ACTS retreats have enriched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people; men and women, teens and retirees, rich and poor, Catholic and non-Catholic, in the United States as well as other countries. It has reinvigorated the spiritual lives of individuals, of families, of entire parishes. Yet, before 1987, it did not even exist. The way this wonderful program came to be is a beautiful blend of the Holy Spirit and those who listen to His words.

“The weekends would be parish oriented with an aim to evangelize and bring the people of one parish closer to Christ. Our goals are to develop in each person a strong commitment to Christ; to Christian community within the parish; and to apostolic action within the family and parish.” March 1987 Letter to Archbishop Patrick Flores seeking approval to conduct an ACTS retreat

No history of ACTS would be complete without the help of, and some familiarity with, the Cursillo retreat. Cursillo began in Spain in the years between WWI and WWII, in response to what many in the church saw as the increasing secularization of many Catholics in Spain at the time. It was intended to be a short course (the Spanish for short course is “Cursillo”) on the Catholic faith, and soon became widely popular for its profound effect on people’s spirituality.

ACTS also recognizes the impact that Methodist movement “Walk to Emmaus” has had, especially in the ACTS retreat format. “Walk to Emmaus” strives to: “…make Christian communities possible in neighborhoods, churches, work situations, and all the other places where people live the greater part of their lives.” As ACTS traces its roots to Cursillo so too can the history of “Walk to Emmaus” be traced to Cursillo. After using the Cursillo format for a couple of years, the decision was made to rename this movement to “Walk to Emmaus”. The Spirit is alive and one blessing leads to others.

The Birth of ACTS

By the mid 1980’s, Cursillo had spread to many places in the world, including Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Selma, Texas (pictured above), a suburb of San Antonio. It was here that three men who were heavily involved in Cursillo planned the first ACTS retreat.

Ed Courtney, Joe Hayes, and Marty Sablik were instructors and coordinators with Cursillo, with years of Cursillo experience and a mutual friendship. Their Pastor, Fr. Patrick Cronin, urged them to explore ways of encouraging parishioners to become more involved in their Parish, saying service to the Parish was needed. With this challenge in mind, they thought that several aspects of Cursillo could be improved in order to make the retreat more relevant to the needs of the parish, especially after the changes brought about the Second Vatican Council.

From the beginning, they all felt that it was important for the retreat to be open to all, not just Catholic, and not just those who were sponsored by someone. Ed, acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, met Joe and Marty at a coffee shop to build a new retreat called ACTS. This seemed logical to Ed since the Acts of the Apostles described what the apostles did, and are we not the apostles of today? Since the three main points in Cursillo were Piety, Study, and Action, Ed felt it absolutely necessary to bring them into ACTS. Once again under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Ed used a dictionary to help him correlate the letters A, C, T, and S into the themes of Adoration, Community, Theology, and Service. Joe Hayes, with the help of the Holy Spirit, was instrumental in securing the approval of both their pastor, Fr. Patrick Cronin, and that of Archbishop Flores.

Another friend and parishioner, Wallace Vaughn, was inspired by the Holy Spirit to read Acts 2:42-47, the passage that became the biblical inspiration for the weekend.

“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Everyday they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47

OLPH sponsored the first Men’s ACTS retreat in July 1987 and the first Women’s retreat was held in April 1988. After that first retreat in 1987, ACTS spread parish to parish in the San Antonio Archdiocese, and by 1997 there were perhaps 15 parishes with an ACTS program in place. In that year, ACTS Missions was formed as a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization for the purpose of spreading and maintaining the ACTS retreat wherever the Holy Spirit prompted it.

The Formation of ACTS Missions

ACTS Missions was started by Larry Lopez and Tony Deosdade, two men who had such a profound experience on their retreat that they were inspired to make sure everyone in the world had the opportunity to receive it as well. The first “informal” ACTS Missions office was located in a spare bedroom of Tony’s home. From there, thanks to the generosity of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the ACTS Missions Headquarters moved to its current location at Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio. From its offices at OST this small organization now leverages thousands of volunteers every year to bring the retreat to even more thousands of people, allowing them to experience the love of God thorough their fellow Christians. By 2011, ACTS had spread to 22 states in the U.S., 8 states in Mexico, as well as Canada, Honduras, South Africa and England. Interest is growing literally around the world.

People have credited ACTS with saving their lives, saving their marriages, convincing them to be ordained as priests or deacons, leading them to the religious life, simply by opening their eyes and their hearts to God’s word. Pastors have praised its positive effects on their parishes, leading to highly invigorated parish life. Bishops and other church leaders have called it the most important movement in the Catholic Church today; and all this from a handful of faith-filled people with the courage and perseverance to be led by the Holy Spirit.

For more information about ACTS Missions, please visit the official website.