Br. Kevin Kriso, ofm, reflects on the expansion of the Mountain’s ministry one year into the drastic social changes necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like every religious and spiritual organization, COVID-19 has radically altered the life and ministry Of Mt. Irenaeus. Starting in March 2020, we had to turn away visitors who normally came for Mass or retreat. Our ministry with students from St. Bonaventure University also changed radically when the curriculum went all online and the students had to leave campus. However, there was a silver lining to this enforced and sudden solitude. 

We could have focused solely on practical questions such as, “How long will this abnormal situation last?” or “How do we hold on until things return to normal?” Instead we asked, “What is God calling us to do? How do we minister under these circumstances? What is the essence of what we offer?”

We have been using electronic media, such as podcasts, Instagram, an online newsletter and Facebook to share the Gospel for a long time. But now Zoom and Facebook Live have allowed us to reach, in real time, people who cannot be physically present. And we have even moved beyond that. A wonderful group of talented and committed people have jumped on board with us to actively pursue new creative ways to participate in and shape our ministry.

One of our more recent adventures was a live-streamed, three-hour Advent retreat on Dec. 12. This was our first attempt at live streaming an event. We had a live prayer service in our Chapel followed by setting up the Christmas tree, building an outdoor wreath and receiving prayer petitions. We spoke each petition aloud and put an ornament on the tree for each prayer.

Because our first live stream went well, we decided to live stream a New Year’s Eve Prayer and Adoration Service from the Chapel. Sixty people joined us online and many others viewed a recording of it on New Year’s Day. After this tumultuous year, many people told us this quiet, contemplative way of praying out 2020 and to praying in 2021 was exactly what they needed. They need contemplation.

In addition, the need to grow through the events of this year led to some new Mountain outreach via Zoom meetings. These include more “Mountain in the Home” electronic gatherings; a prayer and discussion gathering by, for and with young SBU alumni; and a powerful racism discussion group to help understand, admit to, listen, share and speak about racism.

We use a booklet called “Come and See” with our student leaders which states, “Making a new beginning is essential to ourselves and the world we live in. New beginnings are the grounds, the very fertilizer of new relationships, the opportunity to work in new ways and find our giftedness for the direction in which life calls us, as we begin to make a contribution for others. The Mountain is committed to the renewal of the Church and the world.”

This pandemic has helped us to remember why Mt. Irenaeus started in the first place, and to be creative about how to continue with our mission of making contributions to others and renewal of the Church and the world.

–Br. Kevin Kriso, ofm