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Feature News | Wednesday, July 10, 2024

In the footsteps of ‘Father Amando Llorente’

Jesuit-based men’s apostolate inspires local laymen, fathers

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In this file photo, Jesuit Father Amando Llorente poses with Missionaries of Charity of Miami.

Photographer: Agrupación Católica Universita

In this file photo, Jesuit Father Amando Llorente poses with Missionaries of Charity of Miami.

MIAMI | He has been called a “master preacher” and “arguably, the most experienced retreat master since St. Ignatius.”

The late Jesuit Father Amando Llorente was a larger-than-life figure to many, both in Havana and later in the U.S., until his death in 2010. He was a mentor and spiritual director to countless university students, fathers, men and even their spouses who attended retreats under his direction.

He helped establish a unique apostolate in Cuba called Agrupacion Catolica Universitaria (ACU) – loosely translated to the Catholic University Group – informed by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. After the Cuban revolution, the Spanish-born Father Llorente reconstituted the group in Miami, and later even expanded it to Atlanta, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C.

Ever since, it has been offering students and young professional men a Catholic Ignatian formation to better prepare them for their spiritual, professional, and family life.


Carrying on the mission

Father Amando Llorente next to the Virgin of the Agrupación Católica Universitaria, an image by sculptor Carbonell, a replica of the one venerated in the house in Havana.

Photographer: COURTESY

Father Amando Llorente next to the Virgin of the Agrupación Católica Universitaria, an image by sculptor Carbonell, a replica of the one venerated in the house in Havana.

Today, the late Father Llorente is being proposed regionally for canonization in the Catholic Church, while ACU carries on hosting weekly Wednesday prayer and study meetings in South Miami, business luncheons, community service opportunities, including projects with the local Missionaries of Charity, and father-son activities for members with sons in grades 6-12.

ACU member David Prada, senior director of the Office of Building and Property at the Archdiocese of Miami and an architect by training, explained that, in the spirit of St Ignatius as transmitted to him through Father Llorente, members are encouraged to commit to an individual apostolate as a way to serve others and serve the Church.

“We all realize that we are in the same boat together, and the ACU provides us the formation and spiritual support we need to fully live out our faith in today's turbulent world,” said Prada, who has also taught confirmation/religious education classes at Corpus Christi Parish in Miami for more than 26 years.

Every Wednesday, Prada and his 87-year-old father drive together to an evening Mass and men’s prayer/formation group that ACU hosts at a property near Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, giving the father and son time to catch up with one another, as well as strengthen their faith with other ‘Agrupados.'

“The value for me is being able to grow and share with other men who are in the same situation as me, and we are able to support each other while facing the same challenges in our careers and also fulfilling our vocations as husbands and fathers,” Prada added. “My son is in his mid-twenties and starting his professional career, and I pray that he will also someday become a part of the ACU.”

A full-fledged member of ACU since 1997, Prada said that Father Llorente was renowned for his skill at spiritual direction in the Jesuit tradition, and was cherished as a retreat master by many, including such figures as Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley and retired Bishop of St. Augustine, Felipe Estevez.

“Father Llorente had a profound impact on my life, because he was a master at giving the Spiritual Exercises,” said Prada. “Going on the annual four-day silent retreat truly shaped my life and served as an unfailing spiritual compass through the different phases of my life."


Forming young professionals

Today, the Ignatian retreats are hosted in Kendall at the Casa Manresa Retreat House with the same goal of forming men while they are in different phases of their lives, just as the Jesuits who founded ACU envisioned when, in 1931, Father Felipe Rey de Castro – and later Father Llorente– established the organization in pre-revolutionary Havana.

Father Llorente was reportedly one of Fidel Castro's teachers and a mentor at Havana’s Belen Jesuit Preparatory School, where Castro studied until he was 16 years old. Castro would later expel the Society of Jesus from Cuba.

“Interestingly, the initial focus of the ACU in Cuba was on high school students entering college, but in Miami, Father Llorente really broadened that focus to forming young professionals from all nationalities and walks of life, which is what attracted me when I first joined,” Prada said.

The current ecclesiastical director of ACU is Jesuit Father Jorge Luis Rojas, who was recently sent from Cuba to Miami to continue the growth of the ACU. His appointment follows the reassignment of the previous ACU director, Jesuit Father Christian Saenz, who is now teaching in Rome.

Though leadership may change, the goal of forming young professionals in the faith has remained constant.

“We meet weekly, break bread together, study the catechism, do Bible study, go to Mass, and once a year go to the Spiritual Exercises retreat as a kind of spiritual checkup to ensure we’re on the right path,” said Prada.

There is even a branch of ACU for married couples, known as CANA groups, while the main focus remains on forming good fathers, husbands and sons.

Every December, members from around the U.S. and abroad gather in Miami for an international gathering and induction of new members. Membership is not limited to Hispanics, and all members are consecrated to Our Lady.

Miami businessman Mariano “Marty” Perez, who is ACU’s formation director for the South Florida region, serves on a canonization committee promoting the cause of Father Llorente. He said that the committee is currently in the phase of gathering stories about Father Llorente.

“At the time in Cuba, kids would go to Jesuit school and leave and lose their faith to socialism and communism,” said Perez. “With a few good men, he began to try to change society. Llorente was not only a great priest but an amazing guy.”

Thanks to Father Llorente’s legacy, there are still several hundred ACU members locally, Perez said.

“We give each one of our guys a mentor and they are also encouraged to seek out mentors. We are all professional and you can usually find someone [in the same field of employment],” Perez said, adding, “The ACU charism is men living out their lives, consecrated to Our Lady, trying to be the best we can be.”

FIND OUT MORE

  • For more information about the Agrupacion Catolica Universitaria (ACU), visit: estovir.org
Members of the Father and Son Apostolate of Agrupación Católica Universitaria, along with their sons in grades 6-12, participate in service projects, Catholic faith activities, and skills development, such as helping with the upkeep of the Missionaries of Charity house in Miami.

Photographer: COURTESY

Members of the Father and Son Apostolate of Agrupación Católica Universitaria, along with their sons in grades 6-12, participate in service projects, Catholic faith activities, and skills development, such as helping with the upkeep of the Missionaries of Charity house in Miami.

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