The History and Landscape of Mount Manresa is at RISK of being destroyed by developers! Once it is gone, it is gone…FOREVER.
- Mount Manresa is a ecological treasure for our neighborhood and all Staten Island, located at 239 Fingerboard Road, Staten Island, NY 10305.
- The hills of Mount Manresa were formed 20,000 years ago during the last ice age.
- The natural landscape of Mount Manresa contains very old rare Oak and Tulip Trees that have grown to great heights.
- Many wild animals (reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals) find refuge in this rural oasis. Two deer were recently spotted and photographed on property.
- The beautiful steep hillside facing the north contain a rare concentration of very tall old trees.
- A grotto and a valley extends beyond the base of the hill an a very rare 19th Century brick tower stands on the property.
- Mount Manresa was founded by the Jesuits in 1911 and is the oldest retreat in America. Over 15,000 people visited annually.
- In the lower valley there is the Sacred Heart Grotto. It is constructed of iron ore brought from Grymes Hill and Dongan Hill in Staten Island.
- Shealy Hall and Sacred Heart Chapel were completed in 1926.
- Sacred Heart Chapel follows a country church design with unusual stenciling on the wood beams of the ceiling, reputed to be of (Canadian) French Indian design.
History of Mount Manresa
About the Property:
20 Acres of land was purchased in 1860 by Louis H. Meyer, one of the first presidents of the Staten Island Savings Bank. Mr. Meyer. He built a square brick house over 20 bedrooms and a dining room that could seat 60, and a mansard roof that he named “Fox Hill Villa.” Mr. Meyer created vistas on the property to see New York Harbor. He sub–drained and surface drained the property and imported various trees and shrubs from Europe. As there was no water supply, he sank an artesian well, built a water tower, and constructed large cisterns. He also constructed greenhouses for tropical fruit. Louis Meyer had a grotto built on the North face of the hill. He produced Shakespearean plays in this grotto. After the death of Louis, and his wife Anna, Fox Hill Villa fell into disrepair and became a boarding house.
How it became Mount Manresa
In 1909 Mr. Sidney Finlay, Secretary of the Xavier (High School, NY, NY) Alumni Society petitioned the Provincial of the New York Province of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Joseph Hanselman, S.J., to establish a retreat house in the United States.The Provincial assigned the project to Fr. Terence J. Shealy, S.J. Fr. Shealy was a lecturer at Fordham University’s School of Law. Fr. Shealy became the founder of the retreat movement in the United States.1911 Fr. Shealy saw the Fox Hill Villa and He and his retreat league founded the first retreat house in the United States. He named the facility Mount Manresa. (Manresa is a town in Spain at which St. Ignatius Loyola, the Founder of the Jesuits, developed a method of spiritual retreats.) The first retreat at Mount Manresa on September 8, 1911.
Mount Manresa Property Today
Today, Mount Manresa is now a 15-acre site located North of the Staten Island Expressway and West of Fingerboard Road. The Water Tower is the oldest structure on the property. It is now a hollow brick structure with plants growing from the top of the tower.
In the lower valley there is the Sacred Heart Grotto. It is constructed of iron ore brought from Grymes Hill and Dongan Hill in Staten Island.
There is a plateau with pines and fruit trees and a view into New York Harbor. Under the plateau is a large, constructed cavern, possibly that had held water. In the wooded sides of the hill there are remnants of a cobble stone road.
Shealy Hall has two full floors, a partial basement, a small third floor office area, and an unfinished attic. The building has 44 bedrooms, 14 water closets, and eight showers. The building retains the original steam heating system, wood trim, the floors, and the design of the rooms all remain as when they were built.Sacred Heart Chapel follows a country church design with unusual stenciling on the wood beams of the ceiling, reputed to be of (Canadian) French Indian design.
A brick passage way connects the chapel to Shealy. The passage way includes stain glass windows transported from the old Jesuit Novitiate, now the Culinary Institute of America, in Poughkeepsie, NY.
Founders Hall was completed in August of 1950. Care was taken to match the exterior of Shealy Hall with a slate roof, brickwork, and stone trim.
In 1963 the original mansion, Fox Villa, was taken down. In 1964 the Bruno Building (then called the Men of Manresa building) went up. This is a brick building with wood trim painted blue grey with an asphalt shingle roof.
With the erection of the Bruno Building a new driveway was laid on the North side of the Fingerboard Road property line. The original drive and circle to the mansion were removed. In the 1990’s this drive and circle were restored and a gazebo erected on the circle.
Next to the drive a meditation garden had been installed. Smaller gardens have been added in various locations to enhance the visual appeal of the property.
In 2002 a benefactor provided funding to sink a well behind Shealy Hall, to provide irrigation for the gardens. In 2003 the same benefactor provided funding to begin an irrigation system. The benefactor hoped to ensure the care of the landscape and keep Manresa free of constraints from the City water system for it irrigation needs.
The property has been a haven for the community. It is a place of meditation and peace in a rapidly developing Island. This is WHY we have to SAVE IT!