Deacon recalls over 50 years of Cursillo in English

Fr. Fidelis Albrecht, O.F.M.

By Megan Marley

The Cursillo movement has seen many colorful seasons come and go since it first arrived in Kansas City over 50 years ago.

Deacon Justin McMenamy remembers how a German Franciscan—Fr. Fidelis Albrecht, O.F.M.—brought the Cursillo translated in English from its original Spanish to the Kansas City area.

“The first one was held and ended Dec. 8, the Immaculate Conception feast, 1962. Bishop Helmsing made the Cursillo in June of 1963, and I made my Cursillo of August of 1963—Cursillo #11,” he said.

“We’ve had in excess of 8,000 people in the greater Kansas City area make it…it is now translated into every major language and about 65 million people have made the Cursillo throughout the world.”

What exactly is the Cursillo? The weekend-long initial retreat, open to those 18 and older, is just the start of putting Catholic faith into action in your life and community.

“It’s a little training course in Christianity,” McMenamy explained. “It is a movement in the sense that, through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, people are moved into how to live the rest of their Christian life. And it’s anchored in five elements: personal prayer life, sacraments, group security, study, and putting the desire to help Jesus save souls in action.”

The Cursillo was founded in post-civil war 1940s Mallorca, Spain. It found its way to the United States via Texas and in 1959, the bishop of Amarillo invited his priests to a meeting on the Cursillo which Fr. Fidelis Albrecht and other members of his order attended.

In a written account of his involvement with the movement, Fr. Fidelis said the Bishop and others encouraged him to attend a Cursillo—he eventually did so half-heartedly, with more interest in attending a Shakespeare play occurring nearby.

But following a weekend of hearing confessions, offering Mass, inspirational talks and faith discussions he was drawn in by what the Cursillo had to offer.

“O-hhhh, that was beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! …I said I would stay…I didn’t even see Shakespeare to this very day. But what is Shakespeare compared to the Cursillo!” he wrote.

Fr. Fidelis became quite involved with the movement and gradually learned how to lead the Cursillo in Spanish. But another priest suggested there was a need for him to lead it in English.

“Never such a dreadful thing was herd [sic] of…I began to write around to different parts of the country for some aid and suggestions…accepting the idea of changing the Cursillo into English was a very forbidding idea, and I had harsh letters and harsh telephone calls,” he recalled.

“He made 18 Cursillos in Spanish before he ever had it translated,” McMenamy said. “He spoke and wrote very fluent street Spanish.”

With the help of others, Fr. Fidelis held the first Cursillo in English Nov. 6, 1961 in San Angelo, Tx.

“The first Cursillo was not so bad, but ohhh, that second one! …Quite a few of the Spanish were almost personally mad, because you couldn’t do this, and you’re going to ruin it, and you don’t sing enough, etc.,” Fr. Fidelis wrote. “While there was rejoicing at its spread, there was just as much sorrow.”

The translated Cursillo made its way to Cincinnati, Ohio and the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana within a few short years.

“Our Bishop Helmsing became very familiar with the bishop of Cincinnati at the preliminary sessions of Vatican II,” McMenamy said. “The bishop of Cincinnati was telling Bishop Helmsing about the Cursillo and what it was doing to his diocese already, turning it upside down, the men were on fire for the Holy Spirit! Bishop Helmsing then invited Fr. Fidelis to come to Kansas City to establish the movement here in town.”

McMenamy recalled some early Cursillos, held in the upper level auditorium of the old three-story school building at Our Lady of Sorrows parish.

“We’d put army bunks with mattresses around the outside against the walls. In the center were your tables that sat 10 people, and up front there was a platform where the speakers would give their talks. In August when I made mine, we were above 100 degrees for the three days—there were fans, no air conditioning.”

“He [Fr. Fidelis] had a way with including storytelling and tying everyday living into how you should treat this teaching that he just gave you, and it all made sense.”

Locally the movement is organized under a lay secretariat under the leadership of a Spiritual Advisor, and answers to the bishop. Fr. Fidelis was spiritual director of the movement in Kansas City (and several daughter groups in other cities) until his death in September 1973.

“He was such a dynamo of energy, you would not believe the energy he spent!” McMenamy said. “We were planning a bash for Cursillo 100 and getting ready for Cursillo 98 when he died.”

Spiritual leadership in Kansas City fell to fellow Franciscan, Fr. Emmeran Frank; and when the Franciscans left the diocese, Deacon McMenamy led for 22-some years. Leadership passed from him to other deacons in 2005 (with Fr. Gabriel Lickteig taking on the role in 2019), but McMenamy still plays an active role.

“I’ve been involved with the Cursillo for over 56 years now,” he said. He noted that while the time constraints are different now, the method, message and community of the Cursillo in Kansas City hasn’t changed.

“You can meet someone 30, 40 years later and still have that instant connection that the Holy Spirit has smacked both of you years ago and this bond is never broken,” McMenamy said.

“You have this spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood that’s quite unlike any other…they’d give their lives for one another and certainly sacrifice for each other on the drop of a hat,” said Deacon Rick Schwind, current lay director of the Cursillo.

Both Schwind and McMenamy have seen the movement change lives.

“One weekend we had a guy who was out of the Church 40 years—other times I’ve seen 15, 20 years pretty regularly,” McMenamy said.

Schwind recounted the spiritual awakening of one man who’d been away from the Church 28 years.

“His comment was, ‘I felt like I was walking around carrying a suitcase of puzzle pieces—that weekend, I learned how to put that puzzle together and where I fit.’… And now here’s a guy who’s completely on fire for his Faith.”

The next Cursillo weekends in English in the Kansas City area for men are Feb 20-23, June 11-14 and Sept 24-27, 2020, and for women March 26-29, June 25-28 and Oct. 22-25 2020. For more information on the area Cursillo movement, visit cursillo.net.

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Monday
January 27, 2020
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph