Off the coast of Mystic, Connecticut is a tiny 11-acre island. When arriving, one passes over a miniaturized causeway after clearing a manned gatehouse and navigating around a “Private Road – No Trespassing” sign. Despite these protocols embedded within somewhat removed and well-manicured lawns, Enders Island remains open to all visitors in warmly sharing their facilities with people of all faiths. More than 17,000 people a year visit Enders Island, a volume some say is changing the character of the neighboring island communities.
The beauty of nature is almost otherworldly on campus. Immediately one is struck by a 360-degree ocean view and moderately descending rocky cliffs. The effect is a type of floating instability, where there is a peace, beauty, and unique microcosm within grounds, shrines, gardens, and pathways. A black marble memorial monument shaped like a contemporary bird bath complete with running water is particularly striking. White trellised garden beds are silently reassuring. Bird songs are refreshing. Yes, you can relax here.
The location has three primarily altruistic missions. A 50-year old recovery ministry serves 12-step, 11-step, and Catholic Psych Institute programs for those wishing to improve their conscious contact with God through prayer and meditation. St. Edmund’s Retreats include: bereavement; couples; clergy; speaker series; and Days of Recollection programs throughout the year. A bi-annual residency portion of Fairfield University’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program is held on site.
A small yet notable St. Michael’s Institute of Sacred Art, founded in 1995, offers public residency workshops with highly skilled instructors concentrating on traditional arts in manifesting the breath of God. Now commonly called The Sacred Art Institute at Enders Island, classes include: stained glass; Gregorian chant; manuscript illumination; iconography; wood-carving; calligraphy; and mosaics. Live recordings are performed in the onsite Chapel of Our Lady of the Assumption.
Nine distinct outdoor areas solidify the character of the site. They include: a beach; a Marian Grotto; a Rose Garden; a Garden of the Two Hearts; a Stations of the Cross; a Pergola; Formal Gardens; the Great Lawn and Gazebo; and the Seaside Chapel. The changing environments within four seasons comprise uniquely original worship and reflection spaces with flora and fauna surprises at every turn.
Seven major buildings serve as destination points. The Enders House, an early 20th century Arts and Crafts style mansion (the oldest structure on the island), and the 2001 Catholic Chapel of Our Lady of the Assumption are easily identifiable anchors. The chapel features Nick Parrendo stained glass; Vladislav Andrejev iconography; Jed Gibbons Stations of the Cross; Valerie Weilmuenster illuminated Prayer of St. Edmund; and Mystic Woodcarvers statues and carvings.
Dr. Thomas B. Enders originally purchased the island from the Sisters of Charity. In 1918, he and his wife Alys designed and oversaw the construction of a private estate. It developed into a grand main house with imported Italian tiles in the house, gardens, balconies, tables, and reflecting pool’s lining. Large perimeter boulders serve as silent water guards. Before her death in 1954, Alys willed Enders Island to the Society of St. Edmund, requesting that it be used as a retreat and place of spiritual training for priests in the diocese. In 2003, an independent ministry was established.
The Society of Saint Edmund is a religious congregation of the Catholic Church founded in 1843. They adhere to vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. The Society keeps St. Edmund’s memory and life alive through faithful service, for the work of popular missions. Members also devote themselves to parochial work, to the education of youth in seminaries and colleges, to the direction of pious associations, and to foreign missions.
This article was originally published June 13, 2018.