Seasonal Reflection: Teaching Young Adults to Care for Creation

HNP Communications Features

Just before Earth Day and National Volunteer Week, John C. Coughlin, OFM,reflected on the friars’ role of teaching young adults to be stewards of creation at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y., and Mt. Irenaeus in West Clarksville, N.Y., where every day is Earth Day.

Volunteering through service is a time-honored part of the Franciscan ethos. We can see it in the beginning of the movement’s charism with St. Francis of Assisi. Even before he had any followers, he was volunteering in the service of rebuilding damaged churches and tending the needs of lepers.

The well-known prayer that starts out, “Make me an instrument of your peace,” although not written by the historical Francis, has traditionally been seen as a portrait in poetry that captures his spirit. It has been such an inspirational prayer for so many because people find in it lines to live by. In one of those lines we hear, “It is in giving that we receive.” That is Gospel wisdom that Francis himself embodied. The Mt. Irenaeus community, co-missioned with St. Bonaventure University, works hard at sharing that wisdom with the young adults of the campus. We invite them regularly to share their gifts and energy by volunteering their service.

At University Ministries on campus and at Mt. Irenaeus, we see all service as educative. One of our priorities is sensitizing young people to harm done to our planet and the need to care for creation. On April 4, SBU’s Franciscan Center for Social Concern sponsored Project Runway: Bona’s Gets Trashy, a fashion show on campus featuring clothing made and worn by students and others from recyclable materials.

During the academic year, student groups spend time every week at “the Mountain” and they become part of our community when they are here. They do what we do in terms of how we relate to the land. They compost, recycle, harvest and cook with organic vegetables from our garden. They learn not to keep the water running when taking showers, brushing their teeth or washing dishes. Earth Day — officially this year on April 22— is every day at the Mountain. Our hope is that the earth-care knowledge that students gain here will naturally translate into better treatment of creation in their daily lives.

There are so many ways that students volunteer at and with the Mountain that, for brevity’s sake, I can cover only a few. On April 12, Mt. Irenaeus hosted an overnight gathering for 10 students and a professor involved in creative writing. Participants spent time alone on the land contemplating nature and then writing about their experience. Later, after a time of meditation and prayer, they shared the fruits of their contemplation and writings with one another in the chapel. None of this would have happened without students volunteering to help with planning the event, inviting others to it, and leading parts of it.

Earlier this month, Mt. Irenaeus hosted a men’s overnight event for 14 male students from the university. As is typical with most visits by student groups, those who came volunteered in a work project on the land, helped cook the meal and clean up, and celebrated a liturgy together by serving in different roles.

On April 20, a large group of people, students and non-students, is expected to come for the annual spring service day at the Mountain that will cover a wide range of work projects indoors and outdoors. There are plans to do a thorough cleaning of houses and cabins on the property, uprooting of invasive bushes on the land, cutting wood, clearing trails of fallen trees and branches, spreading horse manure in the garden (always a favorite), and more. Although it rained during last year’s spring service day, two-thirds of those who came volunteered to work outdoors. They ended up wet and dirty but happy and with bragging rights.

Whether it is harvesting vegetables out of the garden, preparing a meal, or sharing in a themed discussion led by a student, the service of volunteers at the Mountain builds community and relationships. The collaborative ministry in which we invite others to participate helps cultivate generosity of soul. It is another way of being “Church” in the world.

 Fr. John has been stationed at Mt. Irenaeus since 2011. Friars interested in submitting reflections about holy days, holidays and other timely topics are asked to contact the HNP Communications Office by phone (646-473-0265 ext. 321) or email

Editors note: A photo of Fr. John participating in SBU’s Project Runway: Bona’s Gets Trashy is included behind the image above. Fr. John collaborated with student Maggie Morris to create ‘the pizza box habit,’ which won the award for most creative outfit.