This is the fifth in a series of profiles of HNP friars commemorating anniversaries of Franciscan profession in 2016. They will be honored by the Province at a special Mass on June 23. The last issue of HNP Today featured Vianney Justin, OFM, of Buffalo.
WEST CLARKSVILLE, N.Y. — With an ever-present smile and infectious joy of Christ, Daniel Riley, OFM, has been building and sustaining Franciscan communities for the past 50 years. Now, he is commemorating half a century as a friar.
Dan is one of five children born to the late James and Jane Dalton Riley in a suburb of Rochester, N.Y. Growing up near Lake Ontario, much of his childhood was spent outdoors enjoying the Finger Lakes region. Dan’s parents provided a strong foundation of faith, and he remembers following his father, with his brothers, to First Friday devotion when they were little boys.
After completing high school, Dan initially considered two Jesuit colleges, but a summer visit to the St. Bonaventure University campus with his parents led him to enroll at the Allegany school as a pre-med major. He followed two uncles who were Bonaventure graduates.
“I had a great love for doctors and the healing profession after suffering a significant illness as a young boy,” he said. “I wanted to become a doctor because I admired them both professionally and personally.”
Dan sees similarities between the ministry of a physician and that of a religious vocation. “I understand what is it to heal the broken — heal those who are lost — and this led me to Franciscan life.”
His faith was awakened as a student at SBU, which was the first Catholic school he attended. He describes the presence of friars and a chapel in his residence hall as powerful influences for a young college student.
“Early on, the friars were instrumental in my life and I grew far less interested in sciences and more involved with civil rights and social justice,” Dan said.
During his early time at Bona’s, he was greatly influenced by the late Roy Gasnick, OFM, who was director of student activities and assistant director of the new movement in the Third Order of St. Francis called Action for Interracial Understanding.
Formation and Experience
Dan was first called into leadership through this fraternity and began considering religious life during his sophomore year. He graduated in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and joined the Franciscan Order in 1965, professing first vows in 1966 at the Province’s novitiate in Lafayette, N.J.
He studied philosophy at St. Francis College in Rye Beach, N.H., and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and earned a master’s degree in theology from Washington Theological Union.
“Throughout my formation, I was involved in ministry where I and others were permitted to live in smaller communities that we established.” He recalls working with Christopher Keenan, OFM, Dominic Monti, OFM, and the late Joe Doino, OFM, in marginal neighborhoods ministering to at-risk youth and others in need.
Studying in Washington during a tumultuous time in American history also affected his formation. He witnessed the social ministry of Martin Luther King Jr., worked at the Receiving Home for Children, and became dedicated to peacemaking.
“I have been grateful to Holy Name Province leaders and to an Order that trusted the Spirit and encourages us to try new endeavors,” he said.
In 1970, on the feast of St. Francis, he professed his final vows as a friar and the following year, on Sept. 11, Bishop Joseph Bernadin ordained Dan a priest at Holy Name College.
Return to SBU
He was first assigned to St. Bonaventure in 1971 to create the university’s campus ministry program. Dan collaborated with the late Hugh Eller, OFM, Daniel Hurley, OFM, Gervase White, OFM, and Robert White, OFM, to begin an energetic ministry that engaged more students. He worked to gain a building devoted to campus ministry, and so a maintenance vehicle garage in the middle of campus was converted into the Thomas Merton Center.
After serving as the Province’s vocation director as well as other assignments in Boston, New York City, Portsmouth, N.H., and Washington between 1974 and 1979, Dan returned to SBU to become director of the university’s vocation program and campus ministry. Living in Devereux Hall for 30 years, Dan was an enthusiastic and uplifting presence on campus. He was recognized last week for 40 years of service to the university community at SBU’s Annual Spring Honors and Awards Ceremony.
An ongoing theme of Dan’s ministry has been building community. One very significant community he has had a role in creating is Mt. Irenaeus, the Franciscan retreat community in West Clarksville. Steeped in prayer, contemplation and communal experience, the Mountain recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.
Named after the late Irenaeus Herscher, OFM, a longtime SBU librarian, and located approximately 20 miles from campus, the Mountain was established in 1984 as a place for members of St. Bonaventure community and visitors to enjoy a quiet, natural setting while reflecting on God’s gifts.
Dan credits Mathias Doyle, OFM, SBU president, and the late Alban McGuire, OFM, with support of The Mountain. Dan has served as guardian of the friary and director of Mt. Irenaeus since its inception.
On the Mt. Irenaeus website, Dan writes: “God gave me this dream which has its deep roots in the Franciscan tradition and the early Church, when I saw, as in the time of the early Church and the founding of St. Francis’ day, a longing among God’s people for places and ways of renewing their lives. The Mountain is a special response to this renewal and a place of peacemaking, another effort that has been a part of my life since I was in college at St. Bonaventure University.”
Mountain on the Road events, an outreach of the Mountain experience, began in the early 1990s to offer spirituality through discussion and prayer. Six to 12 events are held each year in Buffalo, Rochester, Connecticut, Mid-Atlantic states and other areas of the country. Dan describes this program as another example of “gathering in women and men and initiating small communities.”
Social media has allowed Dan to share the peace of the Mountain with friends across the country. With spiritual Instagram posts and his “Clouds and Sun” podcast, Dan continues to share the “Good News of Jesus Christ” with others. An accomplished artist, Dan’s beautiful animated images can be found on the Mountain website and newsletter.
He is an avid gardener, enjoys swimming and describes prayer as a “huge delight in his life.”
Dan describes Thomas Merton as a strong influence, gaining inspiration from his writings, philosophy and meetings with Merton’s friends. The jubilarian said he a strong call to solitude and a contemplative and prayer life.
Reflecting on his life as a friar, Dan says his greatest joy has been working and living among young people at St. Bonaventure, the Mountain and beyond.
“It has been a huge privilege to serve with youth. I have learned and continue to learn so much from them,” Dan said. “Young people have a great disposition toward God — we all do.”
— Karen Karaszewski, a St. Bonaventure University graduate, is a freelance writer based in Western New York.
- “SBU Honors Dan Riley for his Spirit of St. Francis” — May 20, 2009, HNP Today
- “North Jersey- Bread Father Roy Gasnick, ‘Superhero,’ Dies” — July 29, 2015, The Record
- “Mt. Irenaeus: St. Bonaventure University’s Recharging Station” — St. Anthony Messenger
- “Not Much of a Mountain, but the Real View’s Upward” — Dec. 13, 2004, The New York Times