Friday, March 6, 2009

St. Charles Seminary/Mission Center

In our continuing series on Catholic institutions on Staten Island, we will now take a look at the former St. Charles seminary, now called the St. Charles Mission Center (whatever that means). Located in ritzy Todt Hill, the seminary is located on the palatial estate of famed architect Ernest Flagg. It was run by the Scalabrians, an order founded in 1887 to "maintain Catholic faith and practice among Italian emigrants in the New World". According to wikipedia, the seminary was operated from 1948 to 1966. The estate is also home to the Center for Migration Studies, a world-famous organization devoted to the study of international migration and immigration policy. Apart from that, I don't really have any more solid information, except that they host a modest Christmas sale every year and the buildings are spectacular. If anyone has more information, please leave a comment. Enjoy the pictures:

The entrance and guard house:


The main house and veranda:



The front view:


Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine:


Shrine to Jesus:


Lady of Lourdes statues in an old tower of sorts:


St. Jude statue. (Sorry, but the phrase "Beam me up, Jesus" keeps popping into my head):


Center for Migration Studies:


I'm not sure if the following buildings were part of the Flagg estate or the seminary but appearance and anecdotal evidence suggests that they were. This "chateau" is located directly across from the seminary:


An older person I know told me that in the 60s or 70s there was a swimming pool in the sunken area in front of the chateau. The local kids would sneak in there at night and sometimes get chased away by the seminarians.


This is my favorite structure and one which I'd love to explore. A medieval
tower on Staten Island:


18 comments:

Peter said...

I was one of those seminarians in the early 70s who "chased away" the local swimmers. We took their clothes one night. They pounded on the door and woke up the priests who made us give back their clothes. Ha. What fun memories from my youth. I never became a priest but St. Charles has always been a very important part of my life.

Peter said...

St. Charles Seminary operated at least into the early 1970s despite what Wikepedia may say. It was mostly a high school seminary. After graduation, the seminarians went to the Scalabrinian's Sacred Heart Seminary in Stone Park, Illinois outside of Chicago. While at St. Charles, the seminarians attended St. Francis Seminary for classes which was located on Todd Hill until it closed in 1970. After that the St. Charles seminarians attended St. Peter's High School for Boys for their classes. I became St. Peter's student council president in 1972 despite not being a native of Staten Island, but a seminarian from St. Charles, and whose home was Boston's Little Italy, the North End. Mr. Fodera, who is now the principal at St. Peter's was my favorite teacher. I have such fond memories of those days. I visited St. Charles in the early 80s and was sad to see that most of the land was sold and homes were built over what was once a very beautiful campus.

Staten Pilgrim said...

Thank you for giving us some great information, Peter. Let me ask you a question- were the "chateau" and the medieval tower part of the seminary or did they belong to someone else? Did you stay at the "chateau" or in the main Flagg house?

Peter said...

The chateau and tower were part of the seminary grounds. The seminarians lived in the brick building attached to the Flagg mansion. The chateau was used for guests but I'm sure that at one time it was used for seminarians.
The fire department use to let us borrow hoses each spring to wash down and fill the swimming pool in front of the chateau. It was a beautiful campus. The seminarians came from Scalabrian parishes throughout New York, New England, and Canada. Most of us were Italian-Americans, as the order was founded to work with Italian immigrants. Ironically, the only seminarians from my group to get ordained were non-Italians, Fr. Pat Murphy and Fr. Blaise Baron, both natives of Staten Island.
Peter

Peter said...

The chateau and tower were part of the seminary grounds. The seminarians lived in the brick building attached to the Flagg mansion. The chateau was used for guests but I'm sure that at one time it was used for seminarians.
The fire department use to let us borrow hoses each spring to wash down and fill the swimming pool in front of the chateau. It was a beautiful campus. The seminarians came from Scalabrian parishes throughout New York, New England, and Canada. Most of us were Italian-Americans, as the order was founded to work with Italian immigrants. Ironically, the only seminarians from my group to get ordained were non-Italians, Fr. Pat Murphy and Fr. Blaise Baron, both natives of Staten Island.
Peter

Joseph said...

I don't know what it's being used for now, but my wife recently went to a catered affair within the grounds. I drove through the place, and although there are a few cars parked here and there, no one answered any doors I knocked on or any bells I rung. Seems like such a waste of such a spectacular area. The church would do well to organize retreats there. The accommodations are already set up. Oh, by the way...you can pick up a plastic saint with holy water (I presume) by the Shrine of Lourdes.

Staten Pilgrim said...

It is used for retreats. I commented on one in this post: http://statenislandcatholic.blogspot.com/2009/01/weekend-recollection-or-collection.html
I criticized the pricey admission fee they were charging for a religious event.

I don't know how frequently things like that are held. Not much I would think. But that's just another example of how the Church just doesn't want to do anything around here. They just don't care.

Anonymous said...

I went to the seminary in the early 70's to explore priesthood. Brother Lou Calisto would pick us up in Long Island and take us to the week long stay. I went on several trips, I was about 14 years old. There was a Brother named Walter Mendoza who would make inappropriate sexual advances on myself and the other boys. I never became a priest.

Anonymous said...

The castle was a pump house for the pool.

joseph esposito said...

I'm a native Staten Islander from Dongan Hills. I remember playing on the grounds of the Flagg estate in the 1970's. My favorite part, besides the estate itself, was the old tower and the pool which was always empty, at least when i played there. Now it's completely filled in and nicely landscaped.

Fr Joe Collova said...

I came to Staten Island in 1966 on my way to the Scalabrini Novitiate further upstate. I swam in that huge pool and loved it. We also went to see the Twin Towers. It was all a fantastic experience. And yes, I am now a diocesan priest as well as five others who were there.

jeanie said...

St. Carles is still beautiful. I walk there for peace and to think. Rumor has it that greedy developers have it in their cross hairs. Perhaps if the Church would become more flexible and more understanding of human needs (like if priests could marry) St. Cahrles would be alive again with young men exploring the priesthood.I have hope. Jeanie

Staten Pilgrim said...

Jeanie- come on, get real. Do you truly believe that the abolition of clerical celibacy is the answer? Lack of Faith is the problem, not the sexual longing of potential seminarians. Are we to believe that with God, all things are possible...except being celibate and devoting your life to him? Millions of men and women have managed to do it throughout history. Is this generation somehow of a different mental or physical order? The Church has preached a watered down Gospel over the past few decades, so why should we be surprised that a watered down generation of Catholics have produced so few priests?

Anonymous said...

I am not a priest but was a seminarian at St. Charles back in the late 50's-early 60's. The "Chateau" referred to had been a "stable for horses" on the original Flagg estate. It was converted into rooms for the college seminarians with a small chapel on the ground floor. In the main building was a beautiful chapel. The priests and new seminarians (novices)also lived there. The pool was in regular use by seminarians and visiting priests every summer and we seminarians cleaned it ourselves. It was refilled using the "tower" and took quite a while.

Staten Pilgrim said...

That's really interesting, Anonymous. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

There is a truly miraculous story behind the building of the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes. We had 30k. Gallons shipped to Staten Island from Lourdes, France for those who were too sick, poor or elderly to make the Pilgrimage thanks to Father Henry Gentile, Brother Lou Calisto and James Kellet.

Staten Pilgrim said...

Thirty THOUSANDS gallons of water from Lourdes??? That is incredible!

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to learn the whereabouts of a statue of Our Lady that was given to a seminary on Staten Island any time between the late 1940's and possibly early 1960's. It was the Madonna of Caravaggio. Does this ring any bells? Thank you for the nice forum. -Anonymous with Staten Island roots