Sister Ann Marino estimated that 150 people visited Cormaria in Sag Harbor on Sunday to celebrate her 30-year anniversary as the retreat’s director.
“It was very touching to see all the people who came,” she said the following day. “People I know. People from the town. People from afar.”
Among them were her former electrician, who arrived in a wheelchair, a World War II veteran she’d met on the Hampton Jitney, and a family from St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in the village. Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. presented Sister Ann with a state proclamation. She had baked cookies herself, and the retreat’s entire bottom floor was open to visitors.
All the din was over on Monday. Sister Ann sat on a sofa overlooking the harbor, flowers lining a path to the water, Barcelona Neck to the right, Shelter Island to the left, a few still boats complicating the simple blue between them. They’ll be gone after Columbus Day, Sister Ann said.
When she first arrived at the Catholic retreat in 1982, there was just one catamaran out there. “I used to get so upset because it was marring my view,” she laughed.
Sometimes, she said, the whole bay freezes over, and she just watches the starkness. Sometimes she watches the sunset, or looks at the stars.
“A lot of people love to just sit and stare,” Sister Ann said. “At nighttime, the stars are magnificent, especially in the winter.” In February, there is a contemplative retreat at Cormaria called “Listen to the Snow.” During that retreat, as with many others, there is quiet, allowing something spiritual to fill the space.
“You can feel the power of the silence,” the sister said. “You just know when you come and see all these people here, and no one is talking, it’s just, like, wow, and you know lots is going on within.”
Sister Ann grew up in the Bronx, but her parents loved nature, and so does she. They’d spend summers in East Quogue at a family-style hotel called Capri House and take drives outside the city to see the country. Sister Ann attended Catholic schools and was an in-store model before “a very strong voice” told her to become a nun. “My family didn’t expect it,” she said. “My father said I’d be home by Thanksgiving.”
Actually, it was eight years before she went home, after taking her final vows in 1963. She joined the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary, also known as the Marymount nuns, whose focus on education and social issues appealed to her. She studied or served in Tarrytown, New York, Richmond, Virginia, and Colombia, and spent 12 years teaching elementary students in the inner city in New York, also earning a master’s degree in reading from Manhattan College. She had earned a degree in spirituality in Rhode Island and taught in Barcelona and Rome before being called to Sag Harbor, where she was able to get a recent fix of teaching by helping out with religious education at St. Andrew’s.
Cormaria is a Catholic retreat house, with nuns living on the grounds, but people of all denominations are welcome, Sister Ann explained. “They know they’re coming to pray,” she said. “It’s amazing how they are seeking the silence, the quiet,” she said. “They’re looking for the stillness … to get away from chaos.”
Cormaria had been a finishing school for Catholic girls and opened as a retreat house specifically for women in 1949. In the 1970s, men were included as well, and today everyone from couples to women’s groups to ministry students to 12-Step participants use the tranquil grounds as a setting for contemplation and sorting things out.
“There’s no mold,” Sister Ann said. “I think each person who comes brings their own individuality, and they’re coming to meet their God.”
Throughout her 30 years at Cormaria, Sister Ann oversaw the building of a chapel and a renovation of the dining room and dormitory and the design of meditative gardens, among other projects, as well as programs as they evolved to include yoga meditation in addition to annual visits from the Young Mothers of St. Katherine’s, who have been visiting after Mother’s Day each year since 1949.
Generations of local families have worked at the retreat, whose staff includes cooks, housekeepers, bookkeepers and a development director. When she had Pierson High School students on the staff, Sister Ann watched them play football and basketball at the high school. She also dabbles in painting, enjoys photography and cooking, goes on her own retreats—including a 30-day silent retreat; you have to work up to one of that length, she said—and likes to walk.