey, Deacon Bill Read, Sister Janice Keenan, OSF, and Sister Diane Vande Voorde, OSF.

In addition to Bishop Jenky, there was applause for all the priests and permanent deacons who have been involved in Cursillo, as well as the Protestant clergy and lay leaders.

And the Cursillistas were asked to stand and be recognized according to when they had made their Cursillo. In the group were two people who had been on the very first men’s weekend and women’s weekend.

Joe Sondag, a member of Immaculate Conception in Manito, helped to bring Cursillo to central Illinois and was part of the inaugural men’s weekend at the Spalding Institute Gymnasium in Peoria.

“I was a cradle Catholic and went to parochial school,” he told The Catholic Post, but it wasn’t until he made his Cursillo weekend that he got “personal with Jesus.”

“I could see people fall in love with Christ,” Sondag said, as he served on teams over the years.

“I took from it and gave back what I could,” he said.

Mary Slevin was on the first women’s weekend, held at Bergan High School from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3 in 1965, and found it to be “an affirmation of my faith.”

“It tells you that God really loves you,” said Slevin, a member of St. Ann’s Parish in Peoria. “You may not believe it, but the Cursillo weekend shows you he really does.”

It was such an “amazing experience” that she was on the team for the second women’s weekend and was the rectora or leader for the third weekend. She went on to serve as secretary in the Peoria Cursillo office for 19 years.

Key to the success of a Cursillo weekend is prayer and palanca or good works offered on behalf of the candidates by members of the community. In preparation for Cursillo 1,000 the five Cursillo centers in the diocese committed to collecting 1,000 palanca pledges each.

When all was said and done, they were able to present a spiritual bouquet of 6,553 acts of palanca to the inmates at Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg, where the milestone weekend took place.

“God gave (Cursillo) 1,000 to the most rejected,” said Deacon Joe O’Tool of Alpha, a member of the Cursillo team. “That Cursillo and every Cursillo reminds me to see Jesus in every face we look at.”

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