Emmaus Retreat

© SKD Emmaus Retreat Ministry - 2020 / 2023

Do you know the history behind the Emmaus Retreat?


In the Catholic Church, Emmaus began for women in 1978, with the approval of the Archdiocese of Miami based on an older movement created in Spain in 1940.


The Cursillo focuses on showing Christian laypeople how to become effective Christian leaders over the course of a three-day weekend. The weekend includes fifteen talks, called rollos, which are given by priests and by laypeople. The major emphasis of the weekend is to ask participants to take what they have learned back into the world, on what is known as the "fourth day". The method stresses personal spiritual development, as accelerated by weekly group reunions after the initial weekend.

In Spain, a layman named Eduardo Bonnín and group of close collaborators started celebrating them on different places on Majorca at about one per year. When endorsed by the bishop in 1949, it picked up strength and began spreading to Spain and the rest of the world, to the point that it became an active renewal movement in the Church. In 1957, the movement had spread to North America, when the first American cursillo was held in Waco, Texas. In 1959, the Cursillo spread throughout Texas and to Phoenix, Arizona. In August of that year, the first national convention of spiritual directors was held, and Ultreya magazine began publication. In 1960, growth of the Cursillo quickened in the American Southwest, and weekends were held for the first time in the East in New York City and Lorain, Ohio.

Until 1961, all weekends were held in Spanish. That year the first English-speaking weekend was held in San Angelo, Texas. Also in 1961, first weekends were held in San Francisco, California; Gary, Indiana; Lansing, Michigan; Guaynabo, Puerto Rico; and Gallup, New Mexico. In 1962, the Cursillo Movement came to the Eastern United States. Weekends were held in Cincinnati, Brooklyn, Saginaw, Miami, Chicago, Detroit, Newark, Baltimore, Grand Rapids, Kansas City and Boston. In the West, the first weekends were held in Monterey, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Pueblo and Yakima. The movement spread rapidly with the early centers carrying the Cursillo to nearby dioceses. By 1981, almost all of the 160 dioceses in the United States had introduced the Cursillo Movement.

Emmaus Retreat:


It was developed and conducted by a team of laywomen from St. Louis Church in Kendall (Miami). Father David G. Russell, who was pastor at that time, saw the need for, and envisioned, a parish-based retreat that enabled lay women to minister to lay women. He approached the secretariat of the Cursillo movement and asked if they would allow a parish-based Cursillo to be held at St. Louis. This request was denied. Since there was no other retreat of this type available at that time, Father Russell asked the Directress of Religious Education, Myrna Gallagher, to form a team and develop one. After intense prayer and much thought, it was established that the theme of the retreat would be based on the Scripture passage found in the Gospel of Luke 24:13-35, the Emmaus Reading.

In early 1985, Fr. Fetscher of St. Louis asked Jim Loretta from St. Louis Catholic Church, to look at starting a Men's version of the Emmaus Retreat experience that Myrna Gallagher had started back in 1978. Jim Loretta and Larry Barfield along with other men developed a men's version of what Myrna Gallagher had done. On February 14, 1986, the first Men's Emmaus was held at the Dominican Retreat House that was led by Jim Loretta. Eventually, one of the candidates from a previous weekend called to say they would like to have the same retreat at St. Brendan's Catholic Church. Larry Barfield from St. Louis went to St. Brendan's and put on the first "not at St. Louis" Men's Emmaus weekend, held at the youth center next to Mercy Hospital in Coconut Grove. Thereafter, Jim Loretta on February 14, 1988, put on the first Emmaus an event at St. John Neumann Catholic Church, and the program expanded thenceforth. Since that first Men's Emmaus in 1986, Men's Emmaus retreats have spread throughout the entire United States, every country in Central and South America, Trinidad, Dominican Republic, and even to Shanghai, China. A retreat was even held underground in Cuba 2012. As of 2020, there have been numerous men's and women's Emmaus retreats in Cuba. On 2014, few Emmaus Brothers from St Katharine Drexel's Catholic Church (Weston, FL) went to Spain to teach and coordinate the first Emmaus Retreat where the original Cursillo movement was born.

Emmaus Retreats are different from the Catholic Cursillo. Cursillo aims to form "Catholic leaders" from those Catholics already on a walk with the Lord. Emmaus reaches out to all Christians who are members of church. Participants are encouraged to find ways to live out their individual call to discipleship in their home, church, and community. Today Emmaus retreats are held worldwide.

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