Getting the Most Out of Your Retreat

Are you thinking about making a retreat? Maybe your first retreat, or maybe even your annual retreat?

Where do you start? How do you choose a retreat? How do you prepare?

We asked hundreds of retreat center directors their thoughts on how to best prepare to make a retreat. Not surprisingly, good preparation was seen as very important to making a good retreat.

Among the directors’ advice we found seven common themes, or “pillars” of retreat preparation. We will approach each pillar separately over the next several weeks, but for now we will focus on the first one, as it is pivotal to a good retreat and leads in to the other pillars.

The first pillar is commitment. Commitment is necessary on several levels, the first being commitment to a specific retreat.

The first thing to do it take some time in prayer to thank God for the inspiration to make a retreat, and then commit yourself to make it a time of fruitful prayer.

Committing to a Retreat

You need to go sign up for a retreat, get it on your calendar, and plan to clear your schedule for that time. Stop putting it off, just go ahead and sign up.

Each retreat center has a different registration process for their retreats, so consult their website or give them a call to find out what needs to be done to register.

Hesitations About Committing to a Retreat

Three reasons are often given by people for not committing to a retreat. Let’s take a quick look at each of them.


It is easy to imagine a retreat in your head and expect that everybody else there will be super holy, walking saints. We tend to see our own flaws and expect that others will see them just as easily, especially those other prayer superstars who will be on the retreat. We expect that the others will looks down on us and wonder why we think we belong there.

First, it just simply is not the case that only the holiest among us make retreats. There will be people of every spiritual “level” at any given retreat, and those who do have a deeper prayer life will probably recognize that as well as anybody.

Nobody is so “unholy” that they should not make a retreat. Retreats are for the spiritual betterent of us all. Some retreats are better fits for different people depending on their prayer life intensity, but there is a retreat for everybody. More on that later.


Our free weekends are few and far between. Scheduling a retreat to fill in one of them may be a lot to ask, in particular if you have responsibilities such as kids in the house.

Batteries can only run a machine so long before they are drained. Sometimes operation needs to cease so that the batteries can be charged. After that short break the re-energized batteries help the machine to run more powerfully than it had been while the power had drained toward zero. You see the analogy. Finding time to recharge yourself on a retreat is important.

If time really is too squeezed to fit in a weekend retreat, look at other options. In many areas one-day retreats or “missions”are regularly hosted by a local parish or retreat center. Or, consider renting out a simple room at a retreat center or hermitage for a single night to get away for a time of prayer with potential access to the sacraments.

It is easier to go deeper in prayer the longer a retreat is, but even a short retreat can be beneficial.

To find retreat options in your area, try the new Catholic Retreats Search to see retreats being offered nearby.


If the cost of a retreat is a barrier, you may need to dig harder for viable options.

A weekend at a retreat center can cost several hundred dollars due to the cost of housing and feeding retreatants for several days.

There are other options though.

Some retreat centers offer scholarships for some or all of their retreats, which you can apply for.

Some retreats ask for a free will offering to cover the retreat expenses, meaning you can pay what you are able.

Retreats or missions offered at local parishes may be free or at least lower cost, since retreatants return to their home each evening to sleep in between the daytime retreat sessions.

If your distance from a retreat center is part of what is making the cost so prohibitive, consider making your own private retreat with a book such as our own “A Prayer Retreat with the Rosary” or Fr. Michael Gaitley’s superb book “33 Days to Morning Glory.”

Choosing the Proper Retreat

There really is a wide variety of retreat formats, but in general a retreat is either “preached” or “private.”

Preached retreats are those in which all of the retreatants gather together for talks given by the retreat director at times throughout the retreat.

Private retreats do not involved these learning sessions. A person on a private retreat is often in a hermitage or private room, away from others, where they can pray in solitude.

Both preached and private retreats can be “silent” retreats, in which the retreatant refrains from speaking other than responding to the parts while attending Mass and speaking to a spiritual director that helps to guide their prayer throughout the retreat.

In general, if you are new to retreats a non-silent preached retreat is the way to start. Preached retreats are great for those with a great deal of experience making retreats too, but for beginners in particular they are ideal.

Private retreats and silent retreats are a little more intense on both a spiritual and a mental level, so they are typically a better fit for somebody who has experience making a retreat.

Commit to “Warm Up” Time

It is pretty difficult to hit the brakes on your day-to-day responsibilities while simultaneously going from 0 to 60 miles per hour in your prayer life.

We’ll talk about this more at length in upcoming articles, but commit yourself to spending at least a few minutes a day in silence and prayer as you lead up to the retreat. It will make the silent times during retreat less deafening, and the periods of prayer, though likely longer and more intense than most typical days in your life, will come more naturally.

Commit to Being Fully Present

It takes some careful planning, but it is fully worthwhile to put in the extra effort to tie up loose ends at home and work before the retreat starts.

Anything that you can do to disconnect from technology, work stress, and other distractions will allow you to focus more fully on God during your retreat.

A thousand “what-ifs” come to mind immediately, the worst case scenarios of what may happen if somebody can’t get in touch with you at a second’s notice. Fight against this temptation to justify keeping your phone or computer on you during retreat. It is only for a couple of days.

If necessary, give the retreats center’s contact information to anybody who would actually need it, and let them know it is only for emergency use. You can be contacted via the retreat center staff if it is actually needed. Then, turn off your gadgets and give yourself the chance to really commit to a time away with God.

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Avoid the “Crash” After the “Retreat High” With This

If you have ever made a retreat, you’ve experienced the struggle.

We spend a weekend, or sometimes more, in dedicated quiet, prayer, and learning. We experience the spiritual high of doing so. And then we return home, back to the “real world” which is so busy, loud, frenetic, and disconnected from quiet, prayerful contemplation.

There is no perfect way to avoid the valley after the high. We can’t all be on retreat all the time – the world needs us out there to help others find a relationship with Christ and to teach others how to unplug, pray, and quiet their soul.

We do, however, have one favorite way of returning from retreat without the major crash, and that is the “Scriptural Narrative.”

The Bible is a massive book. There are so many stories, and there is so much context that we just don’t naturally understand two thousand years later and a half world away.

We know we should be reading the Scriptures, but it is daunting. We may get motivated and try. You sit down, open to Genesis and start reading. Maybe just a chapter a day. It may even go really well for a while. You get through Genesis and then Exodus, and you’re picking up momentum.

Then you get to Leviticus. That momentum hits a brick wall.

What in the world is going on? It is dense, dry, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a story.

Well, that’s because it isn’t really a story. It isn’t part of the “narrative” of Scripture, but rather a supplemental book. In a modern book you might find it in the appendices.

But that is not how the Bible is laid out.

There are actually fourteen books, interspersed throughout the Bible, that make up the narrative story in the Bible, from creation and Adam and Eve through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and the actions of the first apostles.

If you read these fourteen books in order you will get a linear story, with the rest of the books in the Bible supplementing that story in some way.

The great coincidence of the narrative story of these fourteen books is that it covers, in total, 364 chapters. Is it coincidence, or providential?

If you read one chapter a day you will cover the entire narrative in a year. Two chapters a day, six months. Four chapters a day, three months.

The story never runs dry, either. You can read the narrative a chapter a day for the rest of your life, covering the story dozens of times, and you will find something new and meaningful each time. You will make more connections and help the Scriptures, and your understanding of God, come alive.

The fourteen books of the Scriptural Narrative are:

Genesis (50 chapters)
Exodus (40)
Numbers (36)
Joshua (24)
Judges (21)
1 Samuel (31)
2 Samuel (24)
1 Kings (22)
2 Kings (25)
Ezra (10)
Nehemiah (13)
1 Maccabees (16)
Luke (24)
Acts (28)

Dive in, start reading. Read the books in this order, and they will form one long, mostly linear story.

It won’t necessarily be easy to understand at every point, however. There are still confusing points, context that we just don’t have. We have a recommendation for that.

There is one book that we always recommend when it comes to understanding Scripture, and in particular the narrative story of Scripture. It is phenomenally well written and very easy to digest and understand for the average Catholic.

That book is called “Walking With God” by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins

We cannot recommend highly enough that you read through the relevant section of Walking With God just before tackling each new book of the narrative story of Scripture.

You will get much more out of your reading of Scripture. In fact, you will never look at Scripture the same way again. It will come alive.

As you come out of a time of intense prayer at a retreat, or prepare to make one in the future, give the Narrative Story of Scripture a try.

Have you tried reading through the Bible or the narrative story of Scripture before? How did it go for you?

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The “Rookie Mistake” on Silent Retreats

A contributor to shares this story about a recent silent retreat:

A retreat center director once told me that everybody making their first silent directed retreat makes the same mistake.

“They all show up with a suitcase full of books, and at the end of the retreat they haven’t touched a single one of them.”

A few weeks ago I had a chance to make my first silent retreat. It was a relatively short weekend retreat, just Friday evening through Sunday afternoon.

As I looked ahead to the retreat I had a hard time envisioning what I would be doing for 40 hours of silence, so I figured I would have to fill some of the time with reading.

Not wanting to look like a rookie walking in with a full suitcase of books….I only brought four books.

And I didn’t touch a single one of them.

Here’s the thing, though. Most silent retreats have a lot more structure than you would think. In the daily routine we had morning and evening prayer as a group, Mass, a holy hour at Eucharistic adoration, and three meals.

In between these, the retreat director would gather the retreatants, offer us a short reflection, and then give us a short list of Bible verses with a quick description of each. He told us to pick one and pray and reflect on it with our prayer journals for the two to three hour block before our next time of group prayer.

Even breaking silent prayer sessions down into two or three hours seemed like a long time to sit quietly. But one of the other retreatants, sharing his experience as the retreat came to an end, captured it perfectly:

“You all told me this would be a silent retreat, but you lied….God just wouldn’t stop talking!”

All this to say, if you are considering making a silent retreat, do it! And don’t worry that the silence will be too difficult. You will be too busy listening to God to remember how long it has been since you talked to anybody else, and too busy listening to God and enjoying His presence to want to interrupt that with the distraction of a book.

If your silent retreat is “directed” or based on the Spiritual Exercises, don’t worry about bringing materials to fill your time. You won’t need them or want them once you dive into the retreat.

A silent retreat, even a short weekend version, is a life changing experience (in a good way!). Give it a shot!

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How to Approach the Fear of Being Changed By a Retreat

A major concern given by those considering a retreat is the fear of being changed by God while on retreat.

This is a legitimate concern, particularly if you have never made a retreat before.

You hear about the experiences that people have on retreat, and sometimes they are dramatic.

Perhaps a friend came back from a retreat as a changed person, and maybe they realized a calling that took them in a different direction than you would have expected for them.

What if you feel a call to make a dramatic life decision during your retreat? Join the priesthood? Quit your job to do mission work on the other side of the world? Move your family across the country to take up a different job?

In some sense, the only advice that can be given here is to trust. Trust that God will move you in the direction that He wants for you.

It may be dramatic, but in many cases it is not. Some people experience a call to join the religious life or to do mission work, but many are simply moved to live a life of deeper prayer.

You may be called to something dramatic, but consider this:

A calling takes time for discernment. The retreat may kick-start the process, since you will be spending a lot of time in quiet prayer, but after the retreat it may take months or years of prayer to move fully in the direction of the dramatic change you are being called to.

For example, feeling a deep conviction that you are called to be a priest? You can call the local vocations director the day after you arrive home from retreat, but for the next several years you will be going through seminary formation and discerning the Call in a focused way.

The dramatic change often requires many “baby steps” that make it feel more gradual.

Also, consider the feeling of not responding to God’s call in your life, whatever that may be.

If you ignore the call and refuse to change, you are likely to still feel that pull from God regularly. It will still be there.

If this pull already exists in your life, a retreat is a great chance to really focus you prayer and discern where that pull is coming from and how God wants you to approach it.

Whatever your calling, and however God may move you on retreat, know that following His will is only going to draw you closer to Him and His peace.

It is not always easy. In fact, it usually isn’t. Following God’s will often takes us out of our comfort zones and presents us with struggles, but it is most certainly worth it.

Do not let this fear hold you back from making a retreat. Commit to a retreat, and in the time leading up to it ask God to move in your life and change you to be more open to His calling.

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Quieting a Distracted Mind on Retreat

Are you thinking about planning a retreat, but perhaps you are worried that you will be too distracted or have too many things to think about outside of the retreat, such as work or family, to get much out of the retreat?

This is incredibly common. While there may be no way to completely remove any distracting thoughts, here are a few suggestions that may help:

  1. Write Them Down

Let’s say you are preparing for a weekend retreat, Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. When you have many items on your mind, bouncing around in your head, such as to-do items and problems in relationships, they take up a lot of brain power and prevent you from quieting your soul in prayer.

Try this:

On Monday of the week leading up to your retreat:

Set aside fifteen or twenty minutes of quiet time to just sit with a notepad and make a list of EVERYTHING on your mind. This includes everything you need to accomplish before the retreat both at work and around the house, any anxieties in your life that just need some attention, and anything else that comes to mind.

After you have written down everything try to sort through the list and note the “to-do” items. From these, make a checklist of tasks that need to be accomplished before retreat, and cross them off as you complete them in the coming days. The sense of completion with each item will help to eliminate it from the clutter of your thoughts.

Any heavier items or anxieties that are on your list, such as maybe a relationship struggle with a friend or family member, write down on a list to bring to prayer during the retreat. These are the items that you do not want to eliminate from your thoughts – they are the ones that you likely need to focus on heavily during your time of quiet and prayer during the retreat.

On Friday, before leaving for your retreat: Do the same exercise as Monday. Write down everything. Any to-do items can be set aside as a list for Monday when you return from the retreat. This way you do not have to worry about forgetting about a task. You can let it go from your thoughts, knowing that you can pick up the list when you return on Monday.

Again, any heavier items should be added to your prayer list for the retreat.

  1. Cut off Communication

This has become the most difficult part of making a retreat over the past decade or two.

The urge to check your phone, email, and social media accounts can be enormous. On a given day we might check each dozens of times. On retreat they are going to ruin your focus and quiet. In all likelihood, they are going to fill your head back up with all of the worries and concerns that we worked to remove by making the lists in step one.

The obvious concern (or excuse) is that we want loved ones, or in some cases work, to be able to contact us in case of emergency. This is easily solved by providing the retreat center’s contact information to anybody that might need it. If there is a real emergency the retreat center can be contacted, and the staff will know where to find you.

  1. Pray about It

This seems like a no-brainer, but few of us do it. In the days and weeks leading up to your retreat, simply pray for the ability to have a calm mind during your retreat so that you can quiet down and get the most out of your time of prayer and silence.

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What if I Can’t Find a Good Retreat Nearby?

Are you considering making a retreat but can’t seem to find the right type of retreat, or a retreat with a topic that is relevant to you?

Depending on where you live, this can be a real problem. In the United States, for example, there are entire states that do not have a retreat center. Even if there is a retreat center nearby, their offerings may be slim or focused on topics that you have no interest in.

What to do if this is the case? Here are a few things you can try.


  • Investigate Parish Retreats

Check with your diocese and local parishes to see if there are any upcoming retreat options. Sometimes, rather than having to travel to a retreat center to make a retreat, the retreat will come to you.

This might involve a Catholic speaker or another priest from around the diocese visiting town for a weekend and presenting a series of talks, with Mass and other prayer sessions throughout.

These can be spread out over multiple days, or they can just be on a single day. Speaking from experience, a single day retreat at a local parish might be just what the doctor ordered if you have a work schedule that includes weekends, have a new baby in the house, or for many other reasons that make a typical weekend retreat difficult to attend.

The cost of these retreats is usually lower because you spend the night at your own house, not in the living quarters of a retreat center.


  • Create Your Own Retreat

This option is less ideal because you lose any interaction with other retreatants and with the retreat director, but it can still be very fruitful. (We are working on an option to give you a chance to be a part of a retreat-focused community even if you can’t get away from home. See the bottom of this article for more info)

It is preferable to get away from home to a quiet place – such as a retreat center or monastery that rents out rooms – but if those options, or your budget, are limited, this could be done from home.

Set aside a weekend and find some material that will be spiritually enriching. Schedule regular sessions to sit down and take in some of that material. Over the course of a weekend you can learn quite a bit about a given topic of the Faith.

In this scenario it is optimal if you can schedule in time for Mass and other prayer sessions regularly.

Everybody has a different preference for the type of material that is most effective – some like reading, some like listening to audio, some like watching video. Pick whichever works best for you.

There are many options for each type of material. Pick a topic that is on your heart and search for a book, audio series, or video series on that. If you are looking for a starting point, some of our favorite suggestions are:

Book: “Walking With God” by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins – this easy-to-read book walks you through the “narrative” story of the Bible – the handful of books that make up the linear story – and explains what is happening, what the writers are trying to convey at difficult to understand points, and how all of the other books of the Bible fit in. This simple book will, without exaggerating, open up the Bible to a whole new level of understanding and appreciation for you.

Learn more about “Walking With God” >>

Audio: “Rediscover Jesus” audio book by Matthew Kelly –Imagine, for a moment, your spiritual life to be like an engine. Over time it may have gotten “gunked up” by misuse or neglect of some sort. This book takes apart the engine piece by piece, cleans it off, and puts it back together to run strong again. It helps you examine nearly every piece of your spiritual life from a variety of angles so that you can dive deeper into your faith.

Learn more about “Rediscover Jesus” >>

Video: “Catholicism” by Bishop Robert Barron – this ten part series will take you around the world, showing you important places in Church history and explaining fundamentals of the Faith along the way. Bishop Barron has also produced other video series in the same fashion, such as “Catholicism: The Pivotal Players.”

Learn more about the “Catholicism” Series >>

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If Sharing with a Group is Keeping You from Making a Retreat

Maybe you have experienced this: you are participating in a retreat, or even an event like a seminar for work, and somebody asks you to stand up and share your thoughts or experience with the whole group. Not only does it catch you off guard, but speaking in front of a group is one of the last items of the list of things that you want to do.

For many of us a situation like this would cause our heart rate to spike, we may start sweating, and the nervousness may be overwhelming.

It is the potential of this exact scenario that is often a stumbling block for somebody considering making their first retreat.

While sharing like that can be very powerful and beneficial for the group on a retreat, we don’t want it to be the factor that holds anybody back from the refreshing and impactful experience of making a retreat.

If speaking in front of a group or being asked to bare your soul are holding you back from making a retreat, consider these suggestions.

  1. Don’t expect it. On most retreats this type of sharing in front of the entire group does not happen. At most, participants might be asked to participate in discussions with a small group. Over the course of the retreat you will get to know your small group well and it will be much more comfortable to discuss spiritual topics with them than with the entire retreat group.
  1. You have the right to pass. If you are in fact asked to speak in front of a group and you do not wish to, you have the right to say “I will pass, thank you.” If the person asking is insistent, you also have the right to be insistent on passing. Almost anybody who is asking people to share with the group will understand the first time that you ask to pass.
  1. Look at different type of retreats. There is only one type of retreat in which you would be asked to speak in front of a group. This would be a “preached” or “group” retreat, in which the entire group of retreatants is getting together to listen to a series of talks over the course of a retreat. There are other options, though.You may decide to make a private retreat, which means simply renting out a room or hermitage at a retreat center, monastery, or somewhere similar and spending time in prayer and quiet. You may make it a “directed” retreat by doing the same thing, but arranging to meet with a spiritual director at least daily during the retreat to walk with you on the journey and guide you in your time of prayer. In these cases, the only speaking or sharing you would be doing on the retreat is with your spiritual director.

    Additionally, consider making a silent retreat. These can take many forms, but the main point is that the people making the retreat are to remain silent for the duration. There are even options for silent preached retreats, where you would still listen to a series of talks by the retreat director and participate in Mass and meals with the others that are on retreat, but all of the retreatants remain silent throughout the experience.

If you are considering making a retreat, do not let the fear of speaking in front of a group or sharing with others hold you back. There are many retreat options that will allow you to have the experience that you are looking for without the elements that you find off-putting.

Start looking for a retreat center in your area today by visiting our directory at

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How to Begin Planning a Retreat


The start of a new year is a very popular time to plan a retreat. Maybe you are interested in doing so, but do you know what to look for, or where to start looking?

Let’s start with what type of retreat to look for.

Types of Retreats

Did you know that there are actually several different types of Catholic retreats?

The type that most people are familiar with is called a “preached” retreat, but there are also “private” and “directed” retreats. The best retreat for you depends upon what you are looking to get out of the experience.

Each of these types of retreats typically occurs at a retreat center. It is often expected that you will spend the duration of the retreat at the retreat center, which is why most retreat centers offer overnight accomodations.

Preached Retreats

Preached retreats are very common and there is a good chance you have heard of one going on at a retreat center or parish nearby.

Preached retreats are typically a weekend spent at a retreat center with a group, and each day there are several talks given by a retreat director or by outside speakers.

This is a great type of retreat to make if you need a boost to your spiritual life and would like to be invigorated with a sense of community by fellow retreatants.

It is also a great option if you are making your first ever retreat. The structure and content are provided, you just have to show up.

The topic of the retreat can vary greatly – from styles of contemplative prayer to the lives of the saints to finding joy in everyday life.

There are often retreats on different topics offered by any given retreat center throughout the year, so with a little bit of searching you should be able to find a retreat that focuses on a topic that is relevant to your current spiritual needs.

When choosing a preached retreat it is important to keep in mind the setting of the retreat center, the daily schedule for the retreat, and the topic being covered. All of these factors should line up with the style of retreat you are looking for.

In most cases preached retreats run from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon on a given weekend.

Private Retreats

A retreat where no formal schedule is provided is called a private retreat.

You might be staying in a hermitage by yourself, or you might be renting out a room at a retreat center. The main point is that there will not be talks given at these retreats – your day is scheduled as you wish.

There are different approaches you can take to a private retreat. You might study a great spiritual book, you may commit to a regular set of prayers each day like the Liturgy of the Hours or the Rosary, or you might just schedule regular periods of prayer and contemplation without a set schedule.

Everybody is different, but in most cases a private retreat will be more fruitful if you have some prior experience with retreats.

Some retreat centers offer hermitages on the property to allow an individual space for a private retreat, and so do some monasteries. In other places, the best option might be one of the rooms in a retreat center.

The length of a private retreat can be adjusted to whatever will work with your schedule.

Directed Retreats

A private retreat in which you meet regularly with a spiritual director is called a directed retreat. A spiritual director is often a priest or religious sister or brother trained to help guide you spiritually.

What is the main benefit of a directed retreat?

The spiritual director will monitor your progress during the retreat. They can offer insights about your spiritual life and give suggestions on how to get the most out of the remainder of your retreat.

The spiritual director uses their unbiased perspective to help you find and correct any deficiencies in your prayer life, and to encourage you to foster the elements that are working well.

If you make a directed retreat at a retreat center or monastery you probably will not get to choose your spiritual director, which is ok. The spiritual director will likely be a priest, nun, or monk who is on staff at the center.

It is important to note that this form of spiritual director is a little different than a spiritual director that you might meet with on a regular basis to discuss your spirituality and everyday life. The spiritual director we are talking about will only be guiding you through the duration of your retreat.

Directed retreats can last as little as a weekend, but it is common to make an eight day or even a thirty day directed retreat as well. Weekend directed retreats might be slightly longer than a standard weekend preached retreat. In many cases the directed retreat begins on Thursday evening and runs through Sunday afternoon.

Finding a Retreat

Finding a retreat that fits your schedule and needs can be difficult. Where you live (or where you would like to make the retreat) makes a big difference.

Start by searching for retreat centers near you.

Many large cities have several retreat centers, meaning there is likely to be an option available on any weekend that works for you.

More rural areas will have fewer options. There are even entire states that do not have a retreat center.

What to do in that case?

First, for preached retreats, check with your local parish and diocese. Sometimes there is a weekend retreat offered at a nearby parish. If this is the case you may be able to attend the retreat talks during the day and return home at night, which makes the retreat less expensive.

For a private or directed retreat check for a local monastery, or something similar, that may allow you to rent a room for a few days. Many do offer this. You may even be able to join the religious community there for prayer and Mass during your retreat.

If none of these options work for you another option is to use the guided retreat that we compiled using advice from retreat center directors, called “A Do-It-Yourself Weekend Retreat with the Rosary.”

It will walk you through every step of the process and provide you with a schedule of prayer and reflections. Find it here.

The Cost of a Retreat

It is, unfortunately, impossible to give a hard number for the expected cost of a retreat. It depends on the type, length, and location of the retreat. Some centers may ask for a free-will donation, though many will charge a specific price.

If you have questions about pricing or any of the specifics regarding a retreat the best way to learn more is to directly contact the retreat center or parish which is hosting the retreat. Accommodations and retreat details will vary from one retreat center to the next.

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ACTS Retreats

Across the country there is one type retreat that is especially on the rise, helping to build parish communities through weekend retreats.

They are called ACTS retreats, named for the four pillars of the retreats – Adoration, Community, Theology, and Service.

What Are ACTS Retreats?

ACTS retreats were born in 1987 out of the Cursillo movement. Three men who had been involved in Cursillo wanted to put together a similar program, but with a focus on building parish life and community. The end result was a three day, three night retreat format that was structured similar to the description of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles, especially in Acts 2: 42-47.

ACTS retreats are intentionally less structured than Cursillo retreats, and are meant to take on the traditions and atmosphere of the parish sponsoring the retreat. Some events are required but many of the presentations are selected by the retreat team and director.

While ACTS retreats place an emphasis on building a community over the course of a three-day retreat, the goal is to have the retreatants return to their parish and take on more involvement in day-to-day parish life, not keep themselves apart as a separate group within the parish.

The Purpose of ACTS Retreats

The basic goal of an ACTS retreat is to bring the retreatants into a deeper relationship with God and with fellow parishioners through daily prayer, an emphasis on community in the parish, the study of Scripture, and a spirit of service to God, the parish, and each other.

The Structure of ACTS Retreats

ACTS retreats are three day, three night retreats that start on Thursday evening and run through Mass on Sunday morning. The retreat is usually sponsored by a particular parish for its parishioners, and is typically presented by a team of parishioners who have experienced the retreat in the past. Separate retreat weekends are given for men and women.

The retreat talks focus on the four pillars – adoration, community, theology, and service – and the retreat is guided by Holy Scripture and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Since many of the presentations are selected by the parish retreat team, the weekend tends to take on the “flavor” of that particular parish.

The retreat team is led by a Director and is composed of twenty to thirty individuals who have attended ACTS retreats in the past. They organize the retreat, conduct the talks and activities, and provide for the needs of retreatants during the weekend.



How to Bring ACTS to Your Parish

Since ACTS retreats are led by parish members who have participated in the weekends before it takes a little bit of planning to get the program started at a new parish.

The most fundamental way of getting ACTS into your parish is to send parishioners to ACTS retreats with other local parishes until enough of them (twenty to thirty) have the experience to host the retreat with your home parish.

This may or may not be viable for your parish. There is also the option of working with ACTS Missions, who can either send a partial team to supplement your parish team once ten people have experienced the retreat, or send an entire team to lead a series of two men’s and two women’s retreats over the course of two years to get enough people trained to sustain the program at the parish going into the future.

Find out more about ACTS Retreats at

What Does ACTS Cost

The main cost of the retreat weekend is room and board for the three nights, which can vary significantly by region. The cost for retreat materials is only about $20. A typical weekend cost falls in the $175 to $250 range.

Where to Find ACTS

ACTS started in San Antonio and has since spread around the world. You can currently find them in at least 58 dioceses in 28 states in the US, as well as Canada, England, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, and South Africa.

As of this writing, ACTS has a presence in the following United States dioceses:

ALASKA – Anchorage, 0Juneau

ARIZONA – Phoenix

CALIFORNIA – Fresno, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Bernadino

CONNECTICUT – Hartford, Norwich

FLORIDA – Orlando, Pensacola

GEORGIA – Savannah

HAWAII – Honolulu

ILLINOIS – Belleville, Chicago, Peoria

INDIANA – Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indianapolis

KANSAS – Dodge City

KENTUCKY – Lexington, Louisville

LOUSIANA – Alexandria, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Shreveport

MAINE – Portland

MARYLAND – Baltimore

MASSACHUSETTS – Boston, Fall River

MINNESOTA – St. Paul-Minneapolis


MISSOURI – St. Louis

NEW MEXICO – Las Cruces, Santa Fe

NEW YORK – New York, Syracuse

OHIO – Toledo

OKLAHOMA – Oklahoma City, Tulsa

OREGON – Portland

TEXAS – Amarillo, Austin, Beaumont, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Dallas, El Paso, Ft. Worth, Galveston-Houston, Laredo, Lubbok, San Angelo, San Antonio, Tyler, Victoria

WISCONSIN – Milwaukee

VIRGINIA – Richmond, Virginia Military Archdiocese


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Cursillo Retreats

If you have ever spent any time scanning the retreat offerings of local retreat centers there is a strong chance that you have seen a retreat title that didn’t make much sense – “Cursillo.” Cursillo retreats are among the most popular retreat offerings across North America. What are they?

What is Cursillo?

The world “cursillo” is Spanish for “short course,” and Cursillo retreats are set up to be just that – a short course in Christianity.

Cursillo was founded in 1944 in Spain and was introduced in the United States in 1957. It is now offered in almost every U.S. diocese.

The retreats are highly structured weekend retreats that run from Thursday evening through Sunday evening. They place a strong emphasis on community and evangelization, and the goal of the retreat is to help Christians to become more fully Christian, enabling them to transform their environment to be more Christian through their daily living.

Cursillo takes place at a local retreat center where retreatants can get away from everyday life and focus for three days and three nights.

Purpose of Cursillo

Cursillo retreats are meant to expand your prayer life and foster continuous spiritual growth that will increase your knowledge about scripture and the Catholic faith. It will also equip you to spread the Word of God in your everyday life in a very natural way.

Who is Cursillo For?

Are you longing to experience your faith more deeply and live it in your daily life?
To enrich your relationship with God, no matter how strong it may be right now?
Are you looking for a community with which to share your faith journey?
Do you want to become more confident in and enthusiastic about your faith and in sharing it in the secular world?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then Cursillo is for you.

That being said, joining a Cursillo is not as simple as just signing up for a retreat.

To get started, a new Cursillo candidate needs to find a sponsor (more on that in a minute).

Both spouses of a married couple are highly advised to make Cursillo together, since the personal and spiritual growth experienced on the weekend are easier to understand and accept when both spouses experience it.

Since the Sacraments are an essential part of the Catholic Cursillo weekend, Christians of other faiths are encouraged to attend a Cursillo that is adapted for their own faith.

It is suggested that those going through especially stressful events in life, such as losing a loved one, wait at least a year before making the retreat so that life can normalize and they can invest fully into a rigorous weekend retreat.

The Need for a Cursillo Sponsor

A unique aspect of the Cursillo movement is the need for a sponsor before making your first retreat. The sponsor must be somebody who has participated in a Cursillo retreat before and remains active with the movement.

Sponsors are meant to explain the weekend to the new retreatant, provide prayer support, help with family arrangements and logistics during the retreats, and provide transportation to and from the retreat site.

After the weekend your sponsor will help you get established in a “group reunion,” which is a small group of Cursillo participants that meet regularly to share their spiritual journey together. These are usually groups of three to five people that meet informally on a weekly basis.

Your sponsor will also introduce you to Ultreya, which is a larger gathering of various group reunions that helps to foster a larger Cursillo community.

The Cursillo Weekend

Each day of a Cursillo retreat begins with morning prayers, ends with night prayers, and includes Mass.

Away from the retreat center other Cursillo participants offer prayer and sacrifice for the success of the weekend throughout the retreat. This is called “palanca,” the Spanish word for “lever,” because it helps to “lift up” the candidates on the retreat.

The first evening of the retreat, Thursday evening, provides a chance for the retreatants to get to know each other. The “retreat phase” starts on Thursday evening and runs through Friday morning. This phase is done in silence and is meant to help retreat participants analyze their own lives and cause them to desire to encounter God.

Friday’s focus is on helping the participants to have a better understanding of themselves. Presentations are made by both the laity and the Spiritual Directors, with table discussions following each presentation.

Saturday is meant to take that understanding of oneself gained on Friday and use that knowledge to grow in relationship with God. Participants examine the current relationship they have with God and hopefully grow in the desire for a deeper and fuller relationship.

The final day of the retreat, Sunday, combines this knowledge of self and relationship with God and helps the participants to discern how to help God in fulfilling His will. The retreatants learn about the different environments they belong to and how they can affect those environments.

At the end of the retreat on Sunday the participants get a chance to meet the larger Cursillo Community and formally enter the Community.

Where to Find Cursillo

Cursillo is offered in almost every U.S. diocese, and around the world. In general, the easiest way to find a Cursillo retreat near you is to inquire through your local diocese. A list of most diocesan Cursillo websites can be found here.

The cost of the retreats varies with room and board costs, but typically runs in the $150 to $250 range.

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