Three Capuchin Franciscan friars reside in a large, century-old house on the western shore of Cayuga Lake. The property includes a boathouse on the lake, a dormitory behind the house and a large lawn dotted with trees. St. Fidelis Friary in Interlaken is well-known in the area for it’s scenic beauty, said Father William Winters, OFM Cap., one of the friars who lives there.
Father Winters is pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Ovid and St. Francis Solanus Parish in Interlaken, and each year St. Francis Solanus holds its annual chicken barbecue fundraiser on the friary grounds. The barbecue has been an Interlaken tradition since 1960 and draws several hundred people annually. Many of those people patronize the barbecue simply because they enjoy spending time on the friary grounds, Father Winters said.
The beauty of the friary and its grounds is not its only claim to fame, however, said Father Eugene O’Hara, OFM Cap., the friary’s superior and pastor of St. James Parish in Trumansburg. The friary and grounds also has a long and rich history that is sprinkled with well-known individuals from the past, he noted.
According to a 1965 newspaper article provided by Father O’Hara, the first building on what is now the friary grounds was built in 1838. That was eventually torn down, and the current friary building is 105 years old, Father Winters said.
In 1899, Herman Westinghouse purchased the property, remodeled it and made several additions, according to the newspaper article. Westinghouse’s brother, George, was the famous inventor responsible for the first automatic electric-block train signal, which was credited with saving many lives by preventing train wrecks. He also did a lot of work with alternating electric currents and even developed an alternating-current electric locomotive in 1905.
George Westinghouse used the barn behind his brother’s house as a workshop and made early improvements to many of his products there, according to the article. The manor supposedly housed a spacious ballroom with a winding staircase; four fireplaces; a dumbwaiter; and a walk-in safe.
“The Westinghouse family called their summer residence Grassmere until 1919, at which time Clara L. Westinghouse sold the place to a meat packer of Buffalo, named Edwin Klink,” according to the article. “In 1927 Mr. Klink sold it to Daniel Sheehan. Mr. Sheehan was a Democratic state committeeman and a personal friend of President (Woodrow) Wilson. In memory of his patron, he named the estate ‘Shadowlawn’ after President Wilson’s summer home in New Jersey.”
Between 1947 and 1951 the property changed hands several times as individuals attempted to make it into first a resort and later a sanitarium, according to the article. Both ventures failed, and in 1951 the Capuchin Franciscans purchased the property, and the building became St. Fidelis Friary.
Even now, however, more than eight decades after the Westinghouse family sold the property, it is still commonly known as the Westinghouse Estate, Father Winters said. When the Capuchin Franciscans purchased the property, they didn’t expect it to become a full-time residence for friars, he added.
“The original idea was to have a place of spiritual formation. It was never put to that purpose,” Father Winters said. “Instead it became a residence for priests who were serving in various ways in the diocese.”
Three friars — Father Winters, Father O’Hara and Brother Carmine Funaro, OFM Cap. — currently reside at St. Fidelis Friary, and a fourth may be on the way soon, Father Winters said. During the summer, Capuchin Franciscans sometimes visit the residence, staying in the dormitory building behind the friary. This building was built in the 1970s and is also occasionally used to house the friars’ families, he said.
“During the summer months the grounds are used by the friars and their families. Each family comes for a week. The Capuchin Youth Ministry also uses it,” Father O’Hara said.
The Capuchin Franciscans are a branch of the Franciscan Order, which was founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1209. The Capuchin Franciscan Order was founded in 1528, and Capuchin Franciscans have been in North America since the 17th and 18th centuries, when they served as military chaplains and missionaries working among the Native Americans. The Capuchin Franciscan Order was formally established in the United States in 1856, when two Swiss priests founded what in 1882 was recognized as the Province of St. Joseph on Mt. Calvary in Wisconsin. By 1950, this province had grown so large that it stretched from the Midwest to the East Coast and included New York state.
Since it became a friary in 1951, St. Fidelis Friary actually predates by one year the Province of St. Mary, to which the three friars residing there belong. In 1952 St. Joseph Province was divided in two, and the new Province of St. Mary included New York, the New England states and the mission territories of Mariana Islands and Ryukyu Islands. There are currently eight provinces and about 1,000 Capuchin Franciscan friars in North America, according to the Web site for the Capuchin Franciscan Friars of the Province of Mary at www.capuchin.net.