Fordham to get Jesuits' retreat house chapel

St. Ignatius Jesuit Retreat House is one of

St. Ignatius Jesuit Retreat House is one of seven historic Long Island sites deemed endangered. (June 10, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

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A majestic Gold Coast mansion used as a retreat house by Jesuit priests for the last half-century is close to being sold, and a rare chapel inside where a future pope once prayed will be saved and given to Fordham University, the Roman Catholic order said Friday.

The 87-room medieval-style mansion in Manhasset, considered one of the grandest on Long Island, went into contract about two months ago and should be closed on by the end of July, said the Rev. Vincent Cooke, who is overseeing the sale for the Jesuits' New York province.

He declined to identify the potential buyer or the sale price. But the mansion, straight out of the 1920s "Great Gatsby" era, was on the market for $49 million.

"There is absolutely no indication we are not going to close," Cooke said.

If the deal falls through, the buyer would lose a "substantial" down payment, he added.

Cooke said it is not clear if the potential buyer would maintain the mansion, which houses the St. Ignatius Retreat House, or demolish it to make way for houses. The 33-acre property has zoning that permits two houses per acre. Cooke said one option is to build houses elsewhere on the land and keep the mansion as a community center.

Some participants of retreats at the house have urged the Jesuits to preserve it. But Cooke said the order will not renege on its contract with the potential buyer.

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A farewell Mass at the mansion is scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

The Jesuits are starting to move furniture, art and other objects out of the 72,000-square-foot Tudor-Elizabethan house, which was completed in 1920 by industrialist Nicholas Brady and his wife, Genevieve Brady. The couple were friends of future popes, cardinals and high-level Catholics.

Genevieve Brady donated the mansion to the Jesuits in 1937.

Its "precious pearl," the second-floor St. Genevieve Chapel, is considered one of the most beautiful small chapels in the United States. The Bradys, who were leading Catholic philanthropists, received rare permission from the Vatican to place it inside a home, according to the Rev. Damian O. Halligan, a Jesuit on the center's staff.

Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII, stayed with the Bradys during a monthlong trip to the United States in 1936, and celebrated Mass in the chapel, Halligan said. Some of his vestments, including his red cardinal's hat and slipperlike shoes, are on display in the house.

Cooke said the chapel will be carefully dismantled starting next week and transferred to Fordham, where it will likely be reinstalled somewhere on its Rose Hill campus in the Bronx rather than its Lincoln Center campus. Fordham's president, the Rev. Joseph McShane, "is a great lover of the St. Genevieve Chapel and he wanted it preserved," Cooke said.

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