Faithful Service To St. Gabriel’s Youth Ministry on Shelter Island

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by Alison V. Binder

Over a cup of coffee in the retreat house kitchen at Shelter Island in April 1999, I had the opportunity to catch up with Alison Binder. As we spoke she mentioned that she had been working as a housekeeper at St. Gabriel’s for twenty years. Over the years it has become apparent that employees of the Passionists are crucial to spread the Gospel. While for some employees work with the Passionists is just a job, others see it as a crucial means for spiritual growth. Both types will always exist.

On June 9, 1999 St. Gabriel suffered a devastating fire. Much of the retreat house was destroyed. The rooms that Alison Binder faithfully cleaned for the last twenty years were burned so bad that it looks like a new retreat house will have to be built.

Thus it is with a dual historical understanding that this reflection is part of the Heritage Newsletter. I asked her to share her reflections. In one sense Alison V. Binder symbolizes all those employed by the Passionists. What do they know about our history? What do they know about Passionist identity and ministry? What does it mean to work for the Passionists? What do we learn from our employees? In another sense this reflection is a reminder of the power of the Gospel radiated by the Shelter Island experience.

Twenty years of service given the economic and personal realities of personal and institutional life is an accomplishment worthy of reflection. We therefore thank Alison V. Binder for her willingness to share her thoughts. I have edited her original essay by adding some historical perspective. Rob Carbonneau, C.P. editor

May 1, 2000 will be my twentieth year at St. Gabriel’s Retreat House on Shelter Island, New York. I have to say that it has not been an easy position to hold. I have been involved in many different kinds of work.

My week starts with Sunday cleaning the chapel on the hill. Then in the Retreat house I clean the showers, the lower basement and the rooms after the retreatants have left. Everything must be ready for a new group that will arrive Monday about 4:30 P.M. I’m also responsible for setting up the dining room, sometimes helping in the kitchen, and in the years past doing laundry and cleaning the “summer house” which used to be the old students’ bungalow. Also on the property is the “farm house” which has six bedrooms. This was the original monastery residence; the home of long time resident caretaker Rocco Satira; the House of Prayer; the home of retreat director Bob Scott and his family; and now the residence of Sister Maureen Kervick, S.S.J. Frantz Hall is the multipurpose building between the kitchen and the salt-water pool. It is used for meetings and other events.

All this cleaning is a lot of work for one person especially when we have back-to-back retreats. Sometimes I have volunteer help and a part-time assistant. When I first started at St. Gabe’s it wasn’t as busy and I learned my job from a list on a piece of paper given to me by the previous housekeeper.

Over the years I’ve seen many changes – from Passionists to lay directors and back to Passionists. I have worked under many – Fr. Peter Grace, C.P., Br. Semus Bailey, C.P., Fr. Bob Joerger, C.P., Br. Michael Moran, C.P., Lenny Sclafani, Bob Scott, and now Sister Maureen Kervick, S.S.J.

Through the years there have been numerous rumors that the “monastery” was closing, but with many fundraisers and retreats it keeps going. At first there were only retreats for boys; then girls were included years ago, and family retreats for one hundred people during the summer months. Now we have many for adults and special groups such as the Merchant Marines, Married Couples, Pre-Cana Couples, etc. The main focus is on students from Catholic schools in Queens and New York City and other parishes.

The bigger changes to St. Gabe’s have been recent starting with the renovation of the chapel which is not yet complete, to the demolishing of the “summer house” built in the 1940s’ by the priests, brothers, and students during the summer months. Some years back this house was used by the summer retreatants. Although it had become a storage place, having been damaged in a hurricane, everyone was sad to see it go.

The most shocking thing to me in my years at St. Gabe’s was the fire in the retreat house this past June. This happened the day after the group left on June 8. This has changed all operations at St. Gabe’s. Retreats have been canceled, the offices moved to the dining hall, staff cutbacks and my work hours reduced.

We hope to be back in full operation by next summer

Alison V. Binder
September 1999

For more information on the fire at St. Gabriel’s read the Summer 1999 issue of Compassion at:

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