St. Mary’s by-the-Sea Retreat House, operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph at Cape May Point, N.J., will close permanently, it was announced Feb. 5

A large beach-side retreat house run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill for more than a century will close permanently, the sisters announced Feb. 5.

Offering sweeping views of the ocean and cool breezes at Cape May Point, N.J., St. Mary by-the-Sea has been operated as a retreat for the sisters and laity since 1909.

The sisters had intended in 2016 to continue running retreats through this year at least. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, programs were cancelled for 2020 and 2021, so the congregation made “the heartbreaking and difficult decision to close the facility,” according to a statement.

“Thousands have been part of this holy history, and St. Mary’s has been blessed by the generosity and love of staff, volunteers, and retreatants,” the statement read. “The Sisters of St. Joseph, our associates in mission, sisters of other congregations, clergy and our lay brothers and sisters have encountered God in this sacred place and have also been a prayerful presence to the Cape May Point community.”

The sisters had undertaken a planning process that “identified the need for the divestment” of St. Mary’s property.

Although the congregation has not indicated whether it would sell the house and its beachfront location,

because of the sisters’ “congregational commitment to care for Earth,” they intend to “return this land to nature rather than use it for further development.”

The sisters are planning a future ritual for closing the home to “celebrate the sacredness of our retreat house.”

(Read an extensive history of the retreat house and learn more at its website.)

A view of St. Mary’s by-the-Sea from the water shows the iconic Cape May Light House nearby.