Located on 45 acres of land in Ronkonkoma is a place of great stillness and beauty. The Convent of Our Lady of the Cenacle is a retreat for all who feel the need to break away from the daily rush. It is also a very interesting piece of Long Island history. The land was donated to the Cenacle by none other than Maude Adams, one of Long island’s most interesting residents.
Born November 11, 1872, Maude Ewing Adams Kiskadden seems fated to have been an actress from day one. She was born in Utah to a Mormon family. Her mother was an actress, and she often brought baby Maude with her onstage. People soon began to fall in love with her. In no time, “Little Maudie” made a name for herself as the reigning child actress on the west coast at the time. She would later become one of the most well- known and well-loved Broadway actresses of the Victorian Era.
She is described as having an almost pixie-like look to her, and she proved prodigious at learning her lines at a very young age. Our own Maude Adams was the very first to play Peter Pan in America, though another actress had the role first in London. The role suited her onstage persona perfectly.
Offstage however, Maude considered her time private. With the money she earned from her starring role as Lady Babbie in the Broadway play "Little Minister", also written by Barrie, author of Peter Pan, she was able to buy a large chunk of farmland in Ronkonkoma called "Sandy Garth". The home she purchased on 80 acres of farmland in 1900 had a century earlier been built by one of the Smithtown “Smiths”. The Smiths were a prominent family on Long Island back in the day. A few years and purchases later, the land had grown to span hundreds of acres. It was here that Maude lived, or rather hid, for over 20 years.
Maude valued her private time very highly. She is quoted as saying “I don’t see why an actress must give her personality to the world, though it seems to be expected, and those who currently investigate her private life are not always careful how they use their information.” Maude traveled incognito and refused many social engagements, preferring her farm and her dogs for company. She was also very fond of riding and of the small artificial lake by her house. In fact, there is one incident where a group from New York rode across Sandy Garth hoping for a sight of Lady Babbie, much like fans of modern day actresses do today. Maude actually hid behind a tree until they were gone. It seems that while she was willing to give her soul to performing on stage, the giving stopped when the curtain went down.
Maude gave in other ways. When she learned that the St. Regis Cenacle in New York City was overcrowded, she arranged for the donation of the property to the sisters in 1922. This would become what is now the Cenacle in Ronkonkoma. Maude felt she owed them a debt after the sisters helped her through a breakdown in 1919.
The Cenacle today contains a few buildings including Maude's former guest house, by the lake she enjoyed so much, as well as a much larger Novitiate building. Maude Adams is buried in the same cemetery as the sisters of the Cenacle. Part of Maude Adams' property was sold in 1953 by the Cenacle to house what is now the Sachem High School and Junior High School.
Maude continued her acting career until very late in life, even considering movie roles in the end. though nothing ever materialized beyond a 12-minute screen test. Walking the grounds of her former home, one can easily see what lured Maude Adams to the area. Maude is once quoted as saying, “I do think Spring is more lovely in Long Island than in any place I know.” Though Maude Adams died on her other property in Onteora Park on July 17, 1953, she was buried with her longtime friend and personal secretary Louise Boynton, back at Sandy Garth in Ronkonkoma, Long Island. It is there that memories of her are so fondly cherished, not only by the sisters of the Cenacle but by Peter Pan lovers and children-at-heart everywhere.