As you drive south on Searingtown Road, approaching the Long Island Expressway you may notice an entranceway on the right side, which identifies the property as Inisfada (Gaelic for Long Island) and St. Ignatius Retreat House. There are two dimensions to these grounds: the spiritual oasis of the retreat house and the sheer physical beauty of Inisfada. While some might feel some hesitation about visiting a religious Camelot, still you are more than welcome to come and see an architectural masterpiece and one of the finest mansions on Long Island’s Gold Coast.
As you drive into the lovely 33-acre grounds, your breath will be taken away by an Elizabethan-Tudor mansion resembling a medieval castle with a tall tower, slated roofs and battlements. Surrounding the mansion are 13 fairy tales figures sculpted on the outside walls beginning with Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf, ancient but attractive gargoyles, angels, drones and clowns, as well as many small animals. On entering the house, you’ll see artwork and décor on the floors, walls and ceilings, which are equally impressive. You’ll discover the main chapel, solarium, library, grand staircase and, on the second floor, the Chapel of St. Genevieve, which has been called one of the most beautiful small chapels in the country.
The mansion was built as a summer house between 1916 and 1920 by Nicholas F. Brady, who also maintained residences on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and in Rome. Brady and his wife, Genevieve, collected exquisite and valuable treasures from around the world to fill their English baronial country home. The mansion contained original Whistler and Frederic Remington paintings, Waterford candelabras and chandeliers, and antique furniture from the 17th and 18th centuries. At its inception, the estate encompassed 300 acres. In the ’20s and ’30s Inisfada played host to a number of prominent people including Madame Curie, Queen Victoria of Spain and Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli who was later to become Pope Pius XII.
Nicholas F. Brady was born in 1878 in Albany, NY, the son of Anthony Brady, one of the leading financial figures of the country. The elder Brady help fund and complete the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Co. and, at the time of his death, his wealth was rated on a par with that of J.P. Morgan. After graduating from Yale, the young Brady became associated with his father’s business interests, which included the development of utilities in Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia and Paris. Nicholas’s first position was with the New York Edison Co., the forerunner of Con Edison, and in 1913 he assumed the responsibility for his father’s affairs. At 34 he was one of the youngest men in the country to head a major corporation.
Throughout his life, Brady was a devoted adherent of the Catholic Church and church authorities frequently sought his counsel on matters affecting the church. He was the first layman in the United States to receive the title of Papal Chamberlain. He assisted in the formation of Catholic Charities Organization and was a founding member of the Knights of Malta in the United States.
Brady passed away in 1930. In 1937 his widow, Genevieve, married Mr. William Macauley, the Irish Free State Minister to the Vatican. Genevieve moved to Rome and announced that she was going to turn over the Long Island estate to the Society of Jesus to be used as a seminary. Mrs. Brady used her time and wealth to support innumerable Catholic charities. She also served as the chairwoman of the board of the Girl Scouts of America. In 1934, Notre Dame University awarded her with the Laetare Medal as the most outstanding Catholic lay person in the United States.
By 1963, Father John W. Magan, S.J., converted Inisfada into a retreat house, and what was formerly a summer refuge for the wealthy, became as spiritual oasis for all. Since 1963, the St. Ignatius Retreat House has hosted spiritual seminars and gatherings for tens of thousands from all walks of life and geographical locations. St. Ignatius has a full-time staff, which handles maintenance, administration and ministerial duties on a budget of $1.7 million. They are assisted by a part-time staff and volunteers. While the retreat house function primarily assists Long Islanders, it also serves the spiritual needs of the Metropolitan New York community.
Father Damian Halligan has been assigned as a spiritual director at Saint Ignatius since 1998. He brought with him 15 years experience as pastor of St. Peter’s Parish in Jersey City and three years of administration in the New York Province of the Jesuits. He attests that the most recent accomplishment of the staff, under the leadership of Sister Karen Doyle and Fr. Joe Costantino S.J., has been the training of lay people to afford more spiritual direction to those seeking a deeper relationship with God. He applauds the increased influence of lay women and men, who at times, can be more in touch with the struggles of people and make the retreat experience more meaningful. He looks to even greater participation and leadership by lay people in the future.
The entire staff is proud of the work of the retreat house seeing it as a unique experience and opportunity to reflect in an atmosphere of quiet and peace. The mission statement recognizes Inisfada as -“a Catholic retreat and apostolic conference center inspired by the vision of Ignatian spirituality. Inisfada offers a spiritual home – a sacred and welcoming environment where people of all faiths and cultures can deepen their relationship with God, so that they may be renewed and be men and women for others.” Weekend retreats begin on Friday night until noon on Sunday and cost approximately $200, with daily or overnight experiences much less.
The task of managing the affairs of St. Ignatius is the responsibility of Mr. Donald E. Holden, its first lay executive director. Holden is a graduate of Belmont Abbey College, a school run by the Benedictine Order in North Carolina where he majored in sociology; he also holds a master’s degree from Adelphi University on Long Island. He is a resident of Port Washington, where he has lived for the past 17 years and raised a family of five children. He came to his present position leaving a career in finance to take up his present post. He is keenly aware of his joint responsibilities to the work of the Jesuits through the St. Ignatius Retreat House and the maintenance of beauty and serenity of Inisfada’s 87-room mansion and 33 acres of magnificent trees and rolling lawns. Holden boasts of an extraordinary but small staff of experienced professionals who assist him in maintaining and running the facility.
The task of maintaining the building and grounds of Inisfada falls to Mr. Zia Hassan, director of maintenance. His task of maintaining Inisfada is complicated by the aging of many of the building systems. For example, the heating system is over 90 years old and may soon need to be upgraded and replaced. Director Don Holden would like to achieve the goal of making Inisfada, what is known as, a “green” facility, i.e., an environmentally friendly one.
A substantial portion of the funding for Inisfada comes from donations and the retreat house encourages donors to contribute their fully tax-deductible gifts to actively maintain this local treasure of ours. Donations can be made out to St. Ignatius Retreat House, 251 Searingtown Road, Manhasset, NY 11030. Those wishing to donate by credit card or volunteer their time to help with the work of St. Ignatius may call the office at 621-8300, ext. 10 for additional information. There is no minimum donation and benefactors’ names remain confidential.