By EDDIE MIKUS
The New York Jesuit Province is dividing the Saint Ignatius Retreat House at Inisfada, a historic 87-room mansion, which has been in its care since 1937. Fordham University will receive one of the main chapels from the retreat house.
“It has been taken down in pieces,” Monsignor Joseph Quinn, university vice president of Mission and Ministry, said of the chapel, which is known as Saint Genevieve’s. It was named after Genevieve Brady, one of the original owners of Inisfada.
“It’s probably, maybe twice the size of this room. But it was very intricate handwork, woodwork that was put together in the artistic fashion, and the duty we have right now is to preserve it in its appropriate state and that’s what we’re doing,” Quinn said, comparing the size of the chapel to the size of his office in the administration building.
The University will preserve the chapel but does not have immediate plans to reconstruct it. Quinn said that the University would hold the chapel in storage for the time being.
“Ultimately, we hope it will be used as a chapel,” Quinn said. “However, at the present moment, there are no defined plans to do so.”
According to Quinn, the chapel was an unexpected surprise for the University, which is why there currently are no plans in the works.
“When it is undertaken, it will be only if there is a donor’s gift,” Quinn said. “This was an unexpected but welcomed gift. Currently, there are no plans to construct a chapel or to create a new Saint Genevieve’s Chapel. We will do so only when a gift is received, and it will be funded totally by that.”
Quinn also detailed the history between the Brady family and the Society of Jesus.
“Genevieve and Nicolas Brady were very devout Catholics,” Quinn said. “At the time of her death, that home, which was their country mansion, was given as a gift to the Jesuits, and for 75 years it was honored as such, used as such, revered as such.”
The mansion is also significant in the history of the American Catholic Church. A New York Times article published in July stated that the chapel hosted Masses celebrated by Pope Pius XII, when he was Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli. Pacelli stayed at Inisfada when he visited the United States three years prior to his coronation. He officially became pope in 1939.
Quinn noted that since a future Pope once said Mass in Saint Genevieve’s Chapel, that could have a significant impact on Fordham’s decision to reconstruct it or not.
“There will be people who would come just to see this piece of history, to partake in it, to pray in it, and it would be, I think, a very active site,” Quinn said.
However, Inisfada’s historical character has also made its closing controversial. The New York Times article reported that the Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations is conducting an effort to preserve Inisfada and is concerned that a new owner could demolish the building.
Quinn said that the controversy over closing the house was overblown and not reflective of the changing and challenging times in which the Church and the New York Jesuit Province find themselves.
“I would say that is an unfair review,” Quinn said when asked about the opposition that closing the retreat house has ignited. “I think the Jesuits should be applauded for what they did for 75 years. They’re simply facing the reality of changing times.”
He proceeded to detail several specific challenges that the Jesuits are facing with regards to maintaining the retreat house.
“The whole practice of retreats in the United States has changed,” Quinn said. “The demographics among the Catholic population have changed. The practice of retreats and the appeal of them as they were utilized throughout the greater part of the twentieth century have changed. All these changes have necessitated the need to look at things in a new way, which has always been the history of the Jesuits, never fearful to make decisions in light of new times, new challenges, new opportunities.”
Fordham administrators provided no official word as to how the University plans to utilize the house in the future.