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Nov 19, 2014 9:21 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sunday Will Mark 65 Years Of Service For Cormaria Retreat House In Sag Harbor

Nov 19, 2014 9:21 AM

Frances Stincone has visited the Cormaria Center for Spiritual and Human Growth in Sag Harbor every couple of months for the last 12 years. It’s where she finds tranquility and connects with her god.

“This is where I come to be still,” Ms. Stincone, of Bohemia, said on her most recent visit. “It’s very peaceful to come here. It’s like every time you come, you find something different.”

For decades, women like Ms. Stincone have been traveling from all over the country to spend their days at Cormaria, channeling their religious faith and finding their spiritual selves. On Sunday, Cormaria will privately celebrate its 65th anniversary as a retreat house for not only women, but also men.

It was on Thanksgiving weekend in 1949 that nuns Mother Frances Dunne and Sister Adian O’Sullivan, both of the order of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, turned what was once a finishing school for wealthy Latin American girls into what people now know as Cormaria. Originally a retreat house for women that eventually opened to men and all religious faiths in the 1960s, Cormaria was intended to be a space for people to connect with their spiritual lives, open their hearts, and “perhaps respond to a call from God,” a press release from the retreat explains. Today, the organization still does that, and it will have provided retreats for more than 5,000 individuals by the end of this year.

“People feel they’re part of us and we’re part of them,” said Sister Ann Marino, who has been Cormaria’s director for 32 years and runs it with the help of Sisters Catherine Browne and Scholastica Gonzalez, as well as a chocolate-colored pug named Harry. “They know that they can come to be still and hear their god.”

The Cormaria house, a Victorian mansion that occupies a portion of 18 acres overlooking Sag Harbor Bay, was built in 1905 as the home of California real estate tycoon Frank Havens and his family. The house contains winding, dark wooden staircases and large, fixed windows that each bear a view of the lapping waves of the bay that one might mistake for a painting at first glance. Early records indicate that the colorful, stained glass windows throughout the main floor and upstairs bedrooms were designed by the famed Tiffany Studios of New York. As Cormaria’s programs broadened, additions were made to the house over the years to accommodate more guests. Today Cormaria also hosts some of the biggest fundraisers in the Hamptons, with its annual Summer Gala taking place on July 4th.

The Havens estate was sold in 1917 to the Marshalls of Marshall Fields, then sold again in 1943 to the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, which is when it became the finishing school.

Whether it’s for a group retreat, or just to spend an afternoon in solitude, Cormaria has been “the center of prayer” in Sag Harbor for people all over the country. The organization offers several kinds of retreats that can be as short as one weekend or as long as half a month. Retreats can consist of laughter echoing throughout the halls, or silence so quiet that one can hear the heartbeats of others in the same room. Sister Marino said that after spending time at Cormaria, people say they have become a better person, or were able to let go of a tough situation that haunted them.

For Lorraine Halusic of Rocky Point, the past 10 years of her life have been filled with spiritual guidance with the help of Cormaria. The peacefulness of the house has allowed her, she said, to fill her heart with God’s love and rid herself of any negativity she otherwise may have been feeling.

“This is the place to find Him. I know He’s everywhere,” Mr. Halusic said. “It’s just so beautiful here. I just look forward to this every year.”

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