The folks running Jesus House call it a “prayer and renewal center” for good reason.
Founded by Chris and Angie Malmgren with the help of other lay Catholics 40 years ago, Jesus House has survived for two generations on countless prayers, a steady renewal of its resources through donations, fees and grants, as well as “the grace of God,” says Spring Davidson, the center’s current director.
“It’s been hand-to-mouth. That’s the way it’s been for 40 years,” Davidson said July 20, the day after a 40th anniversary Mass was celebrated at the center off Milltown Road in Wilmington.
The Malmgrens, who are officially retired and living in a cottage on the grounds of Jesus House, were the most prominent guests at the anniversary liturgy celebrated by Fathers Bill Graney, pastor of Resurrection Church, Wilmington; John Hynes, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Church, Wilmington; and Thomas Hanley, the retired former pastor of Holy Cross Church in Dover.
In the early 1970s, the Malmgrens had enjoyed doing retreat work at the St. Francis Renewal Center in north Wilmington and wanted to start a similar facility through their prayer group. According to the Malmgrens’ account of Jesus House’s early days on the center’s website, jesushousecenter.org, a large commission earned by Chris Malmgren enabled the couple to buy the main house at the center to turn their dream into a reality.
Father Hanley was an early adviser, and members of Charismatic Renewal, Cursillo, and parish prayer groups were also among the first supporters of the project.
Four decades later, the original main house, now called the Malmgren Center, is still welcoming overnight retreatants (it sleeps 11), and added buildings include the St. Joseph the Worker Chapel that’s open 24 hours a day; two cottages that house 16 people, a conference center and two private homes, including the Malmgrens’.
In addition to hosting Catholic high school students from the Philadelphia area on Kairos retreats during the year, Jesus House is a meeting place for pastoral counseling and spiritual direction sessions, 12-step groups, prayer groups, and monthly healing Masses, among its many activities.
The center charges $210 -$215 per student for four-day high school retreats. Three-day retreats are about $180-$185, Davidson said.
“We have a really spirited volunteer corps,” the director added. Up to about 150 help in various ways, she said. “If it weren’t for them, this place wouldn’t go.”
Davidson said Chris and Angie Malmgren are still at the heart of Jesus House’s ministry.
“It’s been quite a blessing to have them here. They had the vision and they listened to the Holy Spirit whispering to them. They are so faithful, following God and seeing where he leads them, and I think the [Jesus House] board will continue to do that.”
Davidson, a member of Resurrection, who has been director of Jesus House for three years, said she gets a sense of spiritual peace just by being on the grounds.
“You feel it every time you get out of the car. The ground is very holy here.”