Friday, December 06, 2013

Quómodo sedet sola cívitas.

A couple of days ago, I read the sad news that Inisfada, a historic Jesuit retreat house on Long Island, will be demolished in the coming days. As I related in this post from January 2007, Inisfada enjoyed a noteworthy place in American Catholic history: built in 1920 as a home for a wealthy pair of Catholic philanthropists, Nicholas and Genevieve Garvan Brady, the 87-room Tudor mansion called 'Inisfada' (apparently Gaelic for "Long Island") received such distinguished guests as Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII) before being given to the Society of Jesus in 1937. Initially used as a house of study for Jesuit scholastics, Inisfada was eventually converted into a retreat house and remained one until rising operating costs and a declining number of retreatants forced its closure earlier this year. Despite the protests of preservationists and opposition from many in the local community, the New York Province of the Society of Jesus sold the property for $36.5 million to a group of developers who remained consistently mum about their intentions but were widely expected to tear the old house down in order to replace it with densely-planted McMansions. With Inisfada's contents having been auctioned off and a demolition permit in hand, the developers now seem poised to do what everyone expected them to do all along.

I am the sort of person who appreciates beautiful old buildings and is sad to see them destroyed; I also made a number of retreats at Inisfada when I lived in New York, so I can't help but feel a personal connection to the place. I can't blame the New York Province Jesuits for closing the retreat house or for selling the property - for various reasons, they really couldn't afford to keep the place going - but I still regret the fact that some means could not be found to save Inisfada from the wrecking ball. This post is accordingly meant as a sort of elegaic tribute to a place that won't exist for much longer. I took the photos below while I was on retreat at Inisfada, while the text comes from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, as featured here previously in a post on the Office of Tenebrae.

Quómodo sedet sola cívitas plena pópulo : facta est quasi vídua dómina Géntium : princeps provinciárum facta est sub tribúto.

How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the cities has become a vassal.

Plorans plorávit in nocte, et lácrimæ ejus in maxíllis ejus : non est qui consolétur eam ex ómnibus caris ejus : omnes amíci ejus sprevérunt eam, et facti sunt ei inimíci.

She weeps bitterly in the night, tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has none to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.

Migrávit Judas propter afflictiónem, et multitúdinem servitútis : habitávit inter Gentes, nec invénit réquiem : omnes persecutóres ejus apprehendérunt eam inter angústias.

Judah has gone into exile because of affliction and hard servitude; she dwells now among the nations, but finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

Viæ Sion lugent eo quod non sint qui véniant ad solemnitátem : omnes portæ ejus destrúctæ : sacerdótes ejus geméntes : vírgines ejus squálidæ, et ipsa oppréssa amaritúdine.

The roads to Zion mourn, for none come to the appointed feasts; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her maidens have been dragged away, and she herself suffers bitterly.

Facti sunt hostes ejus in cápite, inimíci ejus locupletáti sunt : quia Dóminus locútus est super eam propter multitúdinem iniquitátum ejus : párvuli ejus ducti sunt in captivitátem, ante fáciem tribulántis.

Her foes have become the head, her enemies prosper, because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe.


At 12/08/2013 2:22 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you now help us tell the full story or Mrs Genovese Brady.

At 12/08/2013 2:22 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you

At 12/08/2013 10:25 PM, Blogger Lynda said...

What a beautiful building! It must have been a very difficult discernment process for the Jesuits. I read a while ago about the sentiments of the surrounding community and that must be difficult for the Jesuits as well. But Ignatius would tell us not to be too attached to things. Thanks for sharing the beautiful photographs.

At 12/09/2013 1:42 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


Thanks for that - I'm glad to see that someone is trying to preserve the history of the place, even though the house has been lost.

At 12/09/2013 1:55 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


I appreciate you words, though I also have to tell you that I don't think that Ignatian detachment is or should be the governing value here. Inisfada was a heritage property with a important history that precedes its use by the Society, and I think that legitimate questions can and should be raised about the fate of the house. I should also note that there is a spectrum of opinion among Jesuits regarding this decision and others like it - some would argue that the right thing was done, some would say that the wrong thing was done, and the reasons that individuals would give for one or the other opinion are all over the map. To say the least, it's a complicated issue that gives rise to sharply divergent opinions, particularly among Jesuits.

At 12/11/2013 12:40 PM, Blogger David said...

This is even more sad than the scene from Brideshead Revisited, at least that chapel served its original purpose once again.

At 12/11/2013 5:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Koczera,

Your post raises a question in my mind.

Is Pope Francis, presumably the first Jesuit to be Man of the Year, 's attachment to a simple lifestyle unusual among Jesuits?

Are there differences between Jesuits in Western Europe and North America and in less affluent countries?

Are there binding norms, or is everyone expected to discern what's right of him by himself?


At 12/11/2013 5:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I forgot to add congratulations after presumably.


At 12/11/2013 7:30 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


At the risk of offering a 'jesuitical' both/and answer, there are binding norms but it is also a matter of individual discernment. Cultural and social context also makes a difference, and we have never taken the sort of one-size-fits-all approach that one sees, for example, among the Missionaries of Charity, who effectively take the experience of their original members in India as the model for all of their membership throughout the world, regardless of differences in context.

My experience is that there are differences in how religious poverty is lived in different parts of the world, and I think that it's reasonable and legitimate for there to be such differences; even in within the same particular context - everywhere I have lived as a Jesuit (including in Latin America, albeit not in Argentina), I have seen that individual Jesuits have different approaches and preferences as far as living the vow of poverty goes. I do not think that the Pope's personal choices in this regard should be taken as binding on all, and I do not think we should have more binding universal norms than already exist.

As for the congratulations, there is no need for that; if it were up to me, Malala Yousafzai would have been chosen, and I still think that she should have been.

At 12/11/2013 7:32 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


It seems you caught the double-edged reference in my title. Yes, I would agree that this (true) story is sadder than 'Brideshead' in its outcome.

At 12/17/2013 1:49 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

After exhaustive research I have a book ready. Very sad that the "True" history and meaning of Inisfada was not captured. It is far from a retreat house or even a house of the Jesuits. I assure you the Bradys left significant foot prints in the history of time. the book will be ready soon. Keep watching

At 12/17/2013 3:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the Jesuits did a horrific job of staying silent, abandoning the Long Island community they served and who supported them for decades and they refused to entertain any other offers except from a developer who was solely intent on demolition. The Rev. Vincent Cooke's sarcastic and flippant remarks in the press are more telling of the Jesuits than any good they did while operating the retreat house. They took the money and ran, plain and simple and did not care to look back at the hurt, sadness and mistrust they left behind. That's a nice legacy to leave a community. Shameful at best, despicable at the worst.

At 12/17/2013 4:29 PM, Anonymous valeria said...

I know the Jesuits were suffering financial ruin, but I still think they should have had more consideration for the neighbours than to sell to a Hong Kong developer who never has, and never will live on Long Island, let alone in the US. The disregard for American history among foreign developers is well known, and can be seen with much of the destruction that has come to the New York area. There were other offers for the place that I feel should have been considered.


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