Shore town will keep religious retreat for nuns but changes are coming

STONE HARBOR, N.J. (KYW Newsradio) — The Catholic order of nuns that operates a summer retreat house in Stone Harbor plans to tear it down, build a smaller one and sell some of the land to fund an endowment to keep it up and running. That’s not an easy pill to swallow for residents and officials down the shore, but they’re just glad the nuns are staying put. 

The Villa Maria by the Sea spans an entire beachfront block at 111th street. It dates back more than 80 years and to a newcomer, it might look more like a hotel than a retreat house. But there’s no heat in the place and fewer nuns who use it in the summer. 

It’s thought the changes, which include making a new retreat house handicapped-accessible and adding heat and modern plumbing, will help those who use it, nuns and lay people alike.

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But for the locals, Stone Harbor Mayor Judy Davies-Dunhour among them, keeping the retreat in some form is a good thing, because the Immaculate Heart of Mary order is quite involved on the civic front.

“They’re not leaving us altogether. They plan on staying,” Davies-Dunhour told KYW Newsradio. “They plan on being a part of our community and even a bigger part of our community by having a year-round presence now.”

She was made aware of the order’s plans in private conversations earlier this year and concedes that some of her neighbors aren’t fond of the idea of taking down the majestic structure. The plan became public when the retreat’s manager sent a letter to supporters a few days ago.   

“We get it,” the Mayor added. “We understand why the sisters have to do this and we are so thankful they’re not selling the entire thing because they could have done that.”

No formal plans have been submitted to the town nor is there any timetable for the work to begin.

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