Franciscan University of Steubenville Remembers Father Michael Scanlan, TOR | Franciscan University of Steubenville
  • Franciscan University of Steubenville Remembers Father Michael Scanlan, TOR

    The President Emeritus of Franciscan University Died Saturday, January 7, 2017.

    President Emeritus Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, 1931-2017, in Christ the King Chapel on the campus of Franciscan University of Steubenville. More on his life and legacy available here.

    January 07, 2017

    STEUBENVILLE, OHIO—Franciscan University of Steubenville today mourns the death of President Emeritus Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, 85. His leadership as president transformed Franciscan University from a struggling regional college into a world-renowned leader in Catholic higher education and helped to inspire a restoration of faithful Catholic education in the United States and the world.

    A priest of the Franciscan Third Order Regular Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Father Scanlan served as president of Franciscan University from 1974-2000, chancellor from 2000-2011, and became president emeritus in 2011. That same year he retired to the Third Order Regular Sacred Heart Province's motherhouse in Loretto, Pennsylvania, and in December 2013, due to declining health, he moved to Garvey Manor, a Catholic nursing home in nearby Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania.

    Father Scanlan died Saturday morning, January 7, 2017, after an extended illness. Funeral arrangements are pending but will include a viewing and a memorial Mass at Franciscan University of Steubenville and a Mass of Christian Burial at the TOR Motherhouse in Loretto, Pennsylvania. Details will be posted when they are available here.

    Father Scanlan became president of the College of Steubenville in 1974 in the midst of turbulent times for Catholic higher education. Over the next 26 years, he transformed the College into Franciscan University of Steubenville and gained for it a worldwide reputation for both excellence in academics and its passionate Catholic faith environment.

    His success helped spark a restoration of authentic Catholic education in the United States and beyond, with many colleges and universities renewing their Catholic identity and new schools imitating his emphasis on Catholic Church teaching.

    Beyond his duties as president, Father Scanlan engaged in an active evangelistic ministry sharing his love for Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church as a retreat and pilgrimage leader and writer, leaving as his legacy a robust evangelistic conference program for adults and youth at Franciscan University and some 16 books and booklets on Catholic spirituality.

    George Weigel, the distinguished senior fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, called Father Scanlan “a dynamo of evangelical energy who knew that the renewal of Catholic higher education was a critical component of the new evangelization. His personal witness, exuberant manner of life, and ability to communicate the Gospel in a joyful way made major contributions, not only to Franciscan University, but to the entire Catholic Church in the United States—indeed, to the World Church.” 

    Father Richard Davis, TOR, minister provincial of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, lived in community with Father Scanlan for 20 years and remembers him as “one of the most obedient, charitable, humble, and very holy men in our community. His concern for faithfulness in living out his religious life was a source of respect and imitation for me.

    “The good he has done for the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, for the order, and most importantly for the entire Church is a tremendous source of honor. I thank God he was my brother, my mentor, and my friend,” said Father Davis.

    Father Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, president of Franciscan University, said Father Scanlan used the gifts and talents God gave him and “guided by the Holy Spirit, turned things around at the struggling College of Steubenville and led to its prominence as Franciscan University of Steubenville.”

    Pivotal to his success for campus renewal, said Father Sheridan, was the time Father Mike spent time with students. “He listened to their concerns and prayed how he might help them. He emphasized the importance of academics, particularly theology, and stressed the role of campus ministry and student life in the daily lives of the students,” said Father Sheridan.

    Father Terence Henry, TOR, who served as president from 2000-2013, said, “We are deeply grateful to Father Mike for all he did for the renewal of Franciscan University, the renewal of Catholic higher education, and the renewal of the worldwide Church.”

    Becoming President

    A Harvard-educated lawyer, Father Scanlan approached the financial, enrollment, morale, and many other challenges that met him in 1974 with a sharp intellect and a prayerful heart, quickly zeroing in on the school’s spiritual transformation as his overarching goal.

    One of Father Scanlan’s first priorities was to form a uniquely Catholic culture that emphasized faith and reason. He addressed the pervasive loneliness typical of college life by establishing faith households, small faith-sharing groups of men or women. What began in the spring 1975 semester as an experiment in Christian living serves today as the cornerstone of the University’s student life experience, with 45 percent of the undergraduate student population participating in 50 households.

    During Father Scanlan’s presidency, the University developed nine new undergraduate programs, including nursing, communication arts, computer science, and economics. The program nearest to his heart and with the most far-reaching impact on the worldwide Church was the Bachelor of Arts in Theology. Father Scanlan added the program in 1976 as he sought out faith-filled theology professors dedicated to his vision of “dynamic orthodoxy,” an educational approach marked by fidelity to the Church and openness to the Holy Spirit.  The program went on to become by far the largest undergraduate Theology Program at any U.S. Catholic university. Today, nearly 600 students major in either theology or catechetics, which was added in 2003.

    Led by Father Scanlan, in 1989, Franciscan University became the first U.S. Catholic college or university whose theology faculty and priests publicly took the Oath of Fidelity professing their adherence to the teaching authority of the Church. Each year since, all new theology faculty, priests, and others involved in the spiritual formation of students have taken the oath.

    Speaking at the 2011 Franciscan University of Steubenville Baccalaureate Mass, his Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, then prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, said: “I want to express a very particular word of gratitude to Father Michael Scanlan, who was the president of [Franciscan University of Steubenville] during some very critical years, years during which many Catholic universities, I’m sad to say, under the pressure of an increasingly secularized society and culture, abandoned their Catholic identity. But Father Scanlan, with a lion’s heart, held to the truth and to the integrity of this University. We are all very deep in our gratitude to him.”

    The College of Steubenville became a university in 1980, thanks to Father Scanlan’s push for the development of graduate programs. A master’s in education was offered in 1974, followed by master’s degrees in business and theology in 1980, counseling in 1989, educational administration in 1992, philosophy in 1993, and nursing in 1999.

    In 1992, Father Scanlan expanded Franciscan University’s reach to Europe by establishing a study-abroad program in a restored 14th-century Carthusian monastery in Austria. Today, more than 150 students live and study each semester at the Kartause Maria Thronus Iesu in Gaming, Austria, and from there embark on visits to holy sites and landmarks across Europe.

    Answering the priestly vocation crisis, Father Scanlan gave the go-ahead in 1985 for a pre-seminary program at Franciscan University, in which men study and live a communal life while discerning a call to the priesthood. In the last 10 years alone, 115 members of this Priestly Discernment Program entered seminary or a religious order. More than 400 Franciscan University graduates currently serve the Church in the priesthood, and overall, more than 700 alumni have become bishops, priests, and religious brothers and sisters.

    These and many other changes struck a chord with many Catholics who supported Father Scanlan’s vision both financially and spiritually. By 1983, the University had paid off its entire debt. Enrollment more than doubled, from just over 1,000 students in 1974 to 2,150 in 2000, his final year as president. An era of new construction began with the addition of Finnegan Fieldhouse, John Paul II Library, SS. Kolbe and Clare Residence Halls, SS. Cosmas and Damian Science Hall, the Portiuncula Chapel, and the Lower Campus complex.

    In a December 2013 interview, Father Scanlan called the saving of the College of Steubenville “a resurrection experience” made possible because of the latitude he was given as the new president of a college on the brink of closure.

    “Who could object to you doing something to keep it open? We were able to make changes bigger and better and faster because of that situation,” Father Scanlan explained. “Had the University been doing much better, we never could have made changes nor had that much success. It was exciting to be able to establish what was most important to me and the values in my heart in terms of what was Franciscan, Catholic, and unique to Steubenville.”

    He also said he looked back with gratitude at “the people who stood with me through those days” even if they only “half believed in what I was doing.”

    Curtis Martin, who graduated from Franciscan University with his master’s in 1993 and is now president of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, said in the summer 2011 Franciscan Way magazine, “The bedrock of Father Mike’s leadership was his personal relationship with the living God. . . . One guy doing the right thing really can change the world in a powerful way. It’s a powerful reminder of the community of saints.”

    In the same news story, Patrick Reilly, founder of the Cardinal Newman Society, said, “Father Scanlan not only turned around an institution, but he developed that university into a shining model for other Catholic universities. The marriage of a college education with the Church’s call to evangelization was something that was unique to Franciscan, and is now increasingly accepted. There are still Catholic educators who will argue that a college education has nothing to do with the Church’s mission to evangelize. Father Scanlan proved otherwise.”

    Evangelistic Thrust

    Father Scanlan’s concern for evangelization extended far beyond Franciscan University. An early leader in the Catholic charismatic renewal movement, he co-founded and spoke at FIRE rallies (Faith, Intercession, Repentance, and Evangelization) in 29 states and 15 foreign countries, reaching over 400,000 people.   

    He authored and co-authored more than 16 books and booklets, including his still popular autobiography Let the Fire Fall and the discernment aid, What Does God Want?

    Father Scanlan was one of the first priests to get involved with Mother Angelica’s Eternal Word Television Network, which led to his hosting Franciscan University Presents for 18 years on EWTN. The theology discussion program is now in its 23rd year and is the longest running theology discussion program on EWTN.

    In the summer of 1975, Father Scanlan hosted a summer conference on campus for priests, followed a year later by a Catholic evangelistic conference for teens. Today, 55,000 high school youth and adults choose from 31 Franciscan University summer conferences held in 16 states and Canada.

    The impact of the Steubenville Youth Conferences on vocations is confirmed by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, which in 2014 said that 14 percent of all priests scheduled for ordination in the U.S. in 2014 participated in a Franciscan University Youth Conference before entering seminary or religious life.

    Ralph Martin, consultor to the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, said: “Father Scanlan embodied and contributed to, in a significant way, a response to and an advocacy of the ‘new Pentecost’ and the ‘new evangelization.’ He embodied and advocated for the necessity of including both the contemplative and charismatic dimensions of the Spirit’s work in any balanced response to the call for authentic renewal.”

    Father Scanlan was a champion for the pro-life movement. He established President’s Day in January so students could attend the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., without missing classes.

    During a peaceful protest outside a Youngstown, Ohio, abortion clinic in July 1989, Father Scanlan was arrested and jailed for a week along with Bishop Albert Ottenweller of Steubenville.

    Two years earlier, in 1987, he approved the construction of the Tomb of the Unborn Child on campus, which now contains the remains of seven aborted babies. After praying at the tomb in 1992, the late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York urged his brothers in the Knights of Columbus to erect similar memorials to the unborn. His request resonated with the knights, resulting in over 1,835 pro-life monuments worldwide.

    Father Scanlan became the University’s first chancellor in 2000, a position he held for the next 11 years. In 2011, he was named president emeritus. On June 30, 2011, he retired to the Third Order Regular Sacred Heart Province’s motherhouse in Loretto, Pennsylvania.

    “The Lord has given me countless blessings through my years of service at Franciscan University,” Father Scanlan said upon his retirement. “It has been a remarkable privilege and deep joy to work with so many committed Christian faculty, staff, administrators, and donors in the vitally important ministry of Catholic higher education.”

    When asked in a December 2013 interview what he considered his greatest accomplishment, Father Scanlan said, “Living the life faithfully, living the [Franciscan] rule, being a Franciscan, being able to be sent wherever God wants you and serve his people. This is what is most important.”

    Dr. Scott Hahn, who holds the Father Michael Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at Franciscan University, said of Father Scanlan, “He held many titles—rector, president, chancellor, professor. But he once told me the one that meant the most to him was “Father.” It was more than just being called father. It was being a father. He was father to us all—faculty, students, University employees, neighbors, friends.”

    Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, Background

    Father Scanlan was born Vincent Michael Scanlan in 1931 in Cedarhurst, Long Island, New York. He received his bachelor’s degree from Williams College in 1953, and his juris doctor from Harvard Law School in 1956. He was admitted to the New York Bar Association and served as Staff Judge Advocate in the U.S. Air Force before discerning a call to the priesthood and entering the Franciscan Third Order Regular. Father Scanlan made his first profession of Franciscan vows in 1959 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1964.

    He was named acting dean of the College of Steubenville, and over the next five years served the school as a lecturer in theology and dean and director of the General Honors Program. In 1969, he was appointed rector-president of St. Francis Seminary in Loretto, Pennsylvania, serving there for five years before returning to the College of Steubenville in 1974 as its fourth president.

    Father Scanlan received numerous honors during his lifetime. In 1990, he received the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal from Pope John Paul II, in recognition of extraordinary service to the Church and the pope, and was honored with the Founders’ Award from the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars in 1993. In 1997, he received the highest honor given by the Franciscan Third Order Regular, the Sacrae Theologiae Magister, an academic degree beyond the doctorate earned by demonstrating competency in the field of theology. He received many other awards, including Christendom College’s Pro Deo et Pro Patria Medal for Distinguished Service to God and Country in 2007, and the Pro Fidelitate et Virtute Award from the Institute on Religious Life in 2009. He held five honorary degrees.

    Franciscan University established the Father Michael Scanlan Scholarship Competition in his honor in 2004. This invitation-only competition offers high-achieving applicants the chance to receive full-tuition scholarships.

    In 2012, the University established the Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, Chair of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization and awarded it to world-renowned Scripture scholar and theologian, Dr. Scott Hahn.

    For more about Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, comments from those who knew and worked with him, plus videos of Father Mike and an opportunity to share your own memories and prayers, visit our tribute pages » 
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