Jesuit retreat center in Manhasset to close

A detail of the hand-carved, wooden Stations of

A detail of the hand-carved, wooden Stations of the Cross is displayed in the small upstairs chapel at the St. Ignatius Retreat House, run by Jesuits in Manhasset. (July 3, 2011) Photo Credit: John Dunn

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A majestic Gold Coast mansion in Manhasset, run as the St. Ignatius Jesuit Retreat House by Roman Catholic Jesuit priests for nearly a half-century, will close next June because of financial strains.

The 87-room medieval-style mansion, located on a 33-acre site off Searingtown Road near the Long Island Expressway, is considered one of the grandest on Long Island and could sell for tens of millions of dollars if put on the market, a real estate expert said.

The Jesuits are carrying out a regional consolidation of their retreat houses in the metropolitan area, said the Rev. David S. Ciancimino, provincial of the Jesuits' New York region.

Mount Manresa Jesuit Retreat House in Staten Island also will close, while the Loyola House of Retreats in Morristown, N.J., will remain open.

"Many will understandably experience sadness at the closing" of the two centers, Ciancimino said in a letter posted on St. Ignatius' website. "Nonetheless, the greater good of a more nimble and mobile ministry that reaches many more people convinces us of the need to make this change."

St. Ignatius costs about $1.8 million a year to run, staff members told Newsday last year. About half of that comes from fundraising, the Rev. Edward Quinnan, Ciancimino's assistant for pastoral ministry, said Thursday.

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Because of the high costs, the center was "becoming more a fundraising operation than a retreat operation," he said.

Quinnan said the Jesuits, known as the intellectuals of the Catholic Church, have no immediate plans for what to do with St. Ignatius after it closes.

If they decide to sell it, the house and property potentially could fetch anywhere from $20 million to $40 million, said Paul Mateyunas of Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty and a Gold Coast historian.

"It's an emotional property, an historical property. It has that 'wow' factor that could make a sky's-the-limit-type value to it," Mateyunas said.

The Tudor-Elizabethan house, straight out of "The Great Gatsby" era, was completed in 1920 by industrialist Nicholas Brady and his wife, Genevieve Brady. They were leading Catholic philanthropists and friends with popes, cardinals and high-level church officials, who often stayed with them.

Genevieve Brady donated the mansion in 1937 to the Jesuits, who by 1963 had turned it into a retreat house that attracted people from as far away as China and Australia seeking inner peace.

The Jesuits now plan to take their retreat work directly to the faithful at parishes and other sites, rather than have the faithful come to them, Quinnan said. They will have a special focus on Hispanics and young adults, he said.

Still, the retreat center will be deeply missed, said the Rev. Damian O. Halligan, a Jesuit who has worked there for 13 years. "Places like this are needed today, places where people can be quiet," he said.

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