From Tepeyac to Malvern -- Retreat house invites local parish to join celebration of the Patroness of the Americas
Story by Matthew Greeley | Special Contributor
Relationships… it all comes down to fostering relationships with our God, with our faith community, with one another. Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, has long served as a bridge and relationship builder among cultures and ethnicities throughout the Americas and the world, and as intercessor between God and God’s people.
Retreat houses too, with their diverse resources and offerings, espouse similar goals through the many experiences they offer for prayer and reflection. Malvern Retreat House (MRH) in Malvern, Pa., is no different. Opened in 1912, it is the oldest and largest Catholic retreat center in the United States and is about a 40-minute drive from Philadelphia.
The retreat house has begun a conscientious effort to reach out to the Hispanic community with its offerings.
“We are inviting more Hispanics to MRH,” said retreat house president, Mark J. Poletunow, who began his tenure this past spring. “Just in the past year, we have added a retreat for Spanish speaking couples, as well as a family day of reflection. We are looking for more ways to add Spanish speaking and culturally sensitive retreat opportunities.”
“I am bilingual and have worked extensively with the community throughout my history,” Poletunow continued. “We are in the process of translating many of our resources into Spanish. We’ve also hired a native Spanish speaker in our main office to assist with interaction with the community.”
Building a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, though, was not a recent venture for MRH.
Poletunow explained that it was decided that a shrine in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe was important to add to the shrines in honor of the Mother of God: Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Grace, Miraculous Medal Shrine; as well as the Holy Family and the Pieta.
“Our Board decided that it was an important step for us to show that MRH wants to keep up with the signs of the times of the Church,” he said. “As the Patroness of (the) America(s), the Patroness of the Pro-Life Movement and the Patroness of Evangelization, we needed to affirm that MRH is for all people, all languages and backgrounds, especially focusing on the growing Hispanic segment of the Church in the U.S.A. We needed to demonstrate that, as an entity, MRH embraces everyone.”
This embrace has been felt directly by many of the faithful of St. Mark Parish, Sea Girt, for years. Many men from the parish have participated in MRH’s traditional men’s retreats over the past few years. When the men heard of the construction and dedication of a shrine for Our Lady of Guadalupe, they asked how they could participate.
Nestor Román, a parishioner and member of the St. Mark Parish Council, was one of those whose faith life had been enriched at the retreat center. He was also one of the people who collaborated with Malvern Retreat House for the special dedication and blessing of the Guadalupe shrine.
“I didn’t think that so many people would participate,” said Román. “There were more than two busloads of people from St. Mark’s, but there were also large groups from Mother of Mercy Parish, Asbury Park, and from St. Anthony Claret Parish in Lakewood.”
Román expressed his gratitude for the retreat house and their efforts to reach out to the Hispanic community.
“It’s hard for our community to travel or go on pilgrimages. Malvern is close to us,” he continued. “They offer retreats in Spanish that are just for women, just for men and even ones for our whole family.”
The St. Mark’s group asked MRH if they could bring their families to get to know the retreat center. They also offered to perform a reenactment of the miraculous story from the hill of Tepeyac, where Mary appeared to Juan Diego, and two folkloric dance groups to help create a truly memorable and worthy dedication for Our Lady.
Malvern Retreat House is situated within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and frequently hosts workshops and retreats for the archdiocesan clergy and ministries. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap., was invited to bless the shrine, an invitation he graciously accepted.
In his remarks at the dedication, Archbishop Chaput was clear that the Church wants to embrace and recognize the Hispanic Catholic community for their faith, and their zeal for the Lord and Mary.
“He was pleased to be here with us. He has a great heart and appreciation for the Hispanic community,” said Poletunow.
More than 300 people turned out Oct. 22 despite the rain to honor Our Lady of Guadalupe with song, theater, prayer and dance.
Poletunow noted, “The entire ceremony was filled with faith and blessings. It was a joyful day! During the re-enactment at the moment of the Fourth Apparition the rain stopped and the sun started to break through the clouds. Our Lady showed her approval and affirmation. She was pleased – and it brought a smile to our faces and a tear to our eyes!”
The blessing and dedication was all about relationships, with Our Lady of Guadalupe, our Lord and with one another. Malvern Retreat House facilitated that relationship and continues to do so. The retreat house encourages particular parish and community events for their own days of pilgrimage, reflection and retreat.
“No one should think that coming to MRH is too expensive,” emphasized Poletunow. “We are extremely disposed to make the opportunity to encounter Christ affordable. We can work together to find ways to accommodate the needs of each group. Cost should not be obstacle; it shouldn’t keep anyone away from encountering the Lord here.”
Greeley is associate director of the Office of Communications and Media, and coordinator of Spanish-language communications.