This is an update of a previous post… about the Allée of St. Joseph at Manresa House of Retreats in Convent, LA. This allée of 100-plus-year-old oaks is located on the levee side of the east bank Mississippi River Road (Hwy. 44). It’s directly across the highway from the main building (St. Mary Hall) and expansive grounds of the Manresa House of Retreats. You can read a detailed history of Manresa in my blog post on the Jefferson College Oak. Manresa is just upriver from the parish business offices in Convent, the Parish seat of St. James the Baptist Parish.
Manresa was originally founded as the “College of Jefferson” in 1830 by a group of wealthy French Creoles, headed by Louisiana’s ninth governor, Andre B. Roman. Prior to the Civil War, many wealthy Louisiana planters’ sons enrolled at Jefferson College to receive a classical education. The main building, with its Greek-revival design, survived the Civil War as a barracks for federal troops. The college was purchased in 1864 by Valcour Aime, estimated to be the wealthiest man in Louisiana at the time. He donated the property and buildings of Jefferson College to the Catholic Marist Fathers who again operated the facility as a college. In 1931, Jesuit priests took over the school and have maintained it since as a retreat facility for men.
The allée was planted around 1830 at about the time the main building was constructed around 1830; the largest tree in this alley is approximately 22’ in circumference. The allée is off the beaten routes of most tourists and is known mainly to locals, to retreat participants who come to Manresa devotedly once a year or more, and to occasional travelers passing along Highway 44 in search of restaurants or bridges to cross to the more trafficked west bank River Road.
Manresa is the site of ongoing non-denominational retreats for men hosted by Jesuit priests who own the once antebellum college. The ambiance of the old trees and the contemplative silence of the retreat participants seems to create an atmosphere of introspection. I’ve made some of my favorite oak images under the limbs of this allée.
If you visit, you may see men walking the grounds on retreat, where they observe silence and reflect on their lives for several days at a time. The alley is named after St. Joseph (husband of Mary mother of Jesus). A second, younger allee, less than 50 years old, is just a few hundred feet upriver from the older alley. And there’s a shorter allée behind the main building with trees that appear to be as old as those in this allee.
The Jesuits (Society of Jesus) are a Catholic order of priests founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1540. He composed the Spiritual Exercises to help others follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. The men who attend retreats at Manresa are asked to meditate or contemplate on aspects of the Christian faith and to use their time away from the “clamor and clutter of their daily lives” to listen more closely to God’s individual message to each of them.
Manresa is a private facility, but visitors can walk among the trees on the riverside of the grounds.