The Beginning in Spain

The stirrings of what was to become the Cursillo movement began on the Island of Mallorca near Spain during World War II. The Spanish Civil War ended in 1939 and the years after that Civil War were a time of turmoil in the Spanish Church.

A pilgrimage to the noted Shrine of St. James at Compostela was planned. This spiritual journey to the great pilgrimage Centre was intended to provide a time for the young men and women of Spain to dedicate themselves in a renewed way to the work of the apostolate. Preparation for the pilgrimage gave rise to efforts of renewal in the different Catholic Action groups that were present in Spain at that time. Catholic Action was the official organization of the lay apostolate in Spain.

The pilgrimage itself was disrupted by the outbreak of World War II. The people of Spain went literally from one war into another. Work on its fulfilment was taken up again after the Second World War ended and eventually the pilgrimage took place in 1948.

The leaders of the youth branch of Catholic Action on the Island of Mallorca were the founders of the Cursillo Movement. They nursed the organization along through its formative years from the late 1940s to 1955. Bishop Juan Hervas, who was Bishop of Mallorca from 1946 to 1955, was a strong supporter and is known as the Bishop Founder of the Cursillo Movement. He remained as Spiritual Advisor to the Spanish Cursillo National Secretariat until his retirement in 1962. He died at Mallorca in 1982.

By about 1955 the movement had spread throughout Spain – still primarily as a youth oriented movement. In 1955, Bishop Hervas was transferred and his successor was not an advocate of the movement. Within 2 years the movement lost momentum in Mallorca, however, Cursillo had reached out beyond Spain to other parts of the world. In 1957, still using Spanish as the operating language, the first Cursillo in North America was held in Waco, Texas. It was organized by a group of Spanish Air Cadets training in the US who organized a weekend for Spanish speaking men in the area. The countries of Latin America were introduced to Cursillo in the 1960s.

By the early 1960s, it had also spread throughout many US dioceses and was now being conducted in English as well. As we all know, Cursillo retains much of its Spanish heritage in the various words we use such as Palanca, Ultreya and so on.

Cursillo in P.E.I.

In 1975 an International English Language Group was formed that included Canada and the movement flourished. Tradition has it that the Cursillo Movement in the Maritimes was introduced in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia by individuals from the Ottawa area shortly after. It is here that we pick up the story of the PEI Movement.

In 1978, Fr. Don MacLeod, OMI together with a group of men and women in PEI who had experienced Cursillo elsewhere began to plan the introduction of the movement in the Diocese of Charlottetown. Unfortunately, Fr. MacLeod was transferred to Nova Scotia before the first weekends were established and the group looked to Fr. Clifford Murphy to step into the breach.

Fr. Clifford’s original experience with Cursillo was very different form that of most of us. He made his Cursillo in the Caribbean and entirely in Spanish. According to Phil Mullaly’s account, Fr. Murphy was quite reluctant to take on the job of Spiritual Director. He had come along to help and all of a sudden, he had the whole task to himself. None of the others involved paid much attention to his reluctance, however – they needed a Spiritual Director – Fr. Clifford was there – and they had no doubts that he was “the man”. None of that first group had much Cursillo experience, including Fr. Clifford, but they were prepared to become experienced. That was the best they could do and Fr. Clifford fit right in like a familiar old sweater.

An excerpt from Phil: “From my experience with Fr. Clifford, I would have to say that he is, above all, thorough. In fact, his thoroughness was a continual challenge to any rector trying to fit all the talks into one weekend. I told Fr. Clifford once, at a team meeting, that we were going to install a trap door in the floor behind the lectern, and when his allotted time was over, we were going to press a button and Fr. Clifford and his flip chart would disappear through the floor. Fr. Clifford just smiled and said ‘Well….?’ and went on at the next weekend to give two talks of record length and a half-hour homily at the closing!!”

Fr. Clifford was an inspiration to all who had the pleasure of working with him. As Phil says, “He was always there” and he was a shining example “by his faithful participation in the not inconsiderable preparation that each Cursillo weekend requires.”

The first PEI weekend was held in October 1979 at Oak Acres camp in Murray River. The team leaders were from Berwick (Greenwood), Nova Scotia but they were ably assisted by a number of Islanders who had been on a Cursillo outside of PEI. Some of those men and women were: Lorne Murphy, Phil Mullaly, Brian McGuire, Leah Michaud, Katherine McNeil and Josie Delaney. Fr. Clifford was the spiritual director of course and he was assisted by an energetic young priest from “the Valley” by the name of Benny D’Entremont

The Cursillo movement in PEI grew steadily under the able Secretariat chaired by Phil Mullaly and inspired by Fr. Clifford. In 1981, Fr. Clifford was joined by a retired army chaplain who was returning to his roots in Tignish. That was Fr. Claude Shea who, in spite of retiring, was full of life and ready to shake up the Island.

Fr. Claude was called to the priesthood about the time the Second World War was in full swing. He had a short time at Seven Mile Bay after his ordination but was soon in the Armed Services. He spent many years in Europe and at military bases all over Canada. The story goes that one dark night in southern Alberta the Lord inspired Fr. Claude to become involved in the Charismatic renewal and he did so. That began for him a ministry that he continued into retirement and applied quite successfully to his work with Cursillo. Fr. Claude always ended his closing remarks at the weekend by saying “This was the best weekend yet.” That expression has been handed down and is used by rectors and spiritual directors still.

And Onward…

The Cursillo community has made an enormous impact on parish life throughout the Diocese. If you go around the various parishes, it is the rare case that you will not see Cursillistas taking leadership roles in the life of the Church and the general Christian community. No matter what the activity, there are Cursillistas involved. This can be in parish councils, liturgy, music, lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Eucharist, pre-marriage programs, RCIA, catechetics, etc.

The last few years have seen Secretariat encouraging a renewed emphasis on sponsorship and group reunion. Greater communication has also been emphasized with the development of a website and e-mail notices on a regular basis. The Secretariat also keeps in contact with other Movements by regular attendance at Atlantic and National meetings. The National body has been encouraging a return to the original vision and intent of the founders of the Movement and the PEI Secretariat is studying these developments to ensure consistency and fidelity to the origins of Cursillo.