Faith Seeking Understanding

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Faith Seeking Understanding

Fr. Dan Sinisi, TOR, and Dr. Alan Schreck recall the Theology Department’s beginnings.

Summer 2022 | Celeste Fortenberry

In This Article

Theology has been a major at Franciscan University for 45 years. It is, perhaps, the thing Franciscan is most famous for. Franciscan Magazine sat down with two of the people who were there at the beginning, Father Dan Sinisi, TOR, and Dr. Alan Schreck.

Franciscan Magazine: Father Dan, you were the first chair of the Theology Department. How and when was the Theology Program started?

Father Dan Sinisi, TOR: I worked with Father Mike [Scanlan, TOR] at our seminary from 1969 until he became president of the College of Steubenville in 1974. In early 1977, the College approved theology as a major. That decision had already been made before I joined the faculty later that same year.

Fr. Dan Sinisi, TOR


FM: Were there any theology courses before there was a major?

FDS: Yes, we had core classes students were required to take. But it was felt that it was important that a Catholic college have a Theology Department.

The teaching of the Catholic Church should be a dynamic thing in students’ lives, so they could grow closer to Christ and grow in holiness. We needed academic and spiritual training. We needed good theology, what came to be called “dynamic orthodoxy.”

Alan Schreck was our first hire. He was involved in charismatic renewal and interested in spiritual growth. I think his doctorate was in Church history.

Dr. Alan Schreck: Yes, Church history, with a focus on spiritual renewal movements. I met Father Mike in 1974, a year after I had graduated from Notre Dame with a BA in theology and English. He told me that if he were appointed president of the College of Steubenville, he wanted to “make Jesus Christ Lord of every aspect of campus.”

Dr. Alan Schreck


FM: You wanted to be involved in that mission.

AS: Well, it planted a seed in my heart. His vision of renewal seemed like that of St. Francis in the 13th century. When Father Mike came to the College with his band of friars they were touched by a similar grace—the grace of the charismatic renewal.


FM: What did the first years look like? 

FDS: Students came for the spirituality and the charismatic renewal, and they were interested in learning. Theology studies are faith seeking understanding, and they are a serious academic enterprise.

AS: It was a very small department. There were only four full-time theology faculty.

FDS: It was a really good department—we didn’t all think exactly the same. And enrollment grew, and the department grew.


FM: What were some early challenges? 

FDS: With the growth of theology majors, it also became clear to us that there were only so many theology jobs. So, we began to advise getting a double major, both to increase job prospects and to help overall knowledge. Within the department, we kept adding courses, and then we began to need more than one section for required courses. And we started to talk about a graduate program.

AS: In 1980, we started the MA in Christian Ministry and Renewal. I was the first director of this MA Theology Program, working closely with Father Augustine Donegan, TOR, our spiritual director at the time. In the 1990s, Barbara Morgan, already a gifted catechist, completed her own studies at Franciscan and ended up becoming director of Catechetics here, another MA Theology track. She mentored a whole generation of catechists.


FM: Father Dan, you began this good work, but it’s not been your only ministry. 

FDS: I left the University for a couple of years to be in a parish, which really opened my eyes to the pastoral aspects of theology. God used my parishioners as a prophet to me.

Getting off the hill gave me deeper pastoral experiences to join with theology once I was back in the classroom. We have to bring the Gospel to the streets in a way that touches people’s lives, and that’s the challenge of teachers and pastors. In 1998, I asked the provincial for a parish where I could serve people on the margins. I served in Baltimore for a couple of years, then I moved to Saint Francis University. I’m retired now, but I do some modest chaplaincy work.


FM: And Dr. Schreck, you’ve continued the good work in the classroom. 

AS: It’s a wonderful thing to be at Franciscan. We have been blessed with the light of Christ, the Spirit’s fruit of joy, the Franciscan penitential dimension, spiritual life supported by fantastic friars, and great academics. In August 2023, I’ll be fully retired, although I’m sure I will still be connected to the students. I treasure knowing them as a teacher, mentor, and even as a coach. I’m grateful to the Lord for leading me here.

Celeste (Gregory ’93) Fortenberry writes from Lincoln, Nebraska.

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