By Jim Gauger

Special to The CS&T

MALVERN – A retreat is an opportunity to take time out for reflection and prayer and build new inner strength.

Malvern Retreat House, in its 97th year, is situated on 125 acres of wooded Chester County countryside, the largest Catholic retreat house in the country.

Its web site invites “men, women, families, married couples, religious and clergy to strengthen and renew their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, self and others.”

Malvern is now enabling retreatants to continue their spiritual experiences through an online retreat service, which was announced on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, the patron saint of the retreat house also known as St. Joseph’s in-the-Hills.

Through its web site, Malvern Retreat House is connected with that of Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., which has been offering online retreats for 10 years. The retreat can be accessed by first visiting and then by clicking on the icon marked “Creighton University Online Retreat” in the top right corner.

In the age of Facebook and other online sharing sites, this tool offers an entry into spiritual awareness through the Internet.

The idea for the Malvern online site took place last fall.

“I was on a global Sacred Heart retreat in northern Pennsylvania with prominent Catholic priests and lay people from across the United States,” said Anne McGlone, director of marketing and public relations at Malvern. “One was the Provincial of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary for the Eastern United States, Father William F. Petrie. They have Creighton retreats on their web site for their order.”

McGlone decided to research online retreats. “I began to discuss it with Jim Fitzsimmons (Malvern Retreat’s president). I thought it would be a great fit for Malvern.”

In that short time, Malvern’s online site was created with the link to Creighton.

A press release from Malvern public relations coordinator Jane Schneider details the experience:

“Following the format of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the retreat will offer the opportunity for participants to be on retreat in the midst of everyday life, over the course of a 34-week period, in English, Spanish, Russian and Japanese. After completing a retreat at Malvern Retreat House, retreatants will be encouraged to participate in the online retreat to begin the Spiritual Exercises. They will be guided to post reflections on each week’s exercise through a private blog established for that specific retreat group on the Malvern Retreat House web site.

“As they progress through the online retreat, retreatants will be given the option to meet once or twice monthly as a group at the retreat house with a retreat director. Those who live a distance from the retreat house will be offered the option of receiving one-on-one consultations with a spiritual director by telephone. In-person spiritual direction also will be available at the retreat house for those who opt to participate inspanidually in the online retreat.”

As Creighton University explains, “The Spiritual Exercises are a type of map, a map for the human heart to follow in prayerful meditation and contemplation. To follow these exercises and their engagement of the heart brings one into intimate contact with the living Spirit of Jesus, Lord of all consolation.”

Malvern is the first retreat house in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to offer online retreats, says McGlone.

Generally, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus, last 30 days.

“Because people making the retreat are at home or work, they can start or stop it at any time,” said McGlone, explaining the 34-week period. “They read the weekly guide page each week. There is a period of time in prayer every day. They review the graces each week. They have the option of sharing the graces with a spiritual director at Malvern (Sister of St. Joseph Anne McCoy) or chat or blog online around the world. That’s the beauty of it. There are 130 countries participating. That’s astounding.”

The online retreat, which is free, is considered a continuation of a retreat at Malvern.

“Online is very important, but it does not replace the live, face-to-face retreat at Malvern,” McGlone said. “What it provides is the opportunity for retreatants to continue their faith journey.”

McGlone says the weekend retreats at Malvern span 42 hours and that about 21,000 retreatants visit the campus each year. Most of those return, she says, some for as long as 72 consecutive years.

“The value of a retreat is to take time away from the stress of every- day life to encounter Jesus Christ,” McGlone said.

That opportunity, thanks to the online retreat at Malvern, is now available beyond the retreat house itself.

Jim Gauger is a freelance writer and a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, Glenside.