Padre Plaza honors Father Roger Giglio (1943-1990), founder of St. Benedict the Moor Community Center. A native of Woburn, Massachusetts, Father Giglio was ordained in 1970 and served as the director of the Christian Formation Retreat Center in Andover, Massachusetts. In 1974, he moved to New York to work as a chaplain at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. He left that position in 1985 to focus on the problems of alcoholism and drug addiction, establishing St. Benedict Center “to enable homeless men and women and children in the South Bronx to live fuller lives and to restore to them the dignity of productive citizens.” Father Giglio’s untimely death from cancer at the age of 47 was a great loss to the community, but St. Benedict continues to implement his vision.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s this park, located on 139th Street between Brook Avenue and St. Ann’s Avenue, was a vacant lot in the grip of drug dealers and other criminals. In 1992, the Parks Council, a parks advocacy group, chose the site for a Success Garden—an environmental learning center and community garden. With the cooperation of St. Ann’s church, St. Benedict Center, and AmeriCorps members, a landscape architect—using the designs of children from nearby P.S. 30—transformed an eyesore into a community treasure.
Today the plaza features a rustic bridge that spans a small pond “laboratory,” a gazebo, a pergola covered with grapevines, and several small gardens. London planetrees (Platanus x acerifolia) furnish the seating area with shade on hot summer days. It is a source of nature lessons for the schoolchildren and a community gathering place. In order to ensure the park’s survival, the Parks Council asked the City to transfer the land to Parks. Padre Plaza became Parks property in 1997.
In beautifying this section of the Bronx, the many contributors to the park’s development were following in the footsteps of Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816) whose family once owned this land. Morris, a leading American statesman of the Revolutionary period, was a knowledgeable gardener, and planted many trees and shrubs on the property. Some of the cypress trees (Cupressus dislictra) along Mill Brook were considered the finest in America. Nearby Cypress Avenue is a reminder of his efforts.
The names of the streets adjacent to Padre Plaza also conjure up the 19th century Bronx. Brook Avenue gets its name from Mill Brook, which formed the eastern boundary of Morrisania, as the Morris estate was known. The brook and its bucolic surroundings provided the setting for Charlotte Temple, a romantic novel by Susannah Rowson (1762-1824), portraying the tragic fate of a young English girl who follows a naval officer to New York. The book, published in 1790, was the most popular work of fiction during the early 1800s. Like most of the streams in the Bronx, Mill Brook eventually succumbed to urban development. The turn-of-the-century historian Robert Bolton wrote in 1905, “The brook has now been converted into a sewer and a main avenue is being constructed over the surface called Brook Avenue.”
St. Ann’s Avenue also has a connection with the Morris family. The street name is taken from St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, a New York City landmark that was dedicated upon completion to Ann Randolph Morris, the mother of Gouverneur. Many Morris family members were buried in its vaults.
Mott Haven, the neighborhood where Padre Plaza is located, became a part of the Bronx in 1841, when Jordan L. Mott (1798-1866) purchased 200 acres of Morrisania and named the land for himself. He built a large iron foundry on Third Avenue and persuaded other manufacturers to build factories on his property. Mott Haven continues to be an industrial area. Parks, the Parks Council, and the neighborhood groups that helped to create Padre Plaza, however, have supported retaining some of the open landscape that characterized the area 150 years ago.