By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

The Oct. 14-16 retreat at Malvern Retreat House, St. Joseph in the Hills, was a special one for special people. It was the annual Our Lady of Confidence Retreat for people with physical or mental disabilities. That’s not the same as the disability that really matters – a crippled soul.

As retreat master, Father Gregory Hickey, rector of Malvern, chose to compare apparent abilities to that spiritual disability.

“People may have perfect vision themselves, but they can’t see their faults, they can’t see what they are doing to other people,” he told the men and women attending a mid-morning Mass. “We have to take inventory to see what we are doing wrong and ask, what are we doing wrong, not the person next to us,” he said. “If we do that we will not only have perfect 20/20 vision we will have perfect 20/20 spiritual vision.”

Afterward Father Hickey commented, “This retreat means a lot to us. As rector of a large retreat house I think everyone has a right to make a retreat, and this has been such a wonderful retreat for me.”

Some of the retreatants were blind, some were deaf and some had mental disabilities.

“They talk about this as a retreat for people with disabilities, but we all have disabilities in one way or another,” Father Hickey said.

He recalled an incident in the life of St. Pio who had the stigmata. When a doubter challenged him, “Show me your wounds,” he replied, “No, show me your wounds.”

The retreatants were drawn from such places as the Cardinal Krol Center, spanine Providence Village, Horizon House and from independent living situations, according to retreat captain Peter Schumacher, a member of Corpus Christi Parish, Upper Gwynedd.

Betty Passanante of St. Rose of Lima Parish in West Philadelphia, who is blind, was grateful that all of the prayers and schedule pf the retreat were available to her in Braille.

“This is a place to go that is tailored to our inspanidual needs. It’s a little hard for some of us to go on a general retreat,” she said.

This is her fourth year attending the annual retreat, and through it she has met many people with different abilities who share their gifts.

“Some of us are good with music, some of us know the prayers well that others have forgotten.Some of us are outgoing and joyful, singing out to the Lord. Some of us are quiet but filled with the Holy Spirit. We may need something ourselves, but we help others whether it is with words or a hymn or whatever. It’s all sharing the Good News with one another.”

The retreat is only possible through the “helpers,” the volunteer men and women who bring the retreatants and assist them throughout the retreat.

“They are getting as much out of this as we are,” Passanante said. “They are willing and kind and intuitive about what we need.”

Schumacher has been captain since 1989 and has associated with the retreat as a helper since 1981. He’s attended his own personal retreat during Holy Week since 1961.

“I’ve always had a special feeling for persons who are disadvantaged,” he said. “I was a volunteer at Norristown State Hospital for 28 years.”

As for the retreatants, “I think they get quite a bit out of it,” Schumacher said. “Many say to me they can’t wait to come again, this is the high point of their year and they wish they could do it more often.”

Michael Magee, a resident at the Cardinal Krol Center, Springfield, a residential facility for adult developmentally disabled men, can’t remember how many years he’s been making the retreat.

“I’ve been coming every year, I love it,” he said. “I see everybody, I pray for people who need prayers. I pray for them, they pray for us. It’s a great experience.”

The Our Lady of Confidence retreat is a longstanding tradition at Malvern, according to James Fitzsimmons, president of the retreat house. This, the 46th consecutive year, drew 81 retreatants, accompanied by 29 helpers.

“We are happy that we can create an environment where these retreatants can reflect on their journey with the Lord and find some peace and solace in their time with us.”

For more information on attending or assisting at future Our Lady of Confidence Retreats, call Malvern Retreat House at 610-644-0400.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.