BUFFALO, N.Y. — Described by St. Bonaventure University students as “joyful,” “vibrant,” “energetic,” “selfless,” “silly,” “warm” and “compassionate,”Daniel Riley, OFM, was honored this month with the college’s Gaudete Medal for exemplifying the spirit of St. Francis.
Given to those who live their life with hope, a positive outlook, a compassionate spirit, and service to others, Dan received the medal on May 1 at the Country Club of Buffalo, as more than 400 people looked on.
The award was a tribute to Dan, who is loved by SBU students for his friendly nature, often drawing out their faith and inviting them to Mt. Irenaeus in nearby West Clarksville, where he ministers.
Sr. Margaret Carney, OSF, university president, said no one was more deserving than Dan. “The generosity of his soul and the light that Dan always radiates are emblematic of the virtues we hope our students will take from this place when they leave.”
The word “gaudete,” which means “rejoice” in Latin, is significant for those who have inspired, encouraged and enlightened others, according to SBU.
“This award is the highest honor bestowed by St. Bonaventure and is granted to those who have demonstrated extraordinary dedication and contribution to the life of the university,” said Frank Keery of the Mt. Irenaeus development team. The medal was first awarded by SBU in 1996.
The guardian of Holy Peace Friary at Mt. Irenaeus, Dan, has a smile and characteristic laugh that are easily recognized on the campus of his alma mater, where he returned in 1979 to head the campus ministry program.
The award event also marked the university’s 150th anniversary celebration, which concludes May 31, and raised more than $75,000 for both the Bonaventure Scholarship Fund and the Community Fund for Mt. Irenaeus.
‘The Life of Riley’
SBU made an eight-minute video to celebrate Dan. Titled “Life of Riley — A Tribute to Fr. Dan Riley,” the video was divided into three parts, each describing aspects of his ministry: “The Ambassador,” “Students for the Mountain,” and “Changing Perspectives, Changing Lives.” The video shows photos of Dan over the years, as a child, student, young priest and minister at Mt. Ireneaus.
In the video, students discuss how they met Dan, often saying he was among the first people they encountered as new freshmen on campus.
“Fr. Dan was one of the first people I met when I got here,” said Natalie Pronio, who graduates this month. “‘We’re all going to the Mountain,’ he said, and I said, ‘What’s the mountain?’”
Another student, who described himself as shy, recalled how Dan drew him out and make it comfortable for him to meet others.
A native of Rochester, N.Y., Dan graduated from SBU in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He originally set out to be a doctor, but changed course and joined the Franciscan Order in 1965. He received his master’s in theology from Washington Theological Union, and was ordained a priest in 1971, when he was first assigned to campus ministry at SBU.
Dan was then assigned by Holy Name Province as vocation director, based in the Bronx, N.Y., between 1974 and 1979, before returning to the campus ministry program at SBU and later Mt. Irenaeus Franciscan Mountain Retreat.
Seeding the Mountain
Named for longtime librarian Irenaeus Herscher, OFM, the mountain was established in 1984 when Dan signed a purchase agreement on a 207-acre, hardwood-covered hilltop in Allegany County. Three cabins were built in the 1980s, Holy Peace Chapel was dedicated in 1990, and Holy Peace Friary — a large community house for the resident friars, with gathering space for prayer and meals — was completed in 1995.
Twenty-five years later, Mt. Irenaeus continues to host members of the SBU community and visitors of all faiths, offering a quiet, natural setting and contemplative atmosphere that encourages people to develop their spirituality. Several times a year, Dan takes the “Mountain on the Road,” with a program that brings the mountain’s ministries to various locations.
One student recalls in the video that Dan likes to say whenever he rings a bell, “Isn’t it amazing how everything has its own voice?”
And in Dan’s own familiar voice, the video fades out with his widely recognized laugh.
—Wendy Healy, a freelance writer in Connecticut, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.