Miramar and the SVD (Society of the Divine Word)
How it All Began, Where We Are Today
In the course of its history, Miramar has been the training ground for the initial or on-going formation of priests and brothers, most of them Divine Word Missionaries. In addition, it has served literally thousands of lay people and religious who have come here seeking spiritual sustenance on their own journey of life. Miramar, both as a seminary known as St. Francis Xavier Mission House, and as a retreat center, has a fascinating story to tell. The large tracts of land on which the seminary and retreat center are built were once the property of the Loring family. In 1876, Atherton Loring, an immigrant from England, built the original red brick mansion. Now known as Bay Farm, it is still in use today, although no longer owned by the SVD.
His Eminence, William Cardinal O’Connell of Boston, captivated by the location and view from the Loring mansion, purchased the property for use as a summer home. He wrote a poem that paints a picture of this beautiful site, giving it the title MIRAMAR, a name that has been associated with it and the Divine Word Missionaries for almost 100 years.
Already in 1921, Cardinal O’Connell showed his interest in the Society of the Divine Word. Having heard that the SVD was on the verge of opening a seminary for black students in Mississippi, he offered a gift of $1000 to help get the project off the ground. Eager to express personally his appreciation for this generous gift, Father Provincial Peter Janser traveled to Boston. In the course of his visit with the cardinal, Father Janser asked for permission to open a high school seminary in the archdiocese for the training of future missionaries. Cardinal O’Connell suggested that he had a summer villa called Miramar, located at Island Creek in Duxbury, that was for sale and might prove suitable.
The property encompassed 27 acres and included three buildings. After visiting the site, the SVD soon agreed to the terms of purchase. Thus it was that Cardinal O’Connell’s summer home, with its rustic setting of cows and horses and buggies, made room in September of 1922 for the first academic class of high school boys. The barn was converted into a classroom, gym and wash-up area.
The pioneers included Father Hullin as Rector, and Brother Bernard, who busied himself in the kitchen or behind the wheel of a Model T Ford. Bishop John Cohill was a member of the first class of students. In the course of the years, many SVD priests and brothers whose names are closely associated with Miramar followed, among them Fathers Aubry and Melcher, Fathers Bob and Bill Hunter, Fathers Joe Ford, Bruno Hagspiel and Les Dooley. Brothers Gerard, George and Otto were other SVDs who served long and well on the staff.
In 1928, the first expansion program took place with the building of the chapel. In 1931-33 the new school building followed; in 1934, the grottoes and in 1947, the gym. In 1956-57, the original cow barn, that after renovation had served many purposes in the school program, was torn down and replaced with a building complex for the new college that opened its doors in 1958.
After its humble beginnings in 1922, Miramar flourished as a minor seminary for many years before becoming a fully accredited two-year college liberal arts program. However, in the years following the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the SVD – in company with most other religious congregations – restructured its formation programs at all levels. One result was that Miramar closed its doors as a formation house, but continued and expanded its presence as a retreat house open for people from all walks of life.
Already in 1945, with the idea of opening a center for prayer and quiet reflection, the SVD had purchased the 37 acres and the country home belonging to the Belknap family, located on a hill that sloped down to Kingston Bay just across the road from the seminary.
The first section of what was to become the Miramar Retreat Center was built in the early years of the 20th century. The Belknap family had spared no expense in appointing its rooms with rare woods from Asia and South America. Within months of its purchase, Fr. Joseph Ford developed a mission manor for guests that grew into a retreat house catering mainly to lay people from all walks of life.
For almost 20 years, ably assisted by Mr. Joe Walsh, he served in the capacity of its director until illness forced him to retire in 1963. Fr. Poetz along with Mr. Walsh carried on the retreat apostolate through the remainder of the 1960’s and on into the 1970’s.
In the early 1980’s, Fr. Paul Connors, a graduate of Miramar’s minor seminary, succeeded Fr. Poetz. Funds generated by the sale of the original property made possible the expansion of the retreat house, henceforth to be called Miramar Retreat Center.
Other directors and superiors have handed the torch to succeeding SVD priests and brothers, but the story of why Miramar was opened and what it continues to do today is not over. It is on going, based on the lives of those who have gone before, strengthened by the lives of those who currently serve, and supported by the hope of seeing many more SVD’s and committed staff members who will continue to further the mission of Miramar in the 21st century.