Farewell Inisfada

This month a 72,000-square-foot Tudor mansion, completed in 1920 and containing eighty-seven rooms and a magnificent chapel (in which many notable Catholic clerics, including Bishop Fulton Sheen and Francis Cardinal Spellman, celebrated Mass), is being demolished.

Known as Inisfada – Gaelic for “Long Island” – the house is located in the Nassau County “Gold Coast” village of Manhasset and was the home of Nicholas and Genevieve Brady, America’s leading Catholic couple in the early decades of the twentieth century. The most prominent guest ever to visit Inisfada arrived in 1936: the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli – the future Pope Pius XII.

Nicholas F. Brady (1878-1930), a convert to Catholicism, made a great fortune in the utilities business, serving as chairman of New York’s Consolidated Edison Company. In 1906, he married a devout Catholic, Genevieve Garvan (1884-1938). The couple donated millions to Catholic charities and financed the construction of numerous buildings at such U.S. Catholic institutions as the Jesuit Novitiate in Wernersville, Pennsylvania and Georgetown University.

In the 1920s, the Brady’s turned their attention to Vatican affairs and spent winters at the palace Casa del Sole at 16 via Aurelia Antica in Rome. Nicholas was the first America to be inducted into the Ordine Supremo del Cristo (Supreme Order of Christ), the highest order of chivalry awarded by the pope – generally reserved for heads of state.


During this period, the Bradys befriended a young priest who was the lone American in the Vatican State Department, Father Francis Spellman. He served as translator for members of the Curia who attended Brady dinner parties and as a tennis partner on the Brady courts. When the couple asked for a private chaplain, Spellman was assigned the job.

After her husband’s death in 1930, Genevieve continued to live part of the year in Rome and remained close to Spellman. To further ingratiate himself with Mrs. Brady, Spellman planted the idea with Pius XI that led to her appointment as a papal duchess.

In the fall of 1936, Spellman, now an auxiliary bishop in Boston, learned from Mrs. Brady that Inisfada was to serve as a vacation getaway for Pacelli. Although Mrs. Brady was dead set against the cardinal having any public schedule, Spellman realized that was not a good plan. He severely strained his relationship with Brady when she learned that he organized a nationwide tour for Pacelli that was to culminate with a visit to President Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park, New York.

The Bradys

Spellman greeted Pacelli at New York harbor when his ship arrived and served as tour guide and press spokesman. After spending a few days at Inisfada, the two men drove to the Knights of Columbus headquarters in New Haven and ended the day at Spellman’s parish in Newton Center, Massachusetts. Pacelli said Mass in the bishop’s church using the chalice that Pius XI had given to Spellman as a parting gift when he returned to Boston.

The cardinal spent the following two weeks visiting dioceses in New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Cleveland, Chicago, South Bend, Cincinnati, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Reminiscing years later, Spellman said that during their cross-country flights, he would persuade the pilot to make detours so Pacelli could see great natural wonders of America; especially Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon.

Since America was in the middle of a presidential campaign, a meeting between Pacelli and F.D.R. was delayed until after the November 3 election. On November 5, two days after Roosevelt swept the nation carrying forty-six states and receiving 61 percent of the vote, Bishop Spellman, Joseph P. Kennedy, and N.Y. auxiliary Bishop Steven Donahue, accompanied the Cardinal-Secretary of State to the president’s home along the Hudson. There were discussions about sending an envoy to the Vatican and an agreement was reached to reign in the notorious radio priest, Father John Coughlin.

Cardinal Pacelli spent his final night in America at Inisfada and left for Rome on November 7, 1936. While Mrs. Brady was unhappy that Pacelli did not spend more leisure time there, she stayed on friendly terms with the cardinal, and for her continued philanthropic work, was showered with numerous papal honors.

Bishop Spellman and Cardinal Pacelli

In 1937, Genevieve married the Irish Free State minister to the Vatican, William Babington Macaulay. She died in Rome the following November, only months before Pacelli was elected pope and Spellman was appointed archbishop of New York. She was buried next to Nicholas in a crypt below the main altar at the Jesuit Novitiate, St. Isaac Jogues in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. A plaque hangs in the Church of St. Patrick in Rome that describes her many contributions to the Church.

Mrs. Brady left Inisfada to the New York Province of the Society of Jesus. Initially it served as a house of formation for seminarians and later as the St. Ignatius Jesuit Retreat House, which in recent years has featured Zen Buddhists as guest lecturers.

In early 2013, the Jesuits announced Inisfada was too expensive to maintain, closed it, and put the estate on the market. The mansion and the surrounding thirty-three acres were bought by a developer for $36.5 million who plans to build upscale single-family homes. A petition to declare Inisfada a historic home was denied.

The Jesuits did not even bother relocating artifacts of historic importance to Catholic institutions, century-old antiques in Inisfada, including the Cathedral Chair used by Cardinal Pacelli. Instead they were auctioned. The $50,000 proceeds went to Fordham University.

Another U.S. Catholic treasure is lost. And sadly, because we live in an age obsessed with consumer culture trivia, very few will miss – or even notice – that Inisfada is no more.

George J. Marlin

George J. Marlin

George J. Marlin, Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need USA, is the author of The American Catholic Voter, Narcissist Nation: Reflections of a Blue-State Conservative, and Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy. His new book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with Brad Miner, will be published on St. Patrick's Day.

  • ib

    Bergoglio is no Pacelli …

  • DS

    I must admit feeling two conflicting emotions after reading this. The first is totally human, since Inisfada was so intimately connected to many profoundly faithful people, in some cases separated from us by only a few degrees. The other emotion makes me ask, “What is truly our treasure?” It is not the bricks and mortar of a mansion or the bygone Irish American Catholic culture of the 20th century. It is nothing less than the love of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict foresaw this when he spoke of a smaller, more faithful church that might have to do with fewer earthly treasures. So as this house moves into history, we are bound to look to the future and ask the Lord what plans he has for us. Perhaps we should say a prayer along the way for the Jesuits and the families who will live in the new development.

  • Mack Hall

    “Featured Zen Buddhists as guest lecturers.”

    Must St. Edmund Campion be martyred again?

  • St. Pius X

    If they were inviting Buddhists instead of priests, then good riddance.

    Ill not weep when the modern day Jesuits can no longer stain the Church because they can’t lead enough young members astray any longer and the secularist culture that corrupted them loses interest because they no longer radiate Christ’s glory.

  • Austin Ruse

    Great column, George…really great…

  • Manfred

    Thanks for a great article, George. It was certainly a different day when Spellman could call out First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt as a bad mother as all five of her and Franklin’s children were divorced and remarried or living in sin. She had the Vatican require him to apologize, of course, which he did. The Bradys and Kennedys represented the “nobility” for a Catholic immigrant underclass living in flats and tenements. They have all since “arrived” and the Faith is no longer quite as important to them. The Land O’Lakes Statement (1967) and the razing of Inisfada are emblematic of the collapse of Catholicism in America.

  • Nancy de Flon

    A similar fate awaits the beautiful Jesuit property on Staten Island, the Manresa Retreat Center. More important than the history attached to Long Island’s Inisfada, the Manresa property is ecologically significant and, among other things, serves as a stopping-off point along the Atlantic Flyway for millions of migrating birds. Instead of following the example of the Redemptorists, who sold (or leased?) their property on the Hudson to the Bruderhof so that it is respected and continues to serve a similar purpose to before, the Jesuits have sold it to a developer specializing in the building of shopping malls (!!!) and upscale home developments. Shame on them. I doubt the Dominicans or Benedictines would have done such a thing.

  • John McCarthy

    A beautiful and important article…Important because it preserves an aspect of Catholic Americana that deserves to be preserved. Beautiful because it speaks warmly of generous and good people.

  • grump

    50 grand? The Jesuits got gypped. They could have gotten a much better deal from the Pawn Stars in Vegas. Apparently, the Jesuits, like one of their own — Pope Francis — are not very astute when it comes to capitalism.

    Have no fear,
    the Pope is Time’s Man of the Year.

    Parenthetically, I ran into an old friend who I had seen at Mass many years ago. I asked him, “Are you still Catholic?” He replied, “God, No!” Then he went on to say, “I sure like this new pope, though. ‘Bout time the Church got in step with everyone else.”

    Although I remain lapsed, I was lost for a response..

  • Bill Hocter

    Sic transit gloria.

  • Seanachie

    George, you describe Fr. Coughlin as “the notorious radio priest”…perhaps, he was (ahead of my time). But, I suspect his broadcasts were not any more “notorious” than the bald-faced attacks on Catholicism and Catholics that ooze from virtually every form of today’s media and entertainment industries.

  • Louise

    Grump, it’s a beginning. Even if they are getting some of it wrong they are not getting all of it wrong. Remember, when you work on one virtue it brings up all the others as well!
    I can’t help feeling that this is a special time of God’s mercy…not sure exactly why i feel that way but it is a very strong spiritual feeling I have.
    If it is, I hope we don’t miss it!

  • Louise

    I’ve been wondering about our sister Maggie Louise…we never hear from her anymore. Are you still out there ML?

  • Jack,CT

    Fantasticly SaD. Thanks for sharing a wonderful
    artifect of our faith,well done.

  • Deacon Ed Peitler

    The estate must have been left to the Jesuits while they were still Catholic. They are about the best example of a religious order that has engaged in ‘self-suppression.’

  • Walter

    What exactly does a Papal duchess do?

  • Michael Checkley

    To Walter/ A papal duchess is a title of nobility granted by the pope to a woman of merit and esteem. The popes granted titles of nobility to persons for services to the Church and society. The titles included duchess, baron and count and even prince. The pope also awarded several Orders of Knightood. All these honors were granted by the pope in his capacity as a sovereign and head of state. Today, the noble titles are no longer granted — although John Paul II did issue several. The Orders of Knighthood are still granted and quite frequently. They honor service to the Church and society. A papal duke or duchess do not do anything….they already have done something to merit the noble title. In the Brady’s case they were exceedingly generous to many Catholic causes. Rose Kennedy was a papal countess and Irish tenor John McCormack was a papal count.
    New York financier George MacDonald was a papal marquis.Some persons continue to hold the papal noble titles as some grants were hereditary.

  • Chuck Idol

    thanks George,

    The building has been lost but not the memory of Mrs Brady. I have written a book about her great works. Mrs Brady was and still is the highest decorated Catholic American Woman in the United States. I plan to start a small museum with the proceeds from the book. I also run the Inisfada web site. You can find an e-book by me at Amazon called Inisfada. (Available at the self-publishing site Lulu as well.)