Last Sunday, November 29, Cormaria Retreat House in Sag Harbor celebrated its 60th anniversary. For over 20 years, Sister Ann Thaddeus Marino has been the Director of Cormaria and The Express sat down with Sister Ann to talk about her time spent in Sag Harbor Village.
Who are the people coming to the Cormaria Retreat House? Are they from out-of-town or are they locals? Do they often come back many times?
We definitely get a cross section of people. Every Wednesday morning I hold a morning prayer and many local people from the area come. Tonight [Wednesday night] I will have an evening prayer for women and mostly women from Sag Harbor come to that. I think we get a cross section because we are all searching for the same thing. We get older people and younger people. It is great for the younger women to hear the wisdom of the older women. They have lived through the same situations that many of the younger women are living through.
This coming weekend I have a retreat for men. Right now I have priests here for a week-long retreat. The Saturday before Christmas day will be a day of prayer open to men and women. In the summer, we have a long retreat in silence.
Have you participated in a silent retreat?
I did 30 days of perfect quiet. I found myself taking the time to go into stillness. I knew that I needed the quiet. I needed to slow down. It took me two weeks to get back into the movement of work. But I came back renewed and refreshed. I have only made three [silent retreats]. One time was before I made my final vows in 1962.
People come to Cormaria to make a 30 day [silent] retreat. I have been with lay people who did this. I once directed an artist from the city in a silent retreat. The people who are coming here are here to find their God. A lot of people come who are searching and looking for answers.
Since Cormaria services a wide range of people, do you consider yourself as being more of a liberal theologian?
We welcome people from all walks of life. We had retreats here in the early 1990s for people with AIDS and people from the gay community came here. Everyone is welcome here. No one is ever turned away. Our front door is always open to everyone.
I look at a person as a person who is created by God and I think ‘how would Jesus react?’ I don’t categorize anyone. I look at who people are rather than what they are. I would never categorize a person.
When you first arrived in Sag Harbor over 20 years ago, the village was still a very tight knit place. How did you find a way into this community?
Well, our nuns were already here. They came here in 1877 to the St. Andrews School. We also had the academy [which used to be run in the building now used for the Sag Harbor Elementary School]. We closed that in 1968. When I came here no one asked “Who is this woman?” because they knew my background. They knew of the Cormaria Retreat House. But no one ever walked onto the property. I spoke with people and said “Just come and see the house.” And that is exactly what happened. People came and saw what happened here and then they became involved.
I think Cormaria gives off an aura. This past Saturday, two men who were visiting the village were taking pictures of the front of the house. And I saw them and said they could go inside. They were amazed.
When I first came here I didn’t drive … I grew up in the city. All my religious life before then I had taught in cities like Barcelona and Rome. I came here and I thought, “What am I going to do?” … I had to walk everywhere and that was how I got to know people. The village of Sag Harbor really embraced me and I appreciated that.
How did it feel being a spiritual leader for many people in the community and then walking into the village and buying your eggs from the very same people?
It is very humbling. It is humbling to be so accepted by everyone. They have taken me in. I have seen children grow from when they were little. The people of Sag Harbor allowed me to celebrate them with births and celebrations and to be there with them in sickness and after death. They brought me into their lives.
Why did you want to become a nun?
I think every little girl, when you went to Catholic school you romanticized the nuns in their habits. Before I entered, I was in fashion and then I decided to be a nun. In a way it was a big shift, but in another way it wasn’t because I felt like I was listening to a call. I listened to where that call was leading me. I have been a nun for 52 years. I have been to all parts of the world. I taught wealthy students at Marymount and I have taught very poor people in Columbia. I have taught in the inner city in Manhattan. I have seen people from all walks of life.
After teaching and living all over the world, what has kept you in the village for all of this time?
It is a very special place. It is unique unto itself. I love how everyone really cares about everyone. Everyone goes to the post office or the drug store and you hear about people. It is a small village but it is a large family. Everyone is concerned and I don’t mean in a busy body kind of way.
What is the mission of the Cormaria Retreat House?
Basically it is about being still and knowing your God. When people ask what is the theme here, I say it is to know your God. Often people know they are called by God to be here.
Sag Harbor Village seems like a very interesting place to operate a retreat because we have this vibrant and busy tourist community in the summer. Does that interfere with the retreat?
We are near the town but we are also far away. It is quiet here on the property. You can walk away from the Shangri-La of the village to be real. When many people come here they say they feel like they are coming home. I sometimes have Sag Harbor people who come here. Other days I find people who I don’t know sitting outside [on the property]. Cormaria is about being still and quiet.
My favorite time of year is winter when the bay is frozen over. I just sit and see the starkness of everything.
I love watching people who come here for a retreat on Friday night. I see them leave on Sunday and they are new people. It is almost like their whole facial expression has changed. Something has been lifted off of their shoulders. They met their God in prayer and have been refreshed and renewed.