The History of Enders Island

“It is understood that this House is to serve, primarily, as a novitiate for the Community, but I express my hope that it will serve to carry out the other good works which are proper to your Congregation, as time goes on.”  —Alys Enders

Thomas B. Enders, M.D., a Yale-educated graduate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons (Columbia) and Hartford surgeon purchased Enders Island from the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent DePaul on August 24, 1910, and work began almost immediately developing Enders Island. By 1918, work had begun on construction of the Enders House and on March 1, 1920, Dr. Enders purchased a right of way from the Masons Island Company and proceeded building a bridge connecting Enders Island to Masons Island. On Tuesday, December 22, 1925, Dr. Enders married Alys VanGilder in the West End Presbyterian Church, in New York City. Work continued on Enders Island, including the extensive stone tiles prominently on display throughout the interior and exterior of the arts and crafts style mansion that were designed by Mrs. Enders herself.

Dr. Enders conveyed Enders Island to Mrs. Enders on January 16, 1932, and died on January 26, 1943, at the age of 77.  He left the sum of $100,000 (nearly $1.5 million in current dollars) to Mrs. Enders “for work, labor, and materials, in the repair, restoration, or improvement of the land and buildings known as Enders Island.”

Portrait of Alys Eders

By 1953, Mrs. Enders' health began to fail, and she set out to settle her affairs. Mrs. Enders' primary intention was to assure the preservation of her beloved estate on Enders Island well into the future. She determined that the best way to accomplish this was to gift the property to some religious institution to be used in carrying out its religious charitable use and not fall into secular hands. So representatives of Mrs. Enders approached the Episcopal Church and offered them Enders Island; however, the Episcopal Diocese required that Mrs. Enders also leave a sum for work, labor, and materials, in the repair, restoration, or improvement of Enders Island—as Dr. Enders had left for her. She declined their counteroffer and set about seeking a different religious institution for her gift.

Since Mrs. Enders had been raised a Catholic, she sent her representatives to meet with The Most Reverend Henry J. O’Brien, Bishop of the Archdiocese of Hartford, during the summer of 1953, who delayed making an immediate decision, knowing that his diocese would soon be divided into three, one being the Diocese of Norwich. Any ownership of Enders Island by the Catholic Church would then fall under the jurisdiction of this new diocese. Bishop-Designate Bernard Joseph Flanagan was formally appointed as the first Bishop of Norwich by Pope Pius XII on September 1, 1953. Bishop Flanagan, a native son of Vermont, was consecrated a bishop in Burlington, Vermont, on December 3, 1953, and formally installed in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on December 8, 1953.  He would go on to serve as Bishop of Norwich until 1959. The newly installed Bishop met with Mrs. Enders' representatives after his installation and did not see any use that the new Diocese of Norwich could make of Enders Island. However, he did foresee a way to help fulfill Mrs. Enders’ wish.

Portrait of Bishop Flanagan

Prior to his appointment by the Pope, Bishop Flanagan had served as secretary to Bishop Edward Francis Ryan and chancellor of the Diocese of Burlington. During his years in Burlington, he had established what would become a life-long friendship with Father Jeremiah T. Purtill, SSE, a member of the Society of St. Edmund—an order of priests and brothers who foster spiritual renewal, evangelization