ST JOSAPHAT’S MONASTERY

Rev. Eugene Khomyn, Pastor

On the North Shore of Long Island, along Long Island Sound, 35 miles to the east of New York City lie a number of historic towns and villages, along them Glen Cove and Lattingtown, both over 300 years old, going back to pre-revolutionary days before this country was established.

But, in more recent years one of these towns gave way two a comparably recent development, namely the founding of a Ukrainian Eastern Rite monastery in the place of Lattingtown. Though the charter of Lattingtown still exists, the actual village where it once stood (at the main entrance gate) is now incorporated into the monastery grounds. It was over 70 years ago, in 1944 that the Basilian Fathers came to these shores and establish what to this day is known as St Josaphat’s Monastery. Here is its history.

Charles H Pratt, (founder of Standard Oil, who sarcophagus lies in a Byzantine style chapel church in a cemetery just behind the monastery grounds across Lattingtown Road), John Paul Getty, W. D. Guthrie and J. E. Aldred (a less known entrepreneur) wanted to establish themselves on the North Shore of Long Island. In 1910 they bought out the incorporated village of Lattingtown, leveled it (a town of 60 houses and stores) kept the charter and built mansions for themselves along the waterfront. With charter in hand they created zoning laws to establish for themselves an exclusive area close by to the other millionaires of that period who inhabited a strip of coastline that was to be known as the “Gold Coast.”

J. E. Aldred went so far as to move landfill to 75 meters within distance of the Long Island Sound to build his English Elizabethan-Tudor style mansion on the 100 and some acres of ground that he had purchased. He started it around 1916 (so reads the cornerstone) and called it the Ormston House (his secretary-wife’s maiden name) which he built at a cost of nearly three million dollars (a hefty amount in those days!). He took extra care in creating an English country style manor with imported fireplaces, stained glass windows, walnut wood (supposedly imported from the Sherwood forest), flag-stone floors, English formal gardens and even imported English servants to create a blue-blooded atmosphere of English gentry (America never had and nor does it have noble families of its own). This he accomplished with the help of the famous architects Bertram B. Goodhue who designed and helped execute the 74 room manor and Henry W. Rowe who was responsible for the stables and gate cottages, known sculptors such as J. Selmer Larson was responsible for the fountains and statuary, and other artisans, like the Olmsted brothers (known for their designs in New York City’s Central Park) who did the landscaping and gardens. To underscore his ecclesiastical ties to English gentry, he (providentially, it might be added) gave the manor a touch of monastic ambiance.

Though Mr. Aldred had large, if not major stock holdings in the Gilette Safety Razor Company, New York Gas Company and others, his major investment was in hydro electricity as can be seen by the beaver, a perforated line, representing a dam, followed by an Anglican Bishop’s mitre (representing Mr. Aldred’s line of gentry) in the coat of arms shield over the entrance to the Ormston House – now the monastery. He had a number of companies which he outright owned, namely the Massachusetts Power and Light Company, the Quebec Power and Light Company, to name but a few. His total assets came to a close 80 million dollars at the height of his career. With a loan of some 70 million dollars for the development of hydro-electric power during Mussolini’s reign in Italy, one can candidly say that he was, in a way, responsible for the lighting by electricity of St. Peter’s, instead of the then-used torch-lights, in the early 1940’s. This all came to a grinding halt with the enactment by Congress of the “Anti-Trust” laws of the 1940’s in which “A-B-C” monopoly companies were systematically dismantled. This, along with such things as “Capital Gains taxes’, “Income taxes”, “Property Taxes”, all both Federal and local, made it absolutely debilitating for the class society that arose out of the “Great Gatsby Era” to realistically hold on to the vast possessions that they had acquired. In order to consolidate, many of them set out to systematically destroy that which they had created (i.e. they leveled the mansions that they had built and subdivided their land holdings). Not so with Mr. Aldred. Very philosophically he stated in an interview for the New York Telegram in October of 1942 “They can take away my money and my possessions, but they can’t take away my memories or the satisfaction I’ve had in seeing the things I created succeed.” He refused to dismantle that which he had created, although his wife was reported to be not quite that philosophical about the loss of the estate. He settled his debts to his creditors by selling off the furniture in the Ormston House and was still left with $60,000, a handsome sum even for the mid-1940’s.

By 1944 it fell into the hands of the Ukrainian Catholic Rite Basilian Fathers, largely through the efforts of Fr. Maxim Markiw, OSBM, (who four years later became the first Provincial Superior of the newly created “Dormition Province of the Basilian Fathers in the U.S.A.” for a mere pittance of the original cost of it’s building and establishment ($75,000).

One could write a separate history of the battles fought to obtain the property and make use of it as a Novitiate by the Basilian Fathers (i.e. the difficulties given to us by the local Latin Rite Hierarchy, Archbishop Spellman and his Chancellor Msgr. Makintyre were diametrically opposed to us!) However, that is not within the scope of this article.

The early chronicles of the monastery state that the early life of the first monks who inhabited the monastery was very sparse and difficult. The grounds were still in their pristine condition. But there were no longer the 100 plus workers to tend the grounds. Moreover, the grouds were meant and used for the entertainment of wealthy guests, for their edification and cultural amusement and not as farmland to eke a living from. Though they lived in a luxurious atmosphere, there was neither the pastoral nor simple economical means for the primary needs of everyday living such as simply putting food on the table.

In addition to this much of the land was graded or fill, and therefore not arable, and thus not very fertile. This proved to be the case, when one of the early well-intentioned superiors, desiring to create a wheat field, tried to till the driving range of a golf course only to dig up sand.

At first the monastery was used as a house of formation for students, studying philosophy. Some of the names of the students and professors are familiar to parishoners of any of the parishes in the New York area such as: Fr. Meletij Wojnar, OSBM, Fr. Julian Katrij, OSBM (who now resides in the monastery and is again a professor for the students there), Fr. Volodymyr Gavlich, OSBM, Fr. Michael Wawryck, OSBM. – to name but a few of the professors. The students included priests we know today such as Fr. Taras Prokopiw, OSBM, Fr. Sofron Mudry, OSBM (Rector of St. Josaphat’s Major Seminary in Rome), Fr. Damian Weleschuk, OSBM. (Director of the Basilian Press in Toronto, Canada).

In the early 1950’s the grounds served as a refuge for our parishoners from our New York parishes to escape the summer heat. Many still have fond memories of their vacations spent in the cottages, stables and gate houses where a number of families would band together to share the available space while enjoying the spacious grounds and quarter mile of beach front.

It was only in the fall of 1958 that St. Josaphat’s Monastery became a Novitiate. Bishop Ambrose Senyshyn OSBM, himself a Basilian came to bless the newly created Novitiate. The novices of the time quite vividly remember the occasion. For one thing, he did not come by car but rather by boat with a retinue of priests, landing on the beach. It was there that the Master of Novices, Very Rev. Innocent Lotocky, OSBM (now Bishop-Emeritus of Chicago) along with four novices met him on the beach and escorted him to the main house where the Blessing and canonical establishment of the cloister took place. For practical purposes, only the upper floors were designated as cloister (forbidden to the general public) along with the natural architectural cloister on the north side of the house overlooking the sound. Even today one can observe the signs designating these areas along with a fence to create the limits of the outside cloister thus somewhat breaking the panoramic view of the sound.

Over the years there have been several changes and additions made. While the gate houses remain, the horse stable was remodeled and turned into a Retreat House in 1964 mainly through the efforts of Fr. Bernard Panchuk, its first director. Its basic designs, management and workings are still in place as he created them. Many of the other retreat houses in the area were impractical and have long ago closed. St. Josaphat’s Retreat House is still operational today with mainly the Marriage Encounters, associations and private retreats.

Over the period of many years, since the Basilian Fathers first started their pastoral activities in this country, a large amount of unique books and archives both privately and by Basilian communities as a whole in the fields of theology, history and Ukrainian studies have been collected by various scholar – members of the Order. They had been collecting dust and deteriorating in a number of our houses over the years. There was a real need to establish a separate library building for the preservation of these volumes. In addition to this, there were a number of elderly members who were still able to pursue their scholarly endeavors but needed an environment to meet these needs. This was discussed in a number of provincial gatherings. Under the leadership of Fr. Patrick Paschak, (Provincial Superior from 1970 to 1982) a library-residential complex was completed in 1982. It now stands along the roadside on the way to the beach overlooking the sound.

With the decline of vocations in this country, and yet the spiritual needs of our Ukrainian Community continuing, there has been a growing need to add to the ranks of our clergy. This has been resolved by the sacrifice of young men who have come from Brazil to consecrate their lives to God by serving the spiritual needs of the Ukrainian Community here. Along with this came the need to train and educate them for the specific needs of the Ukrainian Community in this country. A school was needed above and beyond the primary preparation given them by the Novitiate to round out their secondary education and prepare them to serve the needs of the Ukrainian Community in this country before going onto Philosophy and Theology.

An unresolved, burning problem since its beginnings was the day to day financial operation of the monastery. From its very beginning, the monastery did not have of itself the werewithall to meet its own expenses. To meet this need, Fr. Julian Katrij (Provincial Superior from 1982 to 1986) established an Endowment Fund. A goal of one million dollars was set to meet the needs of the monastery. While this goal has not yet been achieved, there have been a number of generous people who have contributed to the education of the future clergy of our Church – most of these adoptive, surrogate, spiritual parents not wishing their names to be published.

Today the monastery continues to grow and flourish. An Annual Pilgrimage started in the mid 50’s still draws a small crowd on the first Sunday of June (It’s during this years pilgrimage that the 50 year anniversary will be commemorated). The number of students has tripled; a young staff of priests who started their novitiate at this monastery continue the training and education of future priests for the needs of our people in this country. Under the leadership of its youthful Superior, Fr. Mauricio Popadiuk, OSBM not only do they serve the needs of the monastery, but also engage energetically in missionary activity, run parishes and camps (Such as St. Mary’s in the Bronx and St. Basil’s Camp in Narrowsburg). St. Josaphat’s Monastery has a proud past. Over half of the Basilian Fathers working in this country had either their beginnings at St. Josaphat’s Monastery or were in some intimate way connected with its development. Many others hold positions of responsibility in other countries such as Italy and Canada. It continues, in the words of Mr. Aldred, “to find satisfaction in seeing what it created succeed” and we might add: for the glory of God and good of our Ukrainian Catholic Church and people.

History of the monastery in pictures can be found here.

Please kindly consider donating to rebuild the monastery.