A stunning Great Gatsby-era Gold Coast mansion used as a retreat house by Jesuit priests for the last half-century marked the end of an era Sunday as the Roman Catholic order celebrated a final Mass and prepared to close its doors.
The St. Ignatius Retreat House in Manhasset, where a future pope once stayed and prayed, is expected to be sold by the end of July, according to the order. Its fate is unclear -- the potential buyer could preserve the medieval-style mansion, or knock it down to make way for housing, said the Rev. Vincent Cooke, who is handling the sale for the Jesuits' New York province.
On Sunday, close to 500 people flocked to the mansion to celebrate not one but two Masses. The crowd was so large they could not all fit into the main chapel.
"We're heartbroken that we are losing this gem in our community and our faith," said Patricia Clements Jaquay, 64, of Floral Park.
She said Genevieve Brady, the Catholic philanthropist who donated the mansion to the Jesuits in 1937, "I'm sure is rolling over in her grave knowing the house won't stay with the Jesuits. Her spirit is still here. I just hope the developers do something with this wonderful edifice."
Cooke declined to identify the potential buyer or the proposed sale price. The 87-room Tudor-Elizabethan mansion, one of the grandest on Long Island, was on the market for $49 million. The 33-acre property is in zoning that permits two houses per acre.
Some backers of the house say they are trying to convince the Jesuits to call off the sale and preserve the mansion, but the order says it will not renege on its contract with the potential buyer.
The mansion was completed in 1920 by Brady and her husband, Nicholas, a wealthy industrialist. The couple, leading Catholic philanthropists, were friends of future popes and cardinals.
Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII, stayed with the Bradys during a monthlong trip to the United States in 1936. He celebrated Mass in the mansion's St. Genevieve Chapel, which has rare Vatican permission to be placed inside a home.
The chapel is to be carefully dismantled and transferred to Fordham University, probably at its Rose Hill campus in the Bronx, Cooke said.
Some of the Bradys' relatives visited the mansion to help say goodbye Sunday. Lawrence D. Cavanagh Jr., 70, who said Genevieve Brady was his great-aunt, said, "It would be sad if it's demolished."
The Rev. Damian Halligan, one of the Jesuits on the center's staff, said the closing was wistful, but that "it's really time to move on." The Jesuits say they can no longer afford to keep operating the center.
Nikki Friedman, 49, of Manhasset, said she brought her mother -- who had visited the mansion decades ago -- back to see it again about two years ago. "I thought she was going to pass out," Friedman said. "She was so excited to be back."