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Our history

A vintage postcard showing the house on the water

Cormaria Retreat Center, a ministry of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, has a long history in Sag Harbor.

About RSHM

Founded on February 24, 1849, in Béziers, France, the Institute of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary continued to run a shelter and an orphanage established by Father Jean Gailhac. These works gradually transformed with the addition of a boarding school and a small dispensary that treated both the children at the Mother House and the poor and outcast of Béziers. By 1872, the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary expanded to Ireland, Portugal, and England. By 1874, Father Gailhac and Mother St. Croix, then General Superior, had already started discussing sending sisters to the United States. (link back to RSHM History page – or to Gailhac, etc.)

RSHM in Sag Harbor

In February 1877, six Irish sisters, with Mother Basil Davis as superior, set out from the Mother House and arrived in New York. The sisters began their work in Sag Harbor (Long Island, NY) and took charge of St. Andrew’s parish school and offered catechetical classes to parishioners. The sisters opened a paying boarding and day school, as well as a free night school for young women, many who were immigrants working in the mills and factories. Bulova was one of the last industries in Sag Harbor. Since its departure in 1981 the Village has relied on the tourist trade for a large part of its income. Adapting to the changing needs in the locale, the RSHM presence today is experienced in the spiritual life and nature found at Cormaria Retreat Center overlooking Sag Harbor Bay.

Our historic property

A beautiful historic entryway with rich wood doors and framing

Frank Havens Estate

Real estate tycoon Frank Havens built Cormaria, as his private home, on 18 waterfront acres in 1905. It was one of Sag Harbor’s most lavish waterfront homes. Early records mention the home’s interior design by “Tiffany Studios of New York,” which is, for the most part, intact.


In 1918, Havens passed away and left the home to his wife Lila. Subsequently, the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, a Roman Catholic order of women religious, purchased the home from her. In 1943, the order turned the building into a finishing school for Catholic girls—calling the school “Cormaria.” In 1949, the school became a retreat center for women only.


Today, Cormaria continues to function as a religious retreat center run by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. Everyone is welcome. One often sees retreat participants strolling Cormaria’s beautiful grounds and waterfront where they meet their God.