The Allée of St. Joseph, Manresa House of Retreats

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.

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Allée of St. Joseph, view from mid-allée toward levee, east row of oaks

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.

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Allée of St. Joseph, view from mid-allée

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.

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The southern end of the allée with a statue of St. Joseph and the Christ child with the Mississippi River levee in the background.

 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.

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Three oaks near the front of the St. Joseph Allée with the St. Ignatius House residence.

Manresa is a private facility, but visitors can walk among the trees on the riverside of the grounds.

Jefferson College Oak, Convent, LA

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Jefferson College Oak, view looking upriver toward the property line

I recently located two historic live oaks that are in the 30-foot-plus girth size and have never been registered with the Live Oak Society.  This blog entry focuses on the one whose history I was able to partially piece together.

The first oak, which I’ll call the “Jefferson College Oak” for the purpose of this blog, has a circumference of 32 feet 1 inch, and is located on the upriver property line of the Manresa House of Retreats, located in Convent, Louisiana, on the east bank Mississippi River road (Hwy. 44).

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Black-and-white infrared photo of oak, view toward River

Convent, originally named Baron when it was first settled between 1722 and 1729, has been the parish seat of St. James the Baptist Parish since 1869. It’s an old historic town that today has only a few hundred residents.

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Oak – view toward Manresa Retreat grounds

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.  These founders wished to provide an intellectual foundation for their sons and heirs and so the College of Jefferson reflected their views and values toward architecture, gentlemanly instruction, and secular liberal arts studies. These wealthy Creole founders’ views mirrored those found in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Paris.* They were not the same views as those in the American colonies of the northeast. In the words of the founders, they wished to establish an institution of higher learning “where our children will find the means of completing their course of studies without leaving their native land.”


Library of Congress 1938 photo of Jefferson College’s main building

Jefferson College was chartered in 1831 and opened its doors in February of 1834 with 62 students, comprised primarily of the sons of wealthy Louisiana planters. In 1842, the main building was destroyed by fire and though rebuilt, the college never reached its potential. It closed in 1848 and the buildings were sold at a sheriff’s sale. It reopened again briefly between 1853 and 1856 as “Louisiana College.” Then, in 1860, when on the verge of collapse, it was purchased and saved by Louisiana’s wealthiest sugarcane planter, Valcour Aime, who had supported the school from its beginnings.

Aime had a chapel added on the downriver side of the main building, supposedly to honor his only son, Gabriel, who had died of yellow fever in 1854. Between 1862 and 1864, the school was occupied by Federal troops, and in 1864, Aime transferred the property to the Marist Fathers of France, who reopened and renamed the school, “St. Mary’s College of Jefferson” that same year. It operated until 1927. Then, in 1931, the Jesuit Fathers of New Orleans purchased the college and renamed it Manresa House of Retreats, a non-denominational Jesuit retreat center for men.

*Much of the information about Jefferson College referred to here was obtained from the website, “America’s Lost Colleges”