By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

Mary Flannery, who was recently appointed director of marketing and public relations at Malvern Retreat House, the nation’s largest Catholic retreat center, had quite a different career plan when she entered college.

After childhood in Blue Bell and education at Gwynedd-Mercy Academy, she entered Georgetown University, where she graduated from its prestigious School of Foreign Service in 1975.

While in college she worked part time reporting on sports for the Washington Post, which made sense because sports were in her genes.

“My mother was a former scholastic sports editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and my dad,Tex Flannery, was the football coach for La Salle College High School,” she said.

She married Fran Connors 32 years ago and over the years they raised four now-adult children; Mary Clare, John and Rosemary, who are twins, and Dan.

Meanwhile, Flannery put the idea of a career in foreign service behind her. The family originally settled in Manhattan, and in addition to raising the children, she worked as a sports writer for the New York Post. Among other things she reported on hockey, especially the Islanders.

Because Connors, who works in public relations, thought it better for the children to live near at least one set of grandparents, they eventually moved to the Philadelphia area. At this time they reside in Wynnewood and call St. Margaret in Narberth their parish.

Flannery has worked variously for the Philadelphia Daily News, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Vanguard Group, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and Dunleavy & Associates.

Coming to Malvern presents a change in pace.

“As a practicing Catholic it is nice to combine professional expertise and knowledge with personal beliefs,” she said. “Jim Fitzsimmons (the president of Malvern) has so much energy and enthusiasm, it made it attractive from the moment that we spoke,” she said.

She already had some awareness of the retreat house because “my grandfather was a Man of Malvern,” she said.

Her coming on board coincides with an exciting time in Malvern’s history. The first Catholic retreat facility that is lay-owned and operated and sanctioned by the Church, it is coming up on its 100th anniversary next year.

“We want to raise visibility, attract new retreatants and also tap into our family history,” Flannery said.

During most of that history, St. Joseph’s in the Hills, which is the formal name of Malvern, was exclusively male.

“Many people in the Philadelphia area have heard the phrase ‘Men of Malvern,’ but what is interesting is that Malvern is so much more,” she said. “It is astounding that 21,000 people come here each year. We offer so many different programs.”

Malvern can accommodate 400 people overnight, and in addition to the traditional men’s weekend retreats, there are programs for youths, women, clergy and mixed groups throughout the week. Some of the retreats and programs have a special focus, for example a retreat for separated and spanorced Catholics.

At the end of the day, Malvern represents faith.

“No one is perfect,” Flannery said. “We are all trying to practice our faith. Malvern emphasizes inspanidual attention and silent prayer. It is an opportunity for everyone who comes here to stop and take a deep breath.”

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