About 1860 a Mr. Browne sold the property on which Mount Manresa stands to Louis H. Meyer, one of the first presidents of the Staten Island Savings Bank. Mr. Meyer joined the exclusive group of the wealthy who established Staten Island estates, earning them the name of the “Staten Island Barons.” The then 20-acre parcel contained a square brick house with a mansard roof that he named Fox Hill Villa. The large double house contained more than 20 bedrooms and had a dining room that could seat 60. Mr. Meyer created vistas on the property to see New York Harbor. He sub--drained and surface drained the property. Mr. Meyer 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.
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. Mr. Finlay had learned of the lay retreat movement in Europe and hoped to replicate its success in the United States. The Provincial agreed and assigned Fr. Terence J. Shealy, S.J. to the “management and details of this work.” Fr. Shealy was a lecturer at Fordham University’s School of Law. On May 20, 1909, Fr. Shealy proposed a plan to establish retreats to Archbishop Farley of New York. Fr. Shealy became the founder of the retreat movement in the United States.
In 1911 Fr. Shealy saw the Fox Hill Villa and decided that the place was ideal for his purposes. He and his retreat league founded the first retreat house in the United States for the laity here, naming 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.) Fr. Shealy offered the first retreat at Mount Manresa on September 8, 1911.
Mount Manresa is now a 10-acre site located North of the Staten Island Expressway and West of Fingerboard Road. The main drive circles past the Water Tower, the oldest structure on the property. It is now a hollow brick structure with plants growing from the top of the tower. It was constructed after 1860 and was part of an artesian well system.
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.
The property also includes a lower valley with many mature Tulip trees, a house for the caretaker, as well as the grotto. A path leads from the parking area to the grotto and is landscaped as a shady escape. Behind Shealy Hall the hill continues upward. The steps pass a set of retaining walls reputed to be the remnants of green houses or cold cellars. 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 and Sacred Heart Chapel were completed in 1926 as the first structures expressly built for retreats. They are slated roofed, brick buildings, with stone trim. 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. 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 9 foot by 12 foot average of the rooms leaves them relatively small, but appropriate for a retreat experience. The building retains the original steam heating system. The wood trim, the floors, and the design of the rooms all remain as when they were built. An elevator was added where the passage from the chapel connects to Shealy. The third floor had been an apartment, but is now open space again. The addition of ceiling fans and thermal windows has made the rooms more comfortable.
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. This building has 30 bedrooms, two communal bathrooms, and two shower rooms. The attic is unfinished. The basement has a lounge, two small conference rooms, and a lavatory. The rooms in Founders are slightly larger, but the hall ways lack the wood floors and trim that make Shealy aesthetically pleasing.
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. The building has a dining room which can seat 120, a lounge that can accommodate 100 people, two chapels, five offices, two conference rooms that can accommodate 50 people, a smaller board room, a guest room, and six bathrooms spread over three floors. Because of the way it is situated into the hill the top most level appears from the interior to be at ground level as does the middle level on the other side of the house. This building looks more modern than do Shealy and Founders.
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.
Mount Manresa did suffer a fire in August of 2003. Shealy Hall suffered water and smoke damage. Fortunately within six months all the rooms were back in service. Through capital initiatives Mount Manresa has raised funds to restore the roofs on Shealy and Founders Halls. Current plans call for the pointing of these buildings and the replacement of lintels. Through grants a terrace will be added to the back of Bruno Hall. A potential grant will allow Mount Manresa to upgrade heating and air conditioning systems.