I spent a few nights last week in a tiny cabin on a mountainside in western New York state, in the care of three very kind Franciscan friars who also fed me and let me pray with them. My particular cabin was named Sophia, so I dwelt, for a short while anyway, within Female Wisdom. And it was indeed very inspiring, once I learned to get away from my own anxious thoughts and worries and got used to dealing without TV, Internet, the phone and other distractions.
Mount Irenaeus—yes, named for my biographical subject, which helps show the extent of his influence and effect on others–is not the sort of place you might stumble upon accidentally while driving around the Southern Tier. You have to want to go there, and you need to get very good directions. The last three or four miles or so are on dirt roads going uphill, a precarious proposition during a rainstorm. But somehow I got there.
I had just one tidy room, with a tiny kitchen and bath, and a bed, and the most amazing view in the world: Nothing but woods and wilderness. There were big windows and a sliding door leading to a deck, so awakening to that view was amazing, even when the sky above was gray. It was utterly still, except for the birds beginning to awaken for spring. So quiet and so far from the world: It was a writer’s heaven. And I did get quite a bit done.
At five thirty pm, I hiked up to the main house and we all had a few glasses of wine together then a convivial dinner, very informal, no brown robes. I was their only guest, a rather rare thing. And we talked, and talked and talked. One of the friars, Father Louis, had known my uncle, Father Edward Halloran, and I was delighted by that, it was good to talk about him again. They pointed out the picture of Father Irenaeus that hung in a hallway, looking very much as I remember him, and I suddenly thought of him zipping by the circulation desk while I was working, running up and down the spiral staircase beside it. He was so alive and vital back then, it seemed impossible that one day I would be staying at a retreat memorializing him, part of his legacy.
The younger friars—said one of the older friars—do not really know who Irenaeus is. And so few friars these days! What will happen to the Franciscan order? Maybe my book will make him real again, and more than just the name of a mountain retreat.