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Jesuits' grand Gold Coast mansion on the block

An exterior view of St. Ignatius Retreat House

An exterior view of St. Ignatius Retreat House in Manhasset, which is on the market for $49 million. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa, 2011

A majestic Gold Coast mansion in Manhasset run as a retreat house by Jesuit priests for the last half-century is on the market for $49 million, the Roman Catholic order said Monday.

The 87-room medieval-style mansion, considered one of the grandest on Long Island, will close in June as a retreat house. The priests said they've had inquiries from people who want to turn St. Ignatius Retreat House and its 33-acre property into a private residence, condominiums, and a health facility -- or bulldoze it to build houses.

"We would like someone to utilize the mansion and preserve it and the grounds to the greatest extent possible," said the Rev. Vincent Cooke, who is overseeing the sale for the Jesuits' New York province. But "it's possible it could be knocked down. It's not landmarked."

The sale, if culminated even at a lower price, could mark one of the biggest deals for a Gold Coast mansion in years, said Paul Mateyunas of Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty and a Gold Coast historian. "It's probably one of the most unique properties to be offered on the North Shore in at least 20 years."

The 72,000-square-foot Tudor-Elizabethan house, straight out of "The Great Gatsby" era, was completed in 1920 by industrialist Nicholas Brady and his wife, Genevieve Brady. The couple were leading Catholic philanthropists who befriended high-level Catholics, cardinals and even a future pope, Pius XII, who stayed there a few years before his papacy.

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

The retreat center's closing -- along with another one the Jesuits operate on Staten Island -- was announced in June as part of a consolidation that will leave open one of the order's metro New York retreat houses, in Morristown, N.J. St. Ignatius was officially put on the market last week.

The Jesuits said they are closing the retreat houses because of rising costs and declining demand.

Many of the people the Jesuits want to reach are young people and new immigrants, Cooke said. But they prefer their retreats to take place in local parishes or conference centers, or even their homes, he said.

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