Tag Archive | "cormaria retreat house"

Cormaria Celebrates 65 Years as a Retreat House

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Heller_Cormaria 11-18-14_2555_LR

By Mara Certic

In 1949, with just $100 in her pocket, Mother Frances Dunne set out to transform a stately summer home into a retreat for those in need of some peace and quiet. And this Sunday, November 23, Cormaria will celebrate its 65th anniversary of Mother Frances’s dream coming true.

Shipbuilder and real estate tycoon Frank C. Havens built the Victorian mansion atop 18 acres on the waterfront on Bay Street in 1905 when he returned to his hometown of Sag Harbor after making his fortune in California. As the story goes, Mr. Havens wanted to build a summer home on the highest land in the area.

The interior of the house was grand and luxurious. Designed by Tiffany Studios of New York, the interior of the house was decorated with embossed wall-coverings made of leather.

Mr. Havens died in 1917, and that year the house was sold to the Marshall family, owners of the famed Chicago department store, who also used it as a private house.

In 1943, the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary bought the building to use as a finishing school for young Catholic women. According to Sister Ann Marino, the director of Cormaria, the majority of the students were Hispanic girls who traditionally had gone to finishing schools in Switzerland after completing their studies. After war broke out in Europe in 1939, however, many thought it was too dangerous to send their children there for schooling, and so Cormaria became a place of learning.

“Then the nuns decided they would take a risk and open the retreat house for women—we never had retreat houses, we were in education,” Sister Ann said during a telephone interview this week.

Cormaria held its first retreat on Thanksgiving Day, 1949 and hasn’t stopped since. The first retreat was rather small. Sister Ann imagines there were 15, possibly 20 women there.

In 1960, an extension was built to add 28 more beds, and in 1999 there was another addition. Cormaria can now accommodate up to 72 guests. Last weekend alone, it hosted 40 women.

Originally a women’s-only retreat, Cormaria now opens its doors to people of all genders, persuasions and religions. In the early 1990s, Cormaria became one of the first retreat houses to welcome people suffering from AIDS and HIV. It now holds weekend retreats for people in 12-step programs, and in the summer time it holds eight-day retreats in silence.

Cormaria also holds workshops, teacher conferences, and students from Marymount schools all over come to visit and stay.

“But the theme is be still and know your God,” Sister Ann said. “It’s a place for people to stop. We’re living in a world that is too busy and we need to slow down,” she said.

Sister Ann built a hermitage at Cormaria in 1989, and the center also has a chapel, a professional kitchen, a dining room and several small conference rooms. The entire building is handicapped accessible.

Sister Ann believes the future of Cormaria “looks good,” she said. But it has had its  share of financial difficulties, and keeping prices of weekend retreats reasonable—they currently cost $180—can be trying, she said.

“It’s very affordable, and we try to keep it affordable,” she said. When Cormaria first opened, there were retreat houses both on Shelter Island and in Water Mill. Now, Cormaria is one of only two retreat houses on Long Island. Sister Ann attributes the dwindling number of these escapes to not only staffing shortages, but also financial difficulties.

The immediate future of Cormaria may involve some renovations, Sister Ann said.

“The lady on the bay has weathered many storms, and we’re hoping to give her a facelift—she deserves one,” she said.

“We’re not tearing anything down but painting and plumbing,” she added.

“Cormaria is here, it’s a treasure, it’s a jewel in the heart of Sag Harbor. And it’s here for people to come and be still,” she said.

“Every week I get calls from people to pray and we feel we’re really part of the community. People do come, and anyone can come, we never close our doors to anyone,” she added.

“Mother Francis told me when she began all this all she had was $100,” Sister Ann said, “Never in her wildest dreams would she have thought Cormaria would grow like this.”

On Sunday, November 23, at 2 p.m. Bishop William Murphy will celebrate a liturgy of Thanksgiving at Cormaria.


Terra Cotta Love

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Terra Cotta Pot

Whitney Hansen pot.

By Candace Sindelman


High art and gardening go trough in hand this Sunday, July 29, from 4 to 6 p.m. when the Sag Harbor Tree Fund holds its third annual benefit on the back porch of Cormaria Retreat House in Sag Harbor. The tree fund has planted more than 300 trees around Sag Harbor Village since December of 1993, 26 of them right in the heart of the business district, including the blue spruce which is decorated during the holidays.

Money raised from the benefit will help the tree fund continue their work which Shana Conron, a member of the organization, notes is important because it ensures Sag Harbor maintains a healthy tree-scape.

“Imagine what the streets would look like if the trees weren’t there,” said Conron.

“The atmosphere changes,” added tree fund member Alexandra Eames, who helped organize the event, “It’s like having a huge air-conditioner.”

At Sunday’s fundraiser, the focus will be on 24 artists and the terra cotta pots they have transfromed into works of art for use as display pieces or in the garden. The pieces will be offered for sale in a silent auction at the event. For those looking for a little something to put in their pot, raffle tickets will also be sold for a Phalaenopsis orchid from Bridgehampton Florist.

“It’s enormous and spectacular,” said Conron. “They bloom every year and are lovely quality. They were popular last year and we sold about 50 tickets.”

So why terra cotta pots? Tree fund event organizers note that, in keeping with past benefit tradition, the theme of this year’s fundraiser had to be garden or tree related. Past fundraisers have included sales of elm trees, and artistically painted watering cans.

“In the gardening world, there are just so many surfaces to work on,” Eames explained. “One of the reasons people come is they are not just getting a flower pot, but a signed work; a real piece of art.”

“These are artists that don’t ordinarily work with terra cotta pots, and that brings a sense of whimsy,” Conron added. “It’s amazing what the imagination of man is able to come up with.”

James McMullan, the illustrator well-known for his Lincoln Center Theater posters, contributed a pot that is based on his memoir about “Leaving Cheefoo.”

The artwork serves as a visual excerpt from his life. He was born in China, where his grandparents had settled after leaving Ireland. The piece depicts the seven-year-old boy during the onset of World War II, just before he and his mother moved to Canada.

Another pot was created by Sag Harbor artist Karin Strong and shows a dachshund chasing its own tail. Strong has been an oil painter for 20 years and was given the idea from her husband. A long-time dog lover, Strong has always been interested in animal behavior and thought it was such a funny concept.

“I couldn’t get it out of my mind,” Strong said. “I became a slave to the idea. Originally I wanted to do it in mosaic tile, but it’s a busy time of year and it needed to be done fast, so I did it in oil.”

“You walk around and you start to realize what’s happening, it’s like watching a story unfolding,” Conron said commenting on Strong’s piece. “There is a sense of motion and focus amongst daisies,”

Strong is proud to be a part of the benefit and said, “It’s a wonderful charity and a great thing to plant new trees in our precious town. It’s a great organization.”

Gahan Wilson, a cartoonist whose macabre work has appeared in New Yorker, Playboy and other magazines, had painted garrulous birds in oil on his pot while artist Dan Rizzie’s offering showcases stenciled flowers and leaves along with his signature bird imagery.

“All the artists are highly respected,” Conron said. “These are not amateur paintings. These are all professional painters with galleries. We’re very lucky that they are very generous and supportive. All the pots are extraordinary.”

Nicolette Jelen uses mixed media in her “Pot with Window to Mirrored Trees” where an intricate etching can be found.

Somewhat off the beaten track are pots which have objects inside them, such as the pot created by Marders Landscaping and Nursery with rabbit and frog puppets amid succulents.

Last year about 160 guests came to the event, and Eames and Conron expect an even stronger turnout this year.

“The entrance price doesn’t knock your socks off,” said Eames. “We wanted to make it affordable so the community will feel like they are able to come and take part in it.”

“It’s a beautiful spot,” Eames added of the Cormaria venue. “We’re having it rain or shine. It’s so peaceful, all the bustle is up to the left.”

And it’s all for a good cause. One of the biggest expenses for the tree fund are the green watering bags that are placed at the base of new trees to help them become well-established. Money raised from the benefit will help offset the cost of the watering program.

After a three year period the trees are handed over to the village for care. However, the Tree Fund is always willing to help out a tree in trouble, that is vulnerable or in need.

“We kind of babysit,” Conron said.

“Our founder’s statement is to restore, preserve, and supplement the public trees and shrubs without adding to the taxed cost for the village,” Conron said.

Eames said The Sag Harbor Tree Fund tries to diversify the “urban landscape” and to make up for all the unexpected mass removal of trees.

And when it comes to tree placement, it’s all about location.

“A lot of people want their tree to be planted at The American Hotel,” Eames said.


Tickets for the Sag Harbor Tree Fund benefit, which is Sunday, July 29, from 4 to 6 p.m., will be $20 at the door. Wine, tea, mango lemonade, sandwiches and sweets will be served. Cormaria Retreat House is at 67 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. Bring cash or checks for auction and raffle.



Sister Ann Thaddeus Marino

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web Sr. Ann Marino

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.