On June 3rd, the doors closed on Inisfada, once the fourth largest estate on Long Island during the 1920s. It had been sold to the the New York Province of the Society of Jesus in 1937, concerted into a Jesuit retreat house in the 1960s and was used in that capacity for the past fifty years until they were no longer afford to keep it open.
Inisfada means “Long Island” in Gaelic. Formerly the summer home to Nicholas Brady, a Manhattan business man, and his wife, Genevieve, this eighty-five room mansion in Manhasset, Long Island sat on thirty acres of rolling lawns, beautiful formal gardens, and stone statues. Tudor Elizabethan in style, it was adorned with gargoyles, angels and small animals from its eaves and corners, and included a Great Hall, Solarium, Billiard Room, Master Suites, Kitchen Suites, a private chapel, secondary and tertiary staircases… everything that a Gold Coast mansion would have and more. Details abounded – the medallion above the porte cochere depicted Mrs. Brady’s namesake, St. Genevieve and carvings of fairy tales like Old Mother Hubbard were engraved in gables on the bedrooms’ exterior.
Today, the house is only viewable from a distance. A guard blocks the entrance to the grounds. Video tours of the house can be seen here.
But the contemporary world is changing. David S. Ciancimino, S.J. (Provincial (Superior) for the New York Province of Jesuits) said the mission of the Jesuits is changing too. “The greater good of a more nimble and mobile ministry that reaches many more people convinces us of the need to make this change.” This new ministry includes increasing programs in Spanish, which recognizes the changing face of the Church, partnering for programs beyond retreats with parishes and other faith communities, and creating more young adult programs.
And so, something, somewhere, had to give. The Jesuits put Inisfada’s land up for sale to local developers with an asking price of $49,000,000 in the fall of 2012.
This closing has believers and non-believers in a state of shock, comparing the destruction of the building to the loss of silence in our current age of technology. But, the property was already located between a noisy Long Island Expressway, retail shops and condominiums for the upper class, and so some feel as though it was no longer a retreat house at all.
Others feel it is a disgrace to the history of Long Island, knowing Mr. Brady would be rolling in his grave if he only knew the fate of his beautiful Inisfada. He was, in fact, the first American to receive the Roman Catholic Church honor, the Ordine Supremo del Christo. He was the holder of several papal honors as well. But he once said, “Almighty God owes me nothing. I owe Him more than I can ever pay.”
Being owed nothing and being promised nothing: perhaps words to live by today as well, not only for us, but also for Inisfada.