Tributes from those who knew Father Michael Scanlan, TOR | Franciscan University of Steubenville
  • Tributes to Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, 1931-2017

    Tributes from Father Raneiro Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., Dr. Scott Hahn, Dr. Ralph Martin, Sr. Ann Shields, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ, George Weigel, Patti Gallagher Mansfield, and others.

    January 07, 2017

    STEUBENVILLE, OH—From hosting a theology discussion program on EWTN to writing books on spirituality to preaching to thousands in stadiums in the U.S. and overseas, Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, who died Saturday, January 7, 2017, was known far beyond his duties as president of Franciscan University of Steubenville. Here are tributes to him from notable Church leaders who knew him during his four decades of public ministry.  As more tributes arrive we will add them below.

    Additionally, many have written and published their tributes on outside websites. You can find them linked here.

    Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, Cap.
    Preacher to the Papal Household

    Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, wrote a book titled Let the Fire Fall. This is what he achieved for countless people. He made the name of a small, relatively unknown, Franciscan University of the United States resound throughout the entire Catholic Church. His friendship has meant a lot to me.

    George Weigel
    Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies
    Ethics and Public Policy Center

    Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, was 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. 

    Dr. Scott Hahn
    Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, Professor of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization
    Franciscan University of Steubenville

    Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, 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.

    I experienced his fatherhood in many ways. He baptized our three youngest sons, and two of them are now discerning priesthood. I don’t think that’s coincidental.

    The day I met him he showed such love to my wife, Kimberly, who was not Catholic. She had been suffering after a miscarriage. He prayed over her—and soon we conceived again—and a short while later, Kimberly became Catholic.

    P.S. Back in the ’90s, I had an undefeated streak in racquetball, which lasted for a few years. When Father Mike heard about it, he wasted no time and challenged me. He broke the streak—in his mid 60s.

    Father Mitch Pacwa, SJ
    Host, EWTN Live

    Just a couple weeks after my ordination to the priesthood, I attended one of the summer priests' conferences at Steubenville. This was a great witness to a young priest such as I, but it was just the beginning of many ways that Father Mike Scanlan, TOR, affected me, along with millions of others over the decades. Later in my life, I got to know him better, both as a speaker at the conferences he had inspired and as his guest in the Franciscan community while on campus. He made two points that have stuck with me.

    First, he related that as the president of Franciscan University, he spent time every week meeting with the faculty who did not subscribe to his vision of a lively, Catholic impact on campus. He cared about the conscience of each person and did not seek to overpower them with campus politics. As a former professor, I am aware that not all academic leaders took the care and concern he showed.

    Second, he shared some of the difficulties, challenges, and pain of taking his role as a leader. Then he pulled out a photograph of a severely deformed young man that he knew, saying, "Compared to him, I don't have any real problems.” This indicated the mature Christian approach to life that made it possible for him to maintain a healthy perspective on life's problems. I will never forget that.

    Ralph Martin, STD
    Director of Graduate Theology Programs in the New Evangelization
    Sacred Heart Major Seminary
    Archdiocese of Detroit

    I’ve known Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, since the ’70s and served side by side with him in the charismatic renewal, in the worldwide FIRE rallies, in his work at renewing Franciscan University as a member of the Board of Trustees for 12 years, and as a visiting professor in the summer.

    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.

    But one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had in my life happened because of Father Mike. In 1980, I gave a series of lectures called “A Crisis of Truth,” which addressed a number of serious issues in the life of the Church. The subtitle of the book by the same title was: “The attack on faith, morality, and mission in the Catholic Church.” It dealt with a number of controversial issues in the Church. Not having much in the way of theology credentials at that time, it was a bold thing to do. And then one day I received a call from Father Mike. “Ralph, I’ve been listening to your talks on ‘a crisis of truth,’ and I just had to pull my car over and give you a call right away. The Lord has told me to stand with you, side by side with you, and travel with you and support you in this really important message. I have the credentials that you don’t have, and I want to use them to endorse what you are doing and protect you from the counterattack that will come.”

    I received this call with an overwhelming sense of love and gratitude, that the Lord would help me in this way, and that someone like Father Mike would literally stand side by side with me for years as we traveled all over the world giving this message.

    This was one of the most deeply moving experiences of my life and one for which I am forever grateful. I look forward very much, God willing, to our heavenly reunion!

    Patti Gallagher Mansfield
    Author, As By A New Pentecost: Golden Jubilee Edition
    Catholic Charismatic Renewal of New Orleans

    I first met Father Michael Scanlan in January 1971, only 15 months after he had been baptized in the Spirit.  It was at a gathering in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for leaders of the fledgling Catholic pentecostal movement as it was called in those days. He was a vibrant, articulate priest who commanded attention and had dared to embrace this new grace that was breaking into the Church. I had been present at the Duquesne Weekend in February, 1967, when the Holy Spirit fell “as by a new Pentecost.” 

    Others may write about Father Michael’s many accomplishments as president of Franciscan University; surely his natural talents were remarkable.  But I would like to honor him for the way he welcomed the Holy Spirit into his own life and allowed himself to be used by the Spirit in exercising the special charisms he received.

    According to his own testimony, he had already been at the College of Steubenville as academic dean, working with all his skill to strengthen that institution.  But in spite of his best efforts, the College was in decline.  If the man, Michael Scanlan, could have turned things around in Steubenville, he would have done it then.  He went on to be rector of St. Francis Seminary and describes his frustrations and insecurities in that position. 

    One October day in 1969, three men visited the campus and witnessed to the life-changing power of the baptism in the Spirit. They were Father Jim Ferry, Joe Breault, and Bob Conlin (all dear friends of mine from New Jersey).  Father Mike was hungry and thirsty for more of God. He knelt down and declared, “I want to be baptized in the Spirit.”  The visitors laid their hands on Father Michael and prayed.  In his book, Let the Fire Fall, Father Michael describes what happened next.

    “The Spirit fell. It was primarily an experience of prayer, but prayer unlike any other I had experienced or studied. I was lost in God, one with the fullness of life.  I wanted nothing more than to know God the way I knew him at that moment, intimately united to him.  I let myself go in praise and prayer.  God was all I had. He was all I wanted.  He was all I needed.  I knelt there for many minutes until I was asked to move so the discussion could proceed.  I sat in the corner and God immersed me in fire.  Later when I was asked to join in praying over someone else, I found that I couldn’t pray in English. The words came out in some other language.  This, I learned, was the mysterious ‘gift of tongues,’ the ability to praise God in a prayer language one has never learned.  It came to me naturally. . . . (Later) I wrote this sentence down on the pad I kept near my bed, ‘I know the presence of the risen Lord Jesus as I have never known it before . . . I can never deny the truth of what has happened.’”

    My friends, it was this overwhelming experience of the “the love of God poured out in his heart by the Holy Spirit”—this baptism in the Spirit—that changed the man, Michael Scanlan forever  (cf. Rom. 5:5). It was this radical opening to the Spirit and his charisms that enabled Father Michael to transform the College of Steubenville into Franciscan University, known throughout the world as the best in Catholic education.

    In 1974, Father Michael hired Karin Sefcik (Treiber), another attendee from the Duquesne Weekend, to work in Admissions at the College of Steubenville. She came to New Orleans the next year to promote the College at our prayer meetings.  Al and I had just had our first child and my husband told Karin, “I don’t know where Mark will go to kindergarten, but I know where he will go college!”  Why?  Because of Father Michael and the strong, courageous, Spirit-filled leadership he exercised on campus.  All three of our sons and their wives are graduates of Franciscan.  For almost 25 years, through the Catholic Charismatic Renewal of New Orleans, we have sent hundreds of teenagers to summer conferences on campus (sometimes five busloads at a time on a 21-hour trip). Why? Because Father Michael allowed the Creator Spirit to create an environment where Jesus is truly Lord and where the gifts of the Spirit can flourish.

    For me, Father Michael’s outstanding charism was prophecy, often expressed in his preaching.  Those of us who have been pioneers in the renewal remember his prophetic talk in 1976 that began, “The lion roars, who will not tremble? The Lord God speaks, who will not prophesy?”  I remember at the 25th anniversary of the charismatic renewal we were at a conference and for some reason I was on the stage and Father Michael was in the audience of 17,000 people.  As I looked out, I saw a shaft of light shining down and resting on him.  When I met him later I said, “Father Michael, you have a prophetic word,” and he replied, “It’s in my pocket.”  Indeed it was.

    Father Michael not only exercised charisms but he was magnificent in calling forth gifts in others.  In my own life, it was he who encouraged me to write my first book for which he contributed the foreword.  It was he who coached me how to communicate on television.  It was Father Michael who invited me to minister to priests at a summer conference and to exercise a teaching ministry.  At one summer conference, he stopped his preaching and said, “I don’t have the end of this homily. Does someone else have it?”  I sheepishly raised my hand and stepped forward to speak about consecration to Mary.  Afterwards Father Michael said to me, “You did have the ending of my homily! That was the word!”  When Father Michael deepened his own entrustment to Our Lady and began to wear a Rosary ring on his pinky, I heard a priest say, “If Michael is doing this, I want to do it, too.”  The power of his word and his example was remarkable.

    What a beautiful sign of the triumph of God’s grace, that a man who was left by his own father at the age of three, should become a father to a multitude of sons and daughters.  He became a father who was  “strong, loving and wise.”  It is fitting that the heavenly Father has called Father Michael home in this year of Golden Jubilee for the Charismatic Renewal.  He has been one of the greatest instruments of the grace of baptism in the Spirit in the past 50 years.  His influence is felt not only at Franciscan University, but in the lives of the millions of people around the world who have been inspired by his teaching and his life of holiness and prayer.  

    Pope Francis commissioned the charismatic renewal at a gathering in Rome in 2014, “Share with the whole Church the grace of the baptism in the Spirit.”  Father Michael has done that in a superb way. To those who love and admire this man, please discover his secret.  Let the fire fall!  Let the grace of the baptism in the Spirit invade your life too.  Let yourself be guided by the mysterious and powerful breath of the Spirit of the Living God!  Amen.

    Sister Ann Shields, SGL
    Leadership Team
    Renewal Ministries

    I came to Steubenville in the fall of 1976 in response to Father Michael’s request, as the new president, for people willing to give a year or more of service to help create a new level of faith environment on campus. How glad I am I said yes to that request. The first and primary thing we did was to pray daily for the College of Steubenville. There were about 10 or 15 men and women, lay and religious who responded to that request. Daily we prayed, asking God to bless Father Michael’s work and revitalize a declining student population. We carried out many other initiatives, and over the six years, I felt privileged to serve the College of Steubenville. But there were several things I learned while I was there that serve me in ministry still today.

    His priorities were very clear right from the first day in regard to the need to receive a new vision for the vessel that was the College of Steubenville. Before all else: 1) To help each person on the campus, in whatever role, to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; 2) To build relationships among us that helped us all to grow—students and adults. When Father Michael was interviewed by the board as a candidate for the presidency, he was asked what his goal would be. His answer: That Jesus Christ be Lord of every aspect of this campus and every person. He told me he thought that would disqualify him since there are many goals for any college campus. When he received a phone call asking him if he would accept the position, he was very surprised but once that decision was made, he never looked back. His primary goals were set.


    From his time as dean at the College, then as president and to the present, relationships with one another were always cultivated with Christ and in Christ—helping people to see their relationship with the Lord as central to all other relationships. He encouraged and spent unknown hours ministering to people. Whether you were a member of the administration, faculty, board, or staff, including cafeteria, security, housekeeping, maintenance—he ministered, long after the office closed. Such pastoral care at an academic institution built a unique loyalty base with abundant and lasting fruit.

    Out of his relationship with Christ, his personal focus was on daily prayer to cover every decision, task, and project that was undertaken—whatever the area—waiting on the Lord was pivotal. His first secretary was a saint because he would not leave his room in the monastery (especially in the first years) until, as he put it, God gave him his marching orders for the day. His reliance and openness to listen for God’s direction had a tremendous impact on me. His obedience in waiting upon the Lord, seeking to do God’s will to the best of his ability each day, I believe, was and is the key piece that made the University what it is today. His heart for the Gospel was deeply engrained in those of us who ministered with him and, in turn, opened the students to a living faith and a willingness to begin to be true disciples.

    It was out of these experiences that the household system was born. He wanted students to have regular support and encouragement—knowing how essential it was in our modern world. His willingness to abandon himself to the Lord and to wait on the Lord were lessons he passed on, by example, to those of us assisting him in building and strengthening the campus. His willingness at times to look like a fool for the sake of bringing the Gospel was also quite profound.

    Conferences for youth and priests were at the heart of this part of the ministry. Yes, it brought publicity that was good for the College, but when young lives and parents’ lives and priestly lives were changed, you witnessed the fruit of his prayer, his waiting on the Lord. I was privileged to witness some of those life-changing moments in people’s lives on campus—lives that were never the same again.

    May God be praised for Father Michael’s obedience to the Lord.

    Jeff Cavins
    Founder of the The Great Adventure Bible Study System

    At a moment of great vulnerability, leaving my protestant pastorate and returning to the Catholic Church, God gave me a Father to greet me and guide me back home. Father Scanlan, along with Bishop Paul Dudley teamed up to give me the guidance, wisdom and encouragement to make the move. Not only did Father Scanlan encourage me in my first months back in the Church, but he quietly made it possible for me financially to study at Steubenville as he created a scholarship for me. For the first two years after returning back to the Church, Fr. Scanlan continually reminded me that I was not alone and that he would stand with me during the transition. I owe so much to this dear man of God. I really don’t know what I would have done without him. Even as a protestant pastor, I followed him, admired him learned much. I never new that one day he would guide me with his wisdom through the toughest transition of my life.

    As I got to know Father throughout the years, we were able to share pilgrimages together. I especially remember going to the Holy Land with him. In the early hours of the dessert morning he challenged me to a race to the top of Mt. Sinai. He won! Now, he has truly won as he is being embraced at the summit of all summits, the beatific vision.

    I love you Father Michael and I truly want to emulate your walk with Christ. I owe you much!”

    Tom Monaghan
    Founder of Domino’s Pizza and Ave Maria University

    Not only was Father Scanlan a good friend, but he was a hero of mine. I think it would be difficult to overstate the impact that he had on Catholic higher education in the U.S. and for that matter the world. He took a poor regional college – on the verge of bankruptcy - and transformed it into a beacon for Catholic universities throughout the country and world. Father Scanlan showed that there is a demand for Catholic universities dedicated to faithfully teaching of the magisterium of the Church. It was truly an honor for me to serve on the board and witness his leadership first hand.

    Father Scanlan possessed great personal qualities – including a great intellect and wit, a powerful charism for teaching and ministering to others, and also a profound love and concern for everyone he came in touch with.

    Congressman Jeff Fortenberry MA ’96
    1st District of Nebraska

    When I was in my twenties, I searched heartily for answers to the deeper questions. Through the television, I discovered a richness of beauty and tradition on the network EWTN. I discovered the wonderful grandmotherly nun Mother Angelica. And I discovered the intellectual rigor of the presentations by Franciscan University.

    I also discovered Father Michael Scanlan, TOR. I read his book Let the Fire Fall and was drawn into his personal story. The man who attended Harvard law, who prepared for a military career, who had political interests—but who ultimately found his vocation by following the simple way of St. Francis. Decades later, I still recall the intimate details of his life’s journey in that beautiful book, including his reluctant takeover in the 1970s of a stagnating and struggling Catholic university.

    Ultimately, I found myself drawn to Franciscan University where I received a second graduate degree in theology. My earlier education at both a major public university and a major Catholic university had been quite strong. I had achieved some professional goals, but my heart and mind yearned for more. Under the leadership of Father Scanlan, Franciscan had become known throughout the world for its fidelity, educational dynamism, and community. So it was with great eagerness that years later, after my election to the United States House of Representatives, I returned to Steubenville to appear on television with Father Mike on the show Franciscan University Presents.

    It was great to be “home” again, and I was privileged to stay in the old monastery with the friars. Seeing Father Mike the night before the filming, I said: “Father, let’s go over the topics for discussion on tomorrow’s program.” He said: “Don’t worry about it, Jeff, it will be fine.” Being a little nervous about it, the next day, I asked again. He said: “Don’t worry about it, Jeff.” Finally, before we started the program, I looked at Father Mike, Dr. Regis Martin, and Dr. Scott Hahn and said to all of them: “Look I’m a politician, not a professor, bring it down to my level!”

    Knowing that he was ill and perhaps at the end of his days, I have been spiritually reflecting upon my friendship with Father Scanlan. He was a truly great man. He gave up the world and yet gained so much more. The morning he died, my wife, whom I met at Franciscan, sent me a text to let me know. I replied: “He’s where his heart desired, in the everlasting hills.”

    Dear Father Sean,

    On behalf of the EWTN Family, I wish to express my deepest condolences to you, the entire T.O.R. Community, and the Franciscan University of Steubenville family, following the death of Father Michael Scanlan, T.O.R.

    As you know, Father Mike was an important part of the history of EWTN, and his legacy is interwoven in the fabric of the Network. I can fondly recall his many appearances with our Foundress, Mother Angelica, and their work and collaboration together, particularly in the formative "early days." We are proud of our continued work and cooperation with Franciscan University, for whose success Father Mike was so instrumental.

    I very much regret that my schedule does not permit me to attend the funeral, but know that Fathers Dominic Mary and Patrick Mary will be present, on behalf of the EWTN Family. During this time, be assured that we are united in prayer with you and all who mourn the passing of Father Mike.

    With prayers, I am

    Sincerely in Christ,

    Mr. Michael Warsaw
    Chairman & Chief Executive Officer
    Eternal Word Television Network

    Comments Offered in October 2009 for the Celebration of Father Michael Scanlan, TOR’s 50th Anniversary of Professed Franciscan Life

    His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, OMI, (1937-2015)
    Archbishop Emeritus of Chicago

    “When Father Scanlan became president of what was then known as the College of Steubenville in 1974, it was hardly known outside of the State of Ohio. Now, as Franciscan University, it is known throughout the nation as a place where the Catholic faith is taught in an academically inquisitive and rigorous way, but always true to the Magisterium of the Church. Those who have graduated from Franciscan University over the past two decades have gone on to serve the Church in countless ways; I know that when a graduate of Steubenville applies to work in one of our parishes, schools, or social service agencies, he or she has been well-formed as a Catholic Christian.”         

    Chuck Colson (1931-2012)
    Founder, Prison Fellowship Ministries

    “God has done an amazing job with your life, Father. What you did at Steubenville was nothing less than miraculous. He used you in a powerful way to raise up one of the great Christian institutions today.”

    His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl
    Archbishop of Washington, D.C.

    “You are so identified with the Franciscan University of Steubenville that I think of how that thriving Catholic university reflects so much your commitment to Christ, your love of the Gospel and your imitation of Saint Francis of Assisi. It is with joy that I recall my many visits to the campus of the Franciscan University of Steubenville and the opportunities to work with you and to experience your energizing effect on so many of the young people whose lives are made richer by your involvement and by their experience of Christ on the campus of a truly Catholic university.”

    The Most Reverend Thomas Olmstead
    Bishop of Phoenix

    “Those who have been formed in the Franciscan Tradition and with committed faithfulness to the magisterial teaching of the Church are your legacy. I am confident that with the foundation that has been built under your guidance, the University will continue to produce graduates who will bless the Church and our nation with leaders who have been intellectually and morally well formed.”

    His Eminence Edward Cardinal Egan (1932-2015)
    Archbishop Emeritus of New York

    “Your service to the Lord and His Church over this past half century has been truly magnificent. The Franciscan University and Saint Francis Seminary are among your greatest achievements. However, no less important is the splendid example you have given as a priest and religious who never hesitated to sacrifice himself for the well-being, and especially the spiritual well-being of others.”

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