The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

March 9, 2014

Couple minister through cursillo, visiting inmates

Persons of the Week

Frank Sojak
fsojak@tribdem.com

JOHNSTOWN — Nicholas and Mercedes Smith are spreading the Catholic faith by listening.

By hearing the word of the Lord, they can spread that message by ministering to others.

The couple and other lay members of the Altoona-Johns­town Roman Catholic Diocese minister by conducting a religious program called cursillo several times a year at St. Ann of Providence convent in Ebensburg and once a year for inmates at the federal prison in Loretto.

Cursillo is Spanish for “short course.”

“We call it a mini-course in spirituality,” Mercedes Smith said, adding that the program, held on weekends, is designed to bring a person closer to God.

The movement started in Spain in 1944 and reached the United States in 1961, she said. The first cursillo in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese was held in 1976 in Ebensburg.

The group’s latest cursillo was for men only and was held from Thursday through Sunday.

A cursillo for women is scheduled for March 20-23.

“The weekend is to learn more about our faith and how we can evangelize to others,” Smith said.

The program is conducted by the laity with support from the clergy.

“We have Mass every day,” Smith said. “The clergy and the laity will speak about spiritual matters to help us in our spiritual walk with God.”

She said anyone who has ever made a cursillo says he or she feels closer to God.

The Smiths also help with a prison ministry through their church, St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church in Geistown.

The ministry travels to the Loretto prison monthly to talk and pray with the inmates.

“They are children of God,” Mercedes Smith said about the inmates. “He (God) loves them. They made wrong choices, but we need to let them know that someone cares.

“When you go to a prison, the first thing they do is grab your hands and say, ‘God bless you for coming.’

“They also tell us that we make them feel like human beings.

“To me, it is so rewarding to go there,” she said.

Nicholas Smith also makes rosaries on his own and with a group called the Rosary Makers at his church.

He donates rosaries to inmates at the prison, St. Benedict Gift Shop in Geistown and anyone who asks for one. The rosaries he makes with the church group are distributed to missions around the world.

For their efforts, the Smiths, who reside in Richland Township, are the Persons of the Week.

The Rev. David Peles, pastor of St. Benedict Church, said the Smiths are the kind of people who take their faith seriously and live it out.

The Smiths understand that the gifts that they receive from God should be shared, he said.

Tony Palm Sr., a cousin of Mercedes Smith, said she and her husband are devout Catholics who are dedicated to the cursillo movement and the Catholic faith.

The rosaries that Nicholas Smith makes are gorgeous, Palm said.

Women wishing to register for the March 20-23 cursillo should call 266-4482.



Frank Sojak is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/FrankNews10. Tribune-Democrat editors select a Person of the Week from nominations made by readers. To nominate someone for Person of the Week, call 532-5058, 24 hours a day.