The Golden Age
The evening of March 9, 1956, was clear, cold and Lenten. The Bowl
looked as it had since the first snow back in November. Stockbridge
Mountain stood out against the faded blue winter sky, its long flank
mottled with snow patches and the black of jutting ledges. The snow
from several recent snow storms lay out over the frozen lake, bright
in the weak sun, but dull and gray in the distance down by the island
—F. X. Shea, S.J., “The Shadowbrook Fire,”
SJNEews, December 1973
It was about half past midnight, and Father Bill Carroll thought he smelled smoke. But he had been wrong before—last year he smelled something burning in the middle of the night, but the house had been searched and no evidence of a fire found—and maybe he was wrong again. Actually a second search, four days later that year, had discovered a hidden beam in the ceiling of the scholastics' toilets that had been smoldering for four days. But Bill Carroll had a tendency to be nervous anyway. Several years before, he and Father Stephen Mulcahy had been badly smashed up in an auto accident and both now lived conscious of the possibility that they could die at any moment.
They were among 16 priests in a community of 127, including priests, 100 scholastics—novices and juniors in their college courses— and 11 coadjutor brothers at Shadowbrook, the New England Province novitiate in Lenox, in the lovely Berkshire Mountains. Once dubbed the “largest family home in America,” former summer “cottage” of Andrew Carnegie, the sprawling Tudor castle estate, with its own farm and livestock, was in its last years as a Jesuit house, and fundraising had begun to build something more up-to-date. In fact, the house was a fire trap.