Jubilarian Profile: Kevin Kriso Celebrates 25 Years as a Friar

Wendy Healy Friar News

This is the 14th in a series of profiles of Holy Name Province friars who are marking major anniversaries as Franciscans in 2015. The last article featured David Blake, OFM. Kevin and the other jubilarians commemorating 50 and 25 years of profession were honored by the Province on June 24. 

WEST CLARKSVILLE, N.Y. — After almost 20 years offering counseling and spiritual direction, Kevin Kriso, OFM, is happily enjoying a different type of ministry at Mt. Irenaeus, the Province’s mountain retreat in Western New York, where he has been stationed for the past seven years.

He finds his work with visitors and also with the students of nearby St. Bonaventure University, who often visit the Mountain, very fulfilling. “I connect what happens at Mt. Irenaeus with campus ministry at SBU,” said the friar, who is celebrating his silver jubilee this summer. “We help kids determine who they are and what they’re doing in life. It is very powerful and fun work.”

Kevin can be found at SBU most days, driving the 25 miles from Mt. Irenaeus to Allegany, N.Y., to be a visible presence on campus. “I wander around campus saying ‘hello,’” he said with a smile. His work with the students also includes helping at freshman orientation, working with summer interns, and assisting with spirituality and retreat components of campus ministry.

This type of ministry is new for Kevin, who has spent most of his 25 years as a friar serving as a counselor and managing the mounds of paperwork associated with patient-care.

Growing up on Long Island, N.Y., one of four children and the oldest boy, Kevin was part of a Catholic family. His life would be forever changed in 7th grade, when he lost his father to cancer. “It was a pretty formative experience,” he said. “It forced me to think at an early age about ultimate things, like where my dad was and if he was with God. I became religious at a young age.”

Joining the Franciscans
After attending a Catholic grammar school, Kevin went to public high school so his mother could save money to send him to college. He spent two years at the State University of New York at Geneseo before transferring to Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., where he met the Franciscans.

“When I met the friars, I said to myself, ‘I could do this,’” Kevin recalled. “I couldn’t see myself being a diocesan priest, but I could be a friar. The friars were human and humane, fun, nice and had a different spirit about them that I responded to.” He joined the college’s vocation program and kept in touch with Kevin Cronin, OFM, who was running HNP’s formation program at the time.

Kevin graduated from Siena with a bachelor of science in 1984 and spent the next three years working at a country club to pay off student loans. When his mother asked if he would continue working to help put his brothers through school, he did.

“My mom asked if I would do it, even though I knew I wanted to be a friar,” he explained. “So I put off being a friar for a little while to help my brothers go to school.” In 1987, he became part of an early form of the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry, and lived in community with others while serving at St. Francis House, a day shelter for the homeless in Boston.

He joined the friars as a postulant in 1988, professing his first vows as a Franciscan in 1990 in Brookline, Mass. While in formation, he earned a master’s in pastoral counseling in 1993 from Loyola University in Baltimore and completed his internship at St. Anthony Shrine’s Franciscan Counseling Service in Boston. One year later, he earned a master’s degree in theological studies from the Washington Theological Union and professed his final vows in New York City.

For his first assignment, he requested to return to the Franciscan Counseling Service, where he spent the next six years working with clients from the Shrine and the local community. While there, he earned a doctorate in pastoral counseling from Boston University in 1999. “Pastoral counseling is pulling together spirituality and counseling. It’s a holistic kind of counseling,” he said.

After becoming disillusioned with the large amount of paperwork associated with counseling, Kevin decided to take a break from this ministry and moved to Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Md., to work in the formation program.

“I requested the change because I was feeling the call to be more generative,” he said. “I wanted to pass on to students what I had received.”

Kevin enjoyed working with the friars in post-novitiate and accompanying them on their spiritual journeys. He found that he drew from his counseling work in helping the men.

In 2002, he was invited to return to St. Anthony Shrine because the sister who directed the counseling service was leaving. During the next year, Kevin would find himself having to close the service, which was no longer financially feasible to run.

Kevin then asked to be assigned to St. Francis of Assisi Parish on Long Beach Island, N.J., in 2003. He thought he could do good work at the St. Francis Counseling Center and knew several of the friars ministering there, including Kevin Daly, OFM, Stephen Kluge, OFM, Andrew Reitz, OFM, and John Ullrich, OFM. “I was looking for more of a home after living in bigger places,” he said.

For the next five years, he enjoyed working in the counseling center and at the food pantry. He also managed several parish programs, including marriage preparation and training volunteers who worked with children.

Again, feeling frustrated by the mounds of paperwork associated with a counseling service, Kevin went on retreat in Santa Fe, N.M., to discern his next ministry. “I was at a transition point,” he said. “I was doing counseling for 20 years and didn’t like it any more, but I knew a lot of money had been spent on my education. I felt caught.”

Moving to the Mountain
When he returned from Santa Fe, he attended a Provincial Chapter at SBU and visited Mt. Irenaeus, where then-guardian Daniel Riley, OFM, jokingly asked if Kevin would like to minister there. “I immediately asked him if there were any openings,” Kevin said, and there were. Several of the friars at the Mountain were aging, and someone was needed to work with the students and to strengthen the ties to SBU.

Fraternity has always meant a lot to Kevin, especially for a man who lost his father at a young age. “I was a kid with a lot of problems and the friars at Siena were very good to me,” he said. “I wanted to work with college students and I wanted to be able to give back.”

In his spare time, Kevin — now the guardian of the Mountain’s Holy Peace Friary — enjoys gardening and reading about natural history and “spiritual stuff.” He also enjoys being outside on Mt. Irenaeus’ many trails and watching SBU basketball games.

In addition, he visits his siblings, who live in California and Florida. His sister was able to attend his jubilee celebration in New York.

Kevin is glad to be a part of the Province because he values the friars’ optimism about life. He also likes that his brothers have “a healthy view of spirituality” and don’t subscribe to the “thou-shall-not-sin” theology. “We have a ‘God is good and let’s enjoy God with God’s people’ theology,” he explained.

“Everyone has a willingness to be helpful to people, and we take a strong pride in the things we’ve accomplished,” he said. “We also have a good camaraderie and a fraternity in mission.”

Kevin would like to be remembered as someone who helped people to think and be in touch with their own transformation and growth “to help them realize that we’re not living in a black-and-white world.”

He likes to remember a motto of the late Mychal Judge, OFM, who told Kevin early on: “If you do this life right, you’ll never be bored.”

— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer.

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