Shelter Island Reporter Editorial: Saving St. Gabe’s Chapel

JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO | St. Gabriel’s Chapel.
St. Gabriel’s Chapel.

Why spend time and money to preserve an old, beloved structure?

For almost everyone, that’s not a question requiring much deliberation. Preserving a building connects us to the past in a vivid way, making memories as strong as brick and mortar. The sight of the graceful architecture reinforces the reason we revere and are inspired by the culture of builders and artists who came before us.

But for some, the question is dismissed and a decision is made dictated by a bottom line not to preserve, but to raze.
St. Gabriel’s Chapel has been an important building for several generations of Islanders and for those who visited when the Passionists held retreats on the banks of Coecles Harbor.

Richard Hogan, who bought the 25-acre St. Gabe’s property last July for $15.1 million and plans to develop it, originally maintained that the chapel is too old, too flimsy and restoring it seemed out of the question. When a story ran in the March 17 issue of the Reporter (“St. Gabriel’s Chapel is living on a prayer”) and was posted on our website about Mr. Hogan’s decision, many people responded, outraged that such a meaningful part of the Island’s life could be destroyed.

Now there are plans to look for grants for money to preserve the chapel and Kathryn O’Hagan-Klenawicus has stepped forward to volunteer part of a property she and her family control as a new site for the chapel if it can be moved. Some residents are considering a private fund to help the cause. We salute the efforts, but it’s in sorrow, not in enthusiasm, since the owner won’t foot the bill for the community.

The St. Gabriel’s property, not just the chapel, should belong to all of us. Supervisor Jim Dougherty, who has been a leading light in the preservation movement on Shelter Island for many years, wanted St. Gabe’s for all Islanders. He pushed hard for the Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board — or the “2-percent committee,” named for a tax on real estate purchases that’s used to preserve open space — to create a deal that would keep ownership of the beautiful, waterfront property for Islanders forever.

But the CPFAB finally decided — incorrectly, we believe — that St. Gabe’s didn’t meet the criteria of open space, plus, the price was too steep.

Good luck to Supervisor Dougherty and the Town Board in finding grants that can save the chapel. Destroying it is not in the best interest of anyone.