MT. LORETTO’S ROCK SCULPTURES

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Father John C. Drumgoole (1828-1888) made the care of homeless and destitute children his life’s work, founding Mount Loretto on Staten Island’s south shore in 1882:

Fr. Drumgoole was a great innovator in the field of childcare. The layout of the Mission was designed to provide plenty of light and air to each resident so as to avoid the spread of influenza and tuberculosis, which was common in the tenements of the day. Fr. Drumgoole felt that the general environment of the City at the time was a great threat to younger children, so he sought out a more rural setting. He looked to the Borough of Staten Island and found a farm for sale that must have reminded him of his earliest years in County Longford, Ireland. With the purchase of this and several adjacent lots, Fr. Drumgoole founded Mount Loretto, named as a tribute to the Sisters who accompanied him there to teach the children on a completely self-sufficient farm. Mt. Loretto  

Bus: S78 to Sharrott Avenue or Page Avenue.

WAYFARING MAP: MOUNT LORETTO

The school, as well as the Church of Sts. Joachim and Anne*, are still going strong today, offering care for developmentally disabled children and foster children from Staten Island. The church, and its adjacent cemetery, are worth a visit. Today, though, on a sunset visit, we’re by the southern limit of the Mt. Loretto property, a mile of shoreline adjoining Raritan Bay purchased from the Catholic Archdiocese by the Trust for Public Land and New York State in 2000 and converted to public space. As you’ll see that might be one of the single greatest accomplishments of the Pataki administration. But I digress.

*The church appears in The Godfather, filmed in 1972; the church burned down the following year, but was subsequently rebuilt retaining the spire.

 

Two roads, Cunningham and Kenny Roads, trail off Hylan Boulevard south toward the bay. Along Cunningham Road we see a couple of rusting remnants, as well as some bare patches in the grass just off the road. Could something have been here?

 

Indeed….St. Elizabeth’s Building, an orphanage that was part of the Mount Loretto complex, seen here in evocative photos by Shaun O’Boyle, home for thousands of parentless girls, burned down March 6, 2000… just after the State took title to the land. It would have made a picturesque sight for joggers, cyclists and walkers, but it had been abandoned at the time for years and would not have been open to the public. Had it stood till now, would it have been razed or converted to condominiums? It was originally constructed in 1888.

 

One extant remnant on the orphanage grounds is this stone shrine

 

The new park overlooks Raritan Bay atop 85-foot high cliffs (the tallest-facing ocean cliffs in the state) that go back to the age of dinosaurs. Binoculars provide a view of New Jersey’s Middlesex County and Sandy Hook regions. The spot remains popular for people who come to meditate or pray.

 

At the eastern edge of the park is another remnant, a pair of houses used by caretakers. One in particular features beautiful ashlar stone finish and is dated 1869, which made it older than the now-destroyed orphanage.

 

A short drive down Hylan Boulevard to Sharrotts Avenue and you will find a concrete fishing pier with sculpted fish to greet you. Ignore the pier, unless you want to fish in Raritan Bay, and head west along the beach and the tall cliffs above it.

 


The rocks, of course, are no natural formation. They have been painstakingly arranged like this by one Douglas Schwartz, an employee of the Staten Island Zoo. The rocks, in his words, “[provide] a spiritual side to the science of zoology.” He has been arranging the stones, which by now amount to over 150 sculptures, since 1996.

His work has become well known on the island, if not universally understood. Mr. Schwartz had the mixed pleasure of seeing his art splashed across the front page of The Staten Island Advance beneath the headline “Sophomoric Prank or Cult Activity?”

“What I made as a bench for the happy children to sit on, they saw as a sacrificial altar,” he said. NYTimes

The City Concealed [thirteen]

2011: Schwartz has been banned from creating further sculptures at Mount Loretto by NY State, fearing environmental damage. He has continued them on other Staten Island beaches.

9/15/07

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4 Responses to MT. LORETTO’S ROCK SCULPTURES

  1. Mary says:

    Thanks for the memories! My Mother worked as a secretary at Mt. Loretto and our house the last one on Sharrott Avenue. I remember when Mt. Loretto was a working farm and the fields pastureland for herds of cows. The stone building had I believe a lighthouse tower attachment…the photo you refer to as a caretaker’s cottage. It was a dramatic sight from Hylan Boulevard to view this stone home and tower which I believe was the residence of the Priest in charge of Mt. Loretto. I was working at Mt. Loretto, summer clerical job, when they filmed The Godfather. That was a magnificent Church and a tremendous loss when it burned down. I still remember the enormous marble carved altar, the exquisite stained glass windows…to go in that was an inspiration in and of itself

  2. David Rodriguez says:

    I want to take a moment to thank you for your kind words regarding Mount Loretto; I love the stone sculptures, I’ve never had a chance to see them in person, I hope to someday visit Mount Loretto as it currently sits.
    My memories will fill in all the blanks of the wonderful and challenging times I spent there in the 70′s; I love to look at the pictures and think of all the wonderful Nuns and other staff who help me grow to manhood; as well as all the friends that I’m still in contact with nearly 40 years later.
    God Bless You.

    David

  3. Veronica Donnellan Salinas says:

    I was sent to Mr. Loretto in 1957 after the death of my Mother. I was 6 years old. I lived there until July of 1958, when my Father took me (and my brother, Peter) back home to the Bronx. I can honestly say that I have no unpleasant memories! My Dad visited as often as his health would allow, and to this day I am grateful for the fond memories that I have. I was so much more fortunate than so many.

  4. Bob Merlano says:

    Both my parents were at Mount Loretta in the 1930s. They met their and after WWII they got married and raised 9 children. My mother (Jane Szczepaniak) was taken there when she was 10 with her two brothers (Casmire 14 & Joseph 12) in 1934 after their parents were killed. My father (Louis Merlano) arrived a few years later in 1937 at the age of 14. As we grew up, our parents always visited the Mount and would take us with them. I have great memories of the place my parents were raised. We are celebrating my Mother’s 90th birthday next week and I am doing a slide show with pictures of Mount Loretta in it. My Father passed in 2006 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery (he was a D-Day jumper with the 101st Airbourne). If it wasn’t for Mount Loretta my siblings and I probably would not be here today!

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