Friday, December 6, 2013

The Demolition of St. Ignatius Retreat House-Could the Jesuits Have Done More to Save the Brady Mansion?

I toured, visited often and led a few discussion groups on Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.,  at St. Ignatius Retreat House on Long Island.  During the tour,  I learned a lot about the history of the magnificent gold coast mansion (that became St. Ignatius Retreat House) which was once owned by the generous Catholic philanthropists- Nicholas and Genevieve Brady.  They had no children.  Mr. Brady must have loved his wife very much because he had "Inisfada" (Gaelic for Long Island) built for his wife for their 10th wedding anniversary in 1920.  It was an architectural gem and an historic Long Island house -a 72,000 square foot Tudor Elizabethan mansion, with beautiful and peaceful grounds.  It had exquisite details, such as ornate wooden moldings, magnificent staircases, a stunning sunroom and two beautiful chapels. (One chapel, the St. Genevieve Chapel has been dismantled and brought to Fordham University in the Bronx to be reassembled.) Cardinals and a future Pope even stayed at the mansion (Pope Pius XII), as the Brady's often had visitors and dignitaries as guests.
After her husband died, Genevieve went to Rome to live and she donated the mansion and the property to the Jesuits to use as a Seminary. Unfortunately, she should have thought to place a clause in the donation contract insisting it never be demolished, but she probably never thought it would be.
But the demolition has begun, much to the dismay of preservationists and civic groups on the North Shore of Long Island, who tried in vain, to save it through court actions and appeals.
Politicians issued the final permit that was required so that the 93 year old mansion could be knocked down, so that luxury single family homes can be built on the 33 acre property.
Local civic groups, some like-minded politicians and preservationists have been fighting to keep the mansion intact. In a NY Newsday article which appeared today, a realtor was quoted as saying, "It is one of the grandest and most intact homes to come down in over 30 years on Long Island."
So the question arises, could the Jesuits have done more to save the mansion? Did they owe anything to the memory of Nicholas and Genevieve Brady? I think (and I'm not a lawyer) they could have sold the property with a stipulation saying that the mansion had to be kept intact and preserved.  The Jesuits received $36.5 million for the sale of the mansion.  Couldn't they have negotiated for the preservation of the mansion in the real estate deal? It certainly would have made many of the residents of the North Shore of Long Island happy. But instead they have angered many Catholic residents of the North Shore, who are dismayed by the destruction of this magnificent, historic house.
The Jesuits couldn't keep up the maintenance of the huge mansion and that is understandable, but with alittle effort on their part they could have fought for this historic mansion to be saved. What a pity, that they didn't try to do that, when they thought of selling the property.