Before the Bronx: How and Why MC Came to Riverdale 

Original photo of Manhattan College when it was first founded in Manhattan in 1853.
MANHATTAN.EDU/ COURTESY


By Rebecca Kranich, Assistant Social Media Editor

As Manhattan College celebrates 100 years in the Bronx, some in the Jasper community may ask: why is MC in Riverdale and not in the borough it’s named after? 

“When I first applied to Manhattan College, to be quite honest, I didn’t realize that it was in the Bronx,” Calissa McNeely, senior and student government president, said. 

At one point, it wasn’t. The roots of Manhattan College can be traced back to 1848, when the first Christian Brothers founded a parish school in the basement of St. Vincent’s Church on Canal Street in lower Manhattan.

Amy Surak, the director of archives and special collections at the college, explains that because of the popularity of the school, the Brothers decided to move uptown to the Manhattanville neighborhood only five years later in 1853.

“From the beginning, their school became popular,” Surak said. “When we moved up to 131st and Broadway, we occupied the mansion of a former governor of New York. It was like the suburbs.”

This new location provided the Brothers with the space for more dorms and facilities. The school’s name was changed to Manhattan Academy, and as its student body continued to grow, the curriculum followed. 

According to Brother Luke Salm, the academy “offered programs in the sciences and engineering while bolstering the offerings in philosophy, psychology and English literature.

By 1863, Manhattan Academy was granted a charter from the State of New York to become a college, and Brother Patrick Murphy became the first president of Manhattan College.

Over the next 60 years, the college’s facilities began deteriorating, yet, the brothers continued to educate regardless.

“The property became decrepit after a time. They [the Brothers] didn’t do well with upkeep,” said Surak. 

Collections from a memoir written by the class of 1923 — who graduated a full century before the current class of seniors — recount the conditions of the mansion. 

“In many areas, we didn’t have electric lights, only gas lamps. I remember one cold afternoon sitting around a red-hot pot-bellied stove studying Christian Philosophy with Brother Jasper,” wrote one student in his entry. 

However, the class of 1923 would be the last class to use the facilities in Manhattanville. The rapid development of New York City quickly forced the Brothers to move further uptown to the Bronx. 

“They moved out because they needed space, but the city encroached upon it,” said Surak. 

Nearly two centuries after the establishment of the college under Brother Patrick Murphy, the institution again has a Brother as president. 

Brother Daniel Gardner became the interim president of the college in July 2022 and previously served as assistant director of the Center for Graduate School Fellowship Advisement. He told The Quadrangle how Manhattan College hasn’t changed regardless of relocation or status. 

“I don’t think that it’s changed at all because I have always seen the college as a place that walks alongside students so that they can reach their fullest potential,” Gardner said. 

Within his six years of service to the college and ascent to the position as president, Gardner has helped students in many different capacities, fully embodying the spirit of the college as it leads students.

“Whether or not I was out there recruiting students, advising them towards the end of their journey with graduate schools, or planning how Manhattan can accompany people on their journeys, it’s all about how we enhance the journey for our students,” said Gardner.

Gardner states that the future of Manhattan College will align with the interconnected nature of the modern world, but the institution’s values will remain the same. 

“I think that we need to be people of the times. Pope Francis has constantly encouraged us to ensure that we are not separated from what’s happening in society,” said Gardner. “I don’t think that our values change, ever. Possibly the delivery system of the values changes as society grows and develops, but it’s always been the same sense. It’s about adjusting and adapting them to be meaningful in the modern world.”