Erica Erwin

There was no way Bob Dayton was going, not for three days, and most definitely not during hunting season when he’d rather be in the woods somewhere.

Just think about it, his wife said. Pray.

The letter from a priest inviting Bob Dayton to attend an upcoming Cursillo sat on the table for a few days before he approached his wife.

“I’m going to do it,” he said.

Three days after he left, he came back a changed man, Theresa Dayton said.

“When he came through the door Sunday night, he had the biggest smile on his face I’ve ever seen,” she said. “I’ve never seen him smile like that. He was glowing.”

That was in 2001. Seventeen years later, the Diocese of Erie is preparing to celebrate its 500th Cursillo, a major milestone in the life of the local Cursillo Movement.

What’s Cursillo?

The Cursillo Movement began in Spain in the 1940s as an effort to encourage men to take increased responsibility over their own spiritual lives and those of their family members. By 1957, the lay-led movement had arrived in the United States and, in 1961, the first English-speaking Cursillo was held in San Antonio, Texas. The first Cursillo weekend in the Diocese of Erie was held two years later, in the basement of what was then St. Michael Church in Erie (the church burned down in the late 1960s).

In a word, a Cursillo is a retreat. More deeply, it’s a three-day encounter in which participants are invited to build a personal, more intimate relationship with Christ, to get in touch with themselves and their spirituality and to become more involved in their faith community.

It’s about connection, support and, perhaps above all, coming to understand and accept that we are loved as God’s children.

A transformational weekend

During a Cursillo weekend, participants “learn they are loveable, not because of what they’ve done or not done, but just because we are,” said Msgr. Dan Arnold, spiritual director of Cursillo for the Diocese of Erie. “It allows adults living with the contingencies of life to understand that while perfection is an ideal we strive for, our condition (as humans) very often requires we grow from the point we’re at.”

Cursillo “allows adults to move beyond a childhood spirituality” focused on sin management and in which God is seen only or primarily as judge, the ultimate arbiter of moral right and wrong, Msgr. Arnold said.

“In adult spirituality, it’s refreshing to find out that he’s also love,” he said. “That’s the transformation people go through in a Cursillo weekend.”   

There are nine Cursillo weekends held each year in the diocese: six in Erie County and one each in Mercer County, Crawford County and either Elk County or Cameron County. At each, participants listen to speakers, sing, eat and pray together and contribute to group discussions, among other activities.

“One hundred percent of the time at the end of the Cursillo you always hear basically the same response from the new Cursillista (someone who has completed a Cursillo weekend),” said Paul Tettis, president of the Erie Diocesan Cursillo Movement. “You always hear how they’ve found a new relationship with Christ, a different relationship with Christ, and how they’ve experienced – some of them for the first time – the love of Christ.

“Some people are robots in their faith,” Tettis said. “They go to church every Sunday but that relationship with Christ is missing. … After the Cursillo weekend, it makes it very personal. They have a personal relationship with Christ, one like they’ve never experienced before.”

That was the case with Theresa Dayton, who made her own Cursillo shortly after her husband.

“It was the best thing that happened to me and the best thing to happen to our marriage,” she said. “It’s made us grow together and it’s given us a wonderful outlet to share together.

“I was so sad it came to an end, but I was so excited to bring that into my life with my husband and my family and coworkers. I’m constantly looking at people and saying, ‘Do you want to make a Cursillo?’”

 Men’s 247, the 500th Cursillo in the Diocese of Erie, will take place at Our Lady of Mercy Parish, 837 Bartlett Road, Harborcreek, from Nov. 15-18. The next women’s Cursillo is scheduled for March 16-19 at Our Lady of Mercy. For more information or to register for either, visit the Erie Diocesan Cursillo Movement.