Made popular in the 1980s and ’90s, the English-language option for the lay-led Cursillo movement has returned to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Cursillo, which means “short course” in Spanish, fosters a deeper knowledge of the Catholic faith and a friendship with Christ by way of a retreat for adults followed by ongoing small groups.

Originating in Spain in the 1940s following the horrors of World War I and the Spanish Civil War, the Cursillo movement soon spread to Europe and then the United States. Waco, Texas, was the site of the first Cursillo retreat in the United States in 1957. A Spanish-language Cursillo group remains active in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

Serving as the area Lay Director of Milwaukee Cursillo, Matt O’Connor, a member of St. Thomas Aquinas, Elkhart Lake, worked with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to revitalize English-language Cursillo here.

O’Connor hopes the new option will grow and become as popular as it was in the 1970s and ’80s.

“If you go 10 miles north into the Green Bay diocese, it is alive and well,” he said.

The first English-language option Cursillo weekends in years that are especially promoted to southeast Wisconsin Catholics will be held April 4-7 in Appleton for women and April 18-21 in Elkhart Lake for men.

The Cursillo experience consists of a retreat followed by small group gatherings that meet weekly or biweekly for as long as the participant is interested in attending.

“For many if not most, it is one of the most profound experiences of their faith life; many deacons have pointed to that experience to saying that is what made them want to go further,” O’Connor said. “For me, it was an enriching weekend — very powerful when I did my Cursillo in Green Bay.”

“The Cursillo weekend is for adults 21 and over, and they normally meet at a Catholic school. They stay overnight — we supply beds and transform the school into a retreat center,” he said. “We have scholarships and financial aid because we don’t want someone to miss out if they can’t afford the fees. This upcoming Cursillo weekend is a bit north of us, but we hope to have a weekend of our own a year from now.”

Fr. Thomas DeVries, a senior priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee who assists at Holy Trinity Parish in Newburg, is part of the leadership core of Milwaukee Cursillo and serves as its spiritual director. He will be meeting with leaders regularly as they coordinate upcoming Cursillo weekends. Additionally, he will oversee administrative and financial tasks and responsibilities, and network with parish leaders to share information on Cursillo and its mission.

“At times, I will assist on Cursillo weekends, giving one of the talks, celebrating Mass and providing other sacramental ministry,” he said. “At other times I will coordinate the involvement of other priests in the archdiocese on Cursillo weekends. Above all, I am to ensure that the spiritual needs of the Cursillo community are being met.”

Fr. DeVries explained that the greatest grace of a Cursillo weekend among those who attend is a profound encounter with Christ. No matter where an individual is on their spiritual journey, the Cursillo weekend helps to deepen the participant’s relationship with Jesus Christ.

“Participants come to a better understanding of their faith, and how they can live that faith within the circumstances and situations of their daily lives,” he said. “Moreover, this is all done on a Cursillo weekend within the context of a Christian community, a community that is available to the participants even after the weekend. It has been my experience that a Cursillo weekend can be a major turning point in the lives of the participants: either igniting a dormant faith or renewing and deepening a faith that is already alive. They take this energized faith back to their parishes, their families, their jobs and their friends. They become part of the mission of the Church, inviting others to come closer to Christ.”

When Michael Hartke lived in Methuen, Massachusetts, he attended a Cursillo weekend in February 2014. He was recently married to his wife, Elizabeth. Her uncle is a priest who led the Cursillo program at a parish there.

“It was pretty much in the cards for me to live a Cursillo at some point, and I went shortly after being married,” he said. “I lived my Cursillo with about 40 other men and had an unforgettable time. I still fondly remember much of it. After my weekend, I had to have my wife live her Cursillo the very next month and experience the joy and peace that I found at Cursillo. After my dad lived his, he did the same for my mom and flew her out the following month! So, our family attended four straight Cursillos following my weekend.”

Going through Cursillo helped Hartke understand Jesus’ deep and personal love for him. While he grew up Catholic and attended Catholic schools, he didn’t quite grasp how intimately and deeply Christ loved him. Through Cursillo, he saw that his blessings, loved ones and wife were gifts to him from a God who knew him and loved him deeply.

Hartke helped O’Connor bring the English-language option back to Milwaukee. A member of St. Michael’s in Kewaskum, he said Cursillo brought him great peace, and he has learned what it means to live his faith. He encourages all adult Catholics to attend.

“Just go! You must experience this! The Holy Spirit is waiting for you,” Hartke said. “A man I know once said this about Cursillo, ‘I’ve had tickets to more Super Bowls than I can count, and those weekends are crazy fun! My Cursillo weekend was better than all those Super Bowl weekends combined!’”

For more information on Cursillo and attending a weekend, visit

Matt O’Connor