Shelter Island, New York Historical Summary

Shelter Island, a small island 100 miles east of New York City and accessible only by ferry boat, has served as a spiritual harbor for Passionist parish and retreat ministries. In 1911 the Passionists began to staff Our Lady of the Isle Church, constructed in 1907 for summer employees. It was returned to the Brooklyn Diocese in 1925. In 1992 the Passionists, who had been operating a youth center on the other side of the island since 1963, accepted the request of the Rockville Centre Diocese to reassume pastoral care. Father Charles Dougherty was appointed administrator and then appointed pastor in 1993.

In 1996 the discovery of termites in the underpinnings of the church led to a total restoration and the addition of a meeting room under the church. A cottage, the former meeting space, was turned into the Pastoral Center, which houses administrative offices and a conference room.

The parish has 300 registered families, and volunteers provide many of the services and ministries. The Passionist character is present in the parish with celebrations of Passionist feast days, the Confraternity of the Passion, and support of the youth center.

In 1911 the Passionists bought, on the eastern side of the island, 30 acres of waterfront property at Coecles Harbor. Originally envisioned to be the Passionist Preparatory Seminary, the location was deemed too isolated. From the 1920s until 1963 this site served predominantly as a summer sanctuary for Passionists.

In 1963 the Passionists used the property to begin St. Gabriel’s Spiritual Center for Youth in response to the thrust of Vatican II, the unprecedented growth of New York City and the suburbs, and the desire to serve Catholic youth. It is the only Passionist center dedicated to full-time ministry for high school students.

A new building, rebuilt after a 1999 fire destroyed the old building, has 25 double rooms and four rooms for chaperones. The sunny meeting room and lounge has a spectacular view of Coecles Harbor. The center’s chapel was renovated in 2001. Since 1963 the center has ministered to the spiritual needs of more than 70,000 young people.

St. Gabriel’s Spiritual Retreat Center on Shelter Island closed its doors in July 2009.