On the surface, it looks like an odd pairing – a 21-year-old woman who had just graduated from St. Bonaventure and was going to be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army – and four Franciscan Friars, living in community in rural Allegany County.
But in her two months as a Mountain Companion, Alyssa Magnuson found not only a meaningful experience for herself, but positively impacted life at Mt. Irenaeus.
“Being a Mountain Companion taught me how to coexist with people who are so different than myself,” Alyssa said. “Coming in as a fresh college graduate from St. Bonaventure, I was familiar with the community, but we had highly different social demands. Being a 21-year-old female, I kept a minimum of three pairs of shoes at the front door which is probably a little different than what they’re used to up here.”
The needs may have been slightly different, but there are universal aspects to life at the Mountain.
“Just as we had hoped, Alyssa brought a lot of youthful energy, enthusiasm, insight and vision to the Mountain community,” said Brother Kevin Kriso. “All people have similar needs, but each generation has a slightly different spin on life and Alyssa was able to help us to understand some of the needs of her generation as well as help people of her generation understand some of the timeless truths we try to live at the Mountain.”
Alyssa was a Mountain Companion from August through October and she quickly learned that her job was different from anything she had ever experienced before.
“There is a baseline of physical things –tasks accomplished here – but more than that, being a Mountain Companion was learning about community from the Franciscan perspective,” Alyssa said. “Being a college student, you’re involved in a dorm-room community. Being a Bonaventure alum, you’re part of the Bonaventure community forever. Preparing to join the Army, I’m part of a greater community there. But community being Franciscan is different and it’s so wonderful, so magical. I am so grateful I got to learn about it firsthand and experience firsthand what it means to be a Franciscan in community with other Franciscans.”
While Alyssa, and the other Mountain Companions, helped run daily operations during the summer months, the biggest task was finding a groove in that daily life.
“Sometimes navigating your role in it can be difficult. It doesn’t always fall naturally into place because these are not the roles we’re naturally used to filling in society,” Alyssa said. “They’re not the roles imagined by product-driven success or something that’s quantitative that you can say ‘how much did I produce this month?’ It pulls us out of where we’re comfortable. It’s easy to measure my value by the number of students I’ve recruited or number of product I output this month. This isn’t a place where that exists.
“So your value comes from you. Were you yourself? What did you being you bring to the table? And it’s scary at first, because there’s a fear – what if that’s not enough? What if what I bring to the table isn’t what anyone wants to think? And what I’ve learned here is that whatever you have to bring to the table is always more than enough. Finding it and believing it yourself is the hardest part, but also one of the most rewarding.”
The friar community at Mt. Irenaeus is now looking for 2020 August (or any month!) Companions to join in the manner of life and ministry at the Mountain. You can find more information on the Mountain Companion ministry here.