In our continuing pictorial documentation of Staten Island's Catholic institutions, today we'll look at the St. Francis seminary, now known as the St. Francis Center for Spirituality (!) Located in bucolic splendor at the highest point of Staten Island, on ritzy Todt Hill, I really have little information about it except that it was once a Franciscan seminary. One source says that it has been there since the 1800s, although the main building looks somewhat more recent. It once encompassed 24 acres of beautiful woodlands that are very conducive to spiritual introspection and inner peace, but with the modern lack of vocations, the land was put on the market in the 90s. Fearing the ugly, generic overdevelopment that plagues the rest of the island, our environmental groups made a stink and pressured the state into buying and preserving the land, while the Franciscans retained ownership of the buildings.
Some Franciscans still live there. One, a Father Ed Holden (not sure if he's still there), used to have a weekly column in the Advance in which he answered religious questions from correspondents. The questions always seemed scripted to me, and the subject matter was usually frivolous ("will my cat go to heaven?"), but sometimes he ventured into quite unorthodox territory (praising Martin Luther, saying we should accept homosexuality, etc.). I was always embarrassed by his column. Another Franciscan who lived there, Fr. Stephen Valenta, was indicted in April by a Texas grand jury on the charge of "compelling" an adult female relative to perform a sexual act on him. The charge sounds bogus though, as the priest is 85 years old and physically impaired. I have seen no updates on the story from our local rag. The Franciscans conduct some very nice programs which are open to the public, although I haven't attended any. I have been to midnight Mass at their beautiful chapel though and was very impressed by the facility. Here are some pictures: