ROCHESTER — When Mary Liz Bartell’s parents, Mary Ann and Charles Flansburg, invited her to try Cursillo — in which they have long been involved — she agreed to make a Cursillo weekend in 1999, thinking she might deepen her faith a bit.
“They don’t tell you it’s life-changing,” laughed Bartell, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Valley in Hornell and Rexville.
Bartell has since become immersed in the Rochester Cursillo Movement that is marking a half-century in the Diocese of Rochester. The milestone was noted Oct. 22 with a Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral featuring Bishop Salvatore R. Matano as celebrant. Bishop Matano — who noted during his homily that he made a Cursillo weekend in 1967, the same year the local movement began — was joined by Catholics from around the diocese who have embraced Cursillo’s unique approach to spirituality and evangelization.
Cursillo de Christianidad — Spanish for “short course in Christian living”— arrived in the United States in the late 1950s and debuted locally a decade later with the approval of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Since then, the movement has attracted several thousand local men and women.
Initial involvement occurs through a Cursillo weekend, which runs from Thursday evening to Sunday morning. New participants must be sponsored either by a Cursillista (person who has already made a Cursillo weekend) whom they know personally or is provided by Cursillo leaders. (Openings are still available for the Women’s No. 87 Cursillo Weekend, set for Nov. 9-12 at Notre Dame Retreat House in Canandaigua. For details, call 585-538-9406. The next men’s Cursillo weekend will be in the summer of 2018.)
A Cursillo weekend is filled with presentations, discussion and meditation guided by lay leaders and ordained spiritual advisers. Lighter moments are mixed in as well, but the time mostly involves deep prayer, reflection and sharing. Attendees are charged to bring their enhanced faith into their daily lives, applying the Cursillo movement’s three-step approach, or triad: piety, study and action.
Cursillistas meet weekly in small groups after the Cursillo weekend has concluded, as well as in larger gatherings known as Ultreyas — located at several parishes around the diocese — that convene monthly. The groups offer strong friendship and support for fellow Cursillistas striving to implement their triad priorities.
“(Meeting regularly) keeps us on target,” said Bartell, who, in her role as Rochester Cursillo’s post-Cursillo chair, coordinates continuation of the process begun on Cursillo weekends.
Regular discussion is a vital part of the Cursillo experience for Marilyn LeChase, a parishioner of St. Leo in Hilton.
“When you share your faith, it keeps it alive,” said LeChase, who, along with her husband Sal, has been a Cursillista for more than four decades. Marilyn currently serves as lay director for Rochester Cursillo, overseeing many aspects of the Secretariat — a small group of clergy and laity that directs, promotes and develops the local Cursillo movement in conjunction with the School of Leaders.
Two other Secretariat members are Gregg and Beth Bullen, from St. Martin de Porres Parish in Caledonia, Scottsville and Churchville. They serve as pre-Cursillo chairs, coordinating registration and preparation for weekends. Gregg, who made his Cursillo weekend in 2011 and was followed later that year by his wife, encourages Catholic adults — married or single — to consider spending some time that can yield positive and long-lasting effects, as was the case with him.
“You learn to understand the faith better, understand what Jesus was doing and ultimately how to be Jesus to other people,” Gregg said.
“It’s not just the weekend. It guides your life,” Beth added. “It’s the best thing I ever did.”
Another positive aspect of Cursillo is the friendship aspect. LeChase said close bonds are shared by Cursillistas despite their various parish affiliations, and Bartell likened the Grand Ultreya — an annual get-together for all Ultreya groups in the diocese — to a family reunion.
“I’ve got to say, I really love the Cursillo family spread out through the Rochester Diocese,” Bartell remarked.