Prison Cursillo

Prison Cursillo’s are held at the Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg, IL.

“I was in prison and you came to visit me. But Lord, …when did we see you in prison? I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least of brothers, you did it for me.” (Matt 25:36, 37-40)

Christ Is Counting On You

Peoria Prison Cursillo dates back to 1976 when Father Tom Henseler and the late Deacon John Holtzman took a team into the prison at Vienna, Illinois. Peoria Cursillo continued there for two more years but it would be 15 years before Cursillo was again conducted in the prisons in Illinois. During that lull, a study was made regarding the viability of Peoria Cursillo in the prison system. After a positive recommendation by the study team, Bishop John Myers gave Peoria Cursillo the mission of taking Cursillo into all the prison in the diocese. Activities began in earnest late in 1993, when Rector Ron Ghidina and his team went into the prison at Sheridan, Illinois.

In 1999 Prison Cursillo was started in our NW Cursillo community at the Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg, Il. Four persons from Peoria Cursillo and a team comprised of NW Cursillo volunteers, lead by Maryellen Rogers, put on the first Cursillo at the Hill. It was the first time our NW people were ever inside the Hill but it was not to be the last. Every year since 1999, a Cursillo has taken place at the Hill. Maryellen Rogers continued on as Director until 2007. In May of 2008, Father Duane Jack, Diocesan Spiritual Director of NW Cursillo appointed Deacon Joe O’Tool as Director of the Hill Cursillo program.

There have been many changes, including the security level at the Hill. It went from medium security to medium-high security. Now the volunteers need to have a full clearance which includes drug testing, full background check, yearly t.b. tests and fingerprinting to be qualified as regular volunteers. The rules and regulations inside the Hill also reflect the higher security. The volunteers are very dedicated and committed. The phase “Let Go and Let God” takes on new meaning as each annual Hill Cursillo is faced with unique and constant challenges. Every year new volunteers are added so that the selection of team members increases.

Prison Cursillo is the same as the Cursillo outside prison, with a few basic differences due to the obvious location and time limitations. Because of these limitations the Actual Grace rollo is combined with the Sanctifying Grace rollo, the CCIA rollo is combined with Environment and finally the Fourth Day rollo is combined with Total Security. The weekend begins on Friday morning at 8:00 A.M. with all the supplies going through a thorough security check by an officer, and ends at 2:00 pm on Sunday when the candidates go to their cells for break and count. Friday and Saturday end at 8:00 p.m. There is a 4 hour break in the afternoon to allow for the inmates to return to their cells to take a daily break. This gives the institutions time to count all the inmates. This break is mandatory throughout the State. (an example of the new security).

Another difference is the candlelight. Candles and flashlights may not be used. So “poster paper” candles complete with the “flame” are constructed, the team forms two lines and each volunteer holds these paper candles up at the Apostolic Hour. As the inmates pass between the lines, we sing the “Jesus Song” and hand a paper candle to each of them. We finish this ceremony with singing “Go Light Your Candle” by Kathy Tracoli. The glow of course is provided by the faces of the inmates during this candlelight ceremony and a tear or two shows up now and then.

Another obvious difference is the kitchen. The volunteers eat lunch in the staff cafeteria and of course the candidates eat in their mess hall. We have 30 minutes for lunch and they are back. Of course the team also goes home each night.

Prison Cursillo has Rector/a selection and team selection under the guidance of Father Duane Jack and we have all the team preparation meetings. On the weekend, volunteer preists come in and offers reconciliation, Mass on Saturday and Sunday. All the rollos (even though some are combined as previously mentioned), takes place over the 3 days. Prison Cursillo has a palanca chapel where someone is praying all weekend, 24 hour prayer coverage is done in the homes of Cursillistas and the names and times are printed on a scroll that is presented in the room on Sunday. This presentation of the scroll brings looks of amazement and awe to the inmates and often we see tears that only Jesus can bring out of them in a place that you must not show weakness.

There are follow up ultreya’s just like regular Cursillo held on the 3rd Tuesday of every month, with the first Ultreya (Tuesday evening)following the weekend spent letting the new Cursillistas share “What Cursillo means to me, and “What am I going to do about it.

There is a Hill Cursillo Newletter that is mailed to the inmates monthly.

On the first day of the first Cursillo in 1999, there were three candidates that started on Friday morning. Seventeen closed that first weekend, which was God’s perfect number for a new and inexperienced team. Since that time there are anywhere from 40 to 50 candidates. At the ultreya’s there are anywhere from 15 to 40 inmates who attend.

It has been apparent that God is NOT limited by time, space, rules and regulations. He finds His way around it all. God is Good!!!

DeColores, Deacon Joe O’Tool, Spiritual Director of the Hill Cursillo