In Brief

In Brief – Autumn 2023

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In Brief

In Brief – Autumn 2023

A look at recent news from the Franciscan University community.

Autumn 2023

In This Article

Record Enrollment Prompts New Student Residence

The largest incoming class in Franciscan University’s history—over 770 students—was welcomed to campus this fall with the enthusiastic cheers of fellow students. Their infectious joy helps explain why Franciscan continues its seven-year streak of record-breaking enrollment.

Since 2016, overall enrollment, undergraduate enrollment, and on-campus enrollment have broken records. This year, the largest freshman class of over 650, as well as over 120 transfer students, brings the total number of students enrolled on campus and online to more than 3,800. In addition, the Study Abroad Program in Gaming, Austria, hit maximum capacity with 229 students. With 818 graduates last year—a 30 percent increase over just three years—Franciscan is launching more joyful disciples into the world than ever before.

Anticipating the number of on-campus students to top 2,500 this year, the University purchased the nearby Sleep Inn and Suites on July 20 and in five weeks transformed it into a new men’s residence named Blessed Solanus Casey Hall. With 140 students already settled in, it offers Franciscan’s unique residential experience, including its own chaplains, Residence Life staff, and households.

“We could not be more excited about the opening of Blessed Solanus Casey Hall,” said President Father Dave Pivonka, TOR ’89. “For us, this is not only another significant milestone as we continue to expand and educate more students. It is a sign of the Lord’s blessing and young people’s deepening desire for the values of community, encounter, and conversion that permeate Franciscan.”

Blessed Solanus Casey Hall includes a grotto dedicated to Blessed Mother Mary, larger student rooms, private bathrooms, and unique amenities such as a turf field, fire pits, exercise and weight room, hammock village, and grab-and-go food service. Plans are also underway for a future pickleball court, expanded patio, and event space. When completed, the new outdoor facilities will be open to all Franciscan students.

Heavenly Coach of Steubenville’s new “Baron Express” shuttle and a new well-lighted sidewalk connect Casey Hall to the upper campus. Christ the King Chapel is a short, 10-minute walk.

Blessed Solanus Casey, who died in Detroit, Michigan, in 1957 and is one step away from being canonized a saint, was a Franciscan friar with the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin.

“Naming the new residence after Blessed Solanus Casey has a special significance for us as a Franciscan community,” said Father Dave. “His example of simplicity and humble service is something we should all follow.”

From hotel to residence: Blessed Solanus Casey Hall opens to house 140 men in fall 2023.


Welcoming New Trustees

Franciscan University recently welcomed six new members to its distinguished Board of Trustees.

Immaculée Ilibagiza is a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide that killed nearly one million of her fellow Tutsis, including most of her own family. Today, she is a world-renowned Catholic speaker, spreading a message of hope and forgiveness. She is the author of seven books, including the New York Times bestseller Left to Tell. She and her husband have two children who chose to study at Franciscan, a 2021 alumna and a current student.

Dr. Daniel McMahon is a pediatric urologist and director of pediatric urology at the Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron, Ohio. A graduate of The Ohio State University College of Medicine, McMahon is an active member of Legatus, LifeWorks Ohio, and Young Catholic Professionals of Cleveland. He and his wife, Nancy, have six children.

Ron Riggins is the co-founder, president, and managing director of Present Financial. He established Franciscan University’s Harvest Is Abundant Scholarship Fund for men discerning the priesthood and joined multiple Franciscan pilgrimages, including to Rome and the Holy Land. He lives in McLean, Virginia, with his wife, Teresa; the couple has three children and three grandchildren.

Franciscan alumnus Dr. John Rodriguez ’92 is an accomplished radiologist who earned his MD at the University of Miami School of Medicine and began practicing radiology in 2001. Currently, he serves as a diplomat of the American Board of Radiology and on the Certification Board of Nuclear Cardiology. Married with three daughters, he is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish and is an avid private pilot.

Father Matthew Russick, TOR, is the parochial vicar at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Herndon, Virginia, ministering to the Spanish-speaking community, and chaplain to the local Knights of Columbus. Previously, he served as Franciscan’s pastoral associate for Evangelization and Household Life from 2018 to 2021 and in various roles in campus ministry.

Hope (Batchelder ’00) Schneir, married to Justin ’99, is a stay-at-home mother of nine children, award-winning songwriter and musician, and a dedicated Catholic evangelist. She founded and runs a thriving young adult ministry, Friday Night Live, in California and writes for Soul Gardening Journal.

Ground-breaking Research

Scientific Reports published a peer-reviewed pre-clinical study in rats by Dr. Stephen Sammut, professor of psychology at Franciscan University, that demonstrates chemical-induced abortion reversal to be over 80 percent effective.

According to the study, in the abortion-drug only group, abortion took place in 100 percent of the rats. In the group given the abortion drug followed by progesterone, 81 percent of the rats had live fetuses at the end of gestation.

Dr. Stephen Sammut

“With this study, we know that abortion can be reversed by the administration of progesterone, and that there are living fetuses at the end of gestation,” Sammut said. “We now need to investigate the behavior of the offspring and the mothers in order to confirm their long-term health.”

Sammut said these findings will better equip the general public to make informed decisions and challenge medical organizations and legislators to consider the scientific evidence.

Sammut has already begun work on an extended version of this study.

“The most important thing to take from this research is that abortion-pill reversal is not a medical malpractice,” Sammut said. “It is a scientific and medical reality based on simple chemistry, and it is available for women who regret taking the abortion pill.”

Christina Camilleri also assisted with the study and serves as Sammut’s research and teaching assistant. Camilleri graduated from Franciscan University with a BS in biology in 2017.

This study was funded by private, restricted donations for Sammut’s research pertaining to perinatal research. Visit to learn more.


New MS in Criminal Justice

Franciscan University expects to launch a new master’s program in criminal justice in fall 2024. Pending approval by the Ohio Department of Higher Education and the Higher Learning Commission, the new program will expand Franciscan’s rapidly growing Criminal Justice Program and help address the urgent need for well-educated, faithful Catholics to pursue careers in criminal justice.

“The overall aim of the graduate degree is to support and prepare a new generation of criminal justice practitioners whose vision and outlook are rooted in a moral, ethical, and natural law philosophy,” said Dr. Charles P. Nemeth, professor of criminal justice and director of the Center for Criminal Justice, Law, and Ethics. “The program will highlight emerging specialties in criminal justice such as cybersecurity, cybercrime, child protective strategies, community initiatives, forensic science, and advanced investigative protocols.”

The growing politicization of the justice system, and the subsequent decline in public trust, calls for a robust response. Franciscan’s new program is a vital part of this response, emphasizing the true nature of justice and the imperative to carry it out.

“Our MS in criminal justice will be unique,” said Dr. Stephen Hildebrand, vice president for Academic Affairs. “We’ll use the wisdom of the Catholic intellectual tradition and the best of modern research and practice to help our graduates make a profound difference in our justice system.”


Among the Midwest’s Best

U.S. News & World Report’s 2023-24 Best Colleges guidebook ranked Franciscan University 26th among all Midwest universities, placing it in the top tier of the region’s 164 colleges. Franciscan’s ranking also makes it one of Ohio’s top 4 colleges.

This year’s rankings also highlight Franciscan’s success in graduating low income and first-generation students, jumping 55 spots to 37th place in the “social mobility” category.

“It’s exciting and encouraging to see the growing number of students choosing to come to Franciscan year after year,” said Father Dave Pivonka, TOR ’89, president of Franciscan University. “But what’s most inspiring is to see them come alive and flourish during their time here. As we saw this past year, it’s the quality, not just the quantity, of our graduates that makes such an impact on our world.”


Meet Our New Faculty

Franciscan University welcomes our new faculty!

Franciscan Saint

Blessed James Oldo (1364-1404)

James Oldo’s wife and mother couldn’t hide their astonishment. Their James had been born into wealth and grown up with every pleasure the world could offer. He didn’t want for anything. But now, he was abandoning all that for the Catholic faith. Even more shocking, he wanted to be a secular Franciscan.

James’ radical conversion was the result of both tragedy and grace. James was born near Lodi, Italy, in 1364. The Black Death had ravaged Europe more than a decade before, but it wouldn’t be done casting its shadow over the 14th century. The plague later reemerged and caused James, his wife, and three daughters to flee the city for the countryside. Nevertheless, two of his daughters and a close friend all succumbed to the disease.

Some accounts attribute the start of James’ journey back to faith to the death of his loved ones. Others attribute it to a visit to a traveling reproduction of the Holy Sepulchre. As the story goes, James jokingly laid on the Holy Sepulchre replica to compare his height to Jesus’ height. In that moment, he experienced a miraculous conversion.

James’ witness as a secular Franciscan would ultimately win the hearts of his wife and mother, who also became tertiaries. The family transformed their Lodi mansion into a chapel and devoted their time to caring for the sick.

Following his wife’s death, James was ordained to the priesthood in 1397. A pious man, he practiced such severe acts of penance that his bishop had to order him to eat every week.

Many who heard him preach esteemed him as a prophet. Some were even inspired to enter consecrated life by his words.

In 1404, James caught a disease from his patients and passed away at 40 years old. A few years later, his body was moved and found to be incorrupt. Pope Pius XI beautified James Oldo in 1933.

His feast day is April 18.


book - finding happiness in a complex world

Finding Happiness in a Complex World: Rules From Aristotle and Aquinas

Dr. Charles P. Nemeth

Sophia Institute Press

We all want to be happy, and yet many people today are miserable. So, what makes us happy? Dr. Charles Nemeth, director of the Criminal Justice Program at Franciscan University, seeks to answer that question through unpacking the wisdom from two of the West’s greatest thinkers: Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. Nemeth draws from these great philosophers to explore what happiness means and its limitations, how we can foster contentment, and what the source of ultimate happiness is.


book - holy habits from the sacred heart

Holy Habits From the Sacred Heart

Emily (Wilson ’98) Jaminet

Ave Maria Press

How can we grow closer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus? And how can devotion to his Sacred Heart help us forge more loving connections with family and friends? Emily Jaminet, executive director of the Sacred Heart Enthronement Network, provides 10 ways to welcome Jesus’ Sacred Heart into your faith life and personal relationships. She provides testimonies, prayers, and reflection questions to help you practice these habits and virtues and, ultimately, draw closer to Jesus.


book - for she who grieves

For She Who Grieves: Practical Wisdom for Living Hope

Holly Joy (Penzenstadler ’03) McIlwain and Amy Hooper Hanna

Aurora Corialis Publishing

There’s no way around it—grief hurts. That’s why Franciscan alumna Holly Joy McIlwain and coauthor Amy Hooper Hanna have compiled a collection of stories featuring women’s journeys out of the darkness of grief and into the light of joy and hope. They offer simple wisdom and advice to help readers make sense of grief, navigate the complicated emotions surrounding it, and embrace what comes next. Whether you’re grieving or you know someone who is, this book is an uplifting and insightful resource.


book - love basics for catholics

Love Basics for Catholics: Illustrating God’s Love for Us Throughout the Bible

Dr. John Bergsma

Ave Maria Press

What can marriage teach us about God’s relationship with us? In this book, Franciscan University theology professor Dr. John Bergsma examines nine biblical marriages, from Adam and Eve to Ruth and Boaz to Jesus as the Bridegroom of the Church. Alongside his classic stick-figure illustrations, he unpacks Scripture and salvation history and illuminates Church teachings on marriage. Each thoughtful and engaging chapter will help you better understand the beauty of marriage, as well as just how deep God’s love is for you.

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