Our Mountain life is rich in history dating back 30+ years. Our history is steeped in collaboration between men, women, ordained and the ordinary!
How It Began
The seeds for Mt. Irenaeus began in 1971 when Dan Riley, ofm, and Gervase White, ofm, led an off-campus retreat for some St. Bonaventure University students. That sparked a conversation between Fr. Dan and Irenaeus Herscher, ofm, the librarian at St. Bonaventure, about creating a space away from the daily bustle of campus life for retreats and prayer.
By 1981, an advisory board was formed followed by the official incorporation as a not-for-profit corporation with the original trustees Dan Riley, ofm, J. Michael Shane and Clarence M. Schaffner. The name “Mt. Ireneaus” was given in 1983 in memory of Fr. Irenaeus Herscher, ofm. Fr. Irenaeus was a fixture at St. Bonaventure. Appointed assistant librarian in 1934, he became head librarian in 1937 and held that position until 1970. He continued as librarian emeritus until his death in 1981.
Building the Vision
The Mountain in Collins Hall on Union Street in Allegany, down the road from St. Bonaventure’s campus, with 10-week summer sessions. On Nov. 14, 1984 the board purchased 207 acres of land for the retreat in West Clarksville, N.Y. The next year, Dan Riley, ofm, and Dan Hurley, ofm, took up temporary residence at the site with two summer interns. That began Students for the Mountain and the tradition of summer residents sleeping in tents during the summer months, a tradition which continues with current Summer Companions.
The first cabin built was Sunrise Cabin followed by the St. Joseph Hermitage, thanks to a gift from the Holy Name Providence, and St. Clare in the Meadow, through the help of Rob Granger and BOCES of Belmont.
The first decade of The Mountain closed out with the dedication of Holy Peace Chapel by Bishop Edward Head of Buffalo. It also brought Joseph Kotula, ofm, to full-time residence at Mt. Irenaeus.
Establishing the Foundation
In 1990, Holy Peace Friary was established with three friars as the core community of Mt. Irenaeus – Dan Riley, ofm, Dan Hurley, ofm and Joe Kotula, ofm. In 1991, Louis McCormick, ofm, joined the friar community.
Cabins and trails continued to expand on the land, including the building of La Posada and Juniper Hermitage.
The Mountain’s signature common house, the House of Peace, began construction in 1994 and was dedicated on Sept. 23, 1995.
The 1990s saw the beginning of several programs, including the first of four annual Assisi Pilgrimages which included an intergenerational group of students and primary stakeholders of Mt. Irenaeus. The decade also saw the beginning of the Mountain Companion ministry with Holly Schubert the first lay minister in residence and the beginning of Men’s Overnight retreats.
The decade closed with an immense honor from Holy Name Province as Minister General Giacomo Bini, ofm, and Definitor General, Sean Collins, ofm, visited the Mountain for prayer on Sept. 23, 1999.
Growing the Future
To continue with the mission of Mt. Irenaeus, the Mountain Board of Trustees announced the start of its first endowment campaign on Oct. 20, 2001. Later that year, the inaugural Mountain Auction raised $25,902. The auction has become a staple of Mountain fundraising including special twists. In 2008 Fr. Dan Hurley’s blueberry pie sold for $900 at the Mountain Auction while in 2013 Transitus Ale, home-brewed by Fr. John Coughlin, ofm, sells for $750 at the Auction.
The community grew with the addition Bob Struzynski, ofm, in 2005, Kevin Kriso, ofm, in 2008 and John Coughlin, ofm, in 2011. The Mountain also added more permanent structure to its daily operations with Mike Kasperski as business coordinator and Mary Schlosser comes on as the coordinator of development and volunteers.
As Mt. Irenaeus expanded its reach and its ministry, the need for an executive director emerged. In 2016 Mike Fenn became the first to hold that position.
But as The Mountain has grown, so came and went our dear friends. In March 2010, Dan Hurley, ofm, died at the age of 90. In June 2013, Bob Struzynski, ofm moved to St. Anthony Friary in Butler, N.J. and passed away in December.
In 2014, John Coughlin, ofm was reassigned to Catholic Center at the University of Georgia while Kevin Kriso, ofm, became Guardian of Holy Peace Friary.
In 2016 a new group emerged titled the Council for Spirit and Life. Its role is to ensure that the Manner of Life and Ministry is immersed in all that we do. As the Mountain looks at other ways of sustainability over time, this council is critical to ensuring the spirit continues on in all that takes place both at the Mountain and the life lived “in the Valley.”