Light Upon a Hill

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Light Upon a Hill

75 Years of Evangelization

Autumn 2022 | Jessica Walker

In This Article

Evangelization has been a key part of Franciscan University of Steubenville’s mission since its foundation in 1946. It started small, as all great things do. The early professors, friars, and students helped point those within its walls and the local community to God. But the flame of faith only burned brighter as the years passed.

But the flame of faith only burned brighter as the years passed. When Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, was inaugurated as president on October 5, 1974, he said, “St. Matthew’s Gospel tells us men do not light a lamp and put it under a bushel basket, but rather a lamp is placed on a stand where it gives light to all in the house. I contend that the College of Steubenville, for many of you, is like a lamp under a bushel basket, and it needs to be placed on the lampstand.”

Today, generations have been touched by the University’s out- reaches and ministries. It’s all thanks to the faithful men and women who have listened to the Lord’s voice and responded to his call to make disciples.

Indeed, Franciscan University has been placed “on the lamp- stand”—or perhaps, on a hill overlooking the Ohio Valley—to shine the light of Christ out into the world.


The Early Years

“The presence of the College here will inevitably be a boon to the educational, cultural, and religious advancement of the community,” stated the local diocesan newspaper upon the College of Steubenville’s opening in 1946. “The Diocese of Steubenville will also benefit immeasurably by the new college. The establishment of the Franciscan Fathers of Loretto here—the first religious order of men to work as a group in the diocese—will surely enhance the spiritual progress of our territory.”

Steubenville Bishop John King Mussio had personally invited the Franciscan TORs to start a Catholic college in the new diocese, and the ties between the two were strong. Bishop Mussio opened the doors of the chancery’s own Immaculate Heart of Mary Chapel to the College’s students so they could attend Mass or spend a silent moment in prayer.

The Baronette student newspaper also advertised diocesan prayer services and events. For instance, the October 6, 1949, newspaper encouraged all Catholic male students and those of other Christian denominations to attend a men’s Holy Name procession in downtown Steubenville, “showing by your presence that your hope of final victory, your loyalty, your faith is in the name of Christ Jesus Our Lord.”

Students at the College came from different faiths, but they could be sure their education cared for their souls as much as their minds. Religion was among the required courses; students who were not Catholic were exempted but still took courses such as Basic Truths 101 and Character Formation 102.

The first academic catalog firmly stated this commitment to caring for their spiritual well-being, noting a student should be “taught not only his duties to himself, but also his rights and duties to Christian Society. He is to pass from this Institution with a true sense of values, a love for Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, and with a knowledge of where to find and how to recognize them.”
Throughout the late ’60s into the ’70s, the charismatic movement in the Church reached the College. Small, weekly prayer groups began gathering in the newly constructed Christ the King Chapel. These grassroots efforts steadily grew in number, with attendance reportedly topping 300 by 1974.

Then, a new president arrived in Steubenville. Building on the charismatic renewal already stirring, he promised to make “Jesus Christ the Lord of the campus in every respect.” Over his 26-year tenure, this vision would extend well beyond the campus itself.

That man was Father Michael Scanlan, TOR.


Steubenville Conferences

1994: Youth Conference.

Father Scanlan had barely settled behind the president’s desk at the College of Steubenville when the National Service Committee of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal came to him with a request. Would he hold a conference for priests, a gathering where they could find support and encouragement as shepherds of their parish communities? The answer had been yes.
But just three weeks before the event, the conference administrator walked into Father Scanlan’s office with a problem. A big problem. Over 500 priests had signed up, so many not even the largest auditorium could hold them. Father Scanlan thought for a moment. “Rent a big tent,” he said.

That was 1975. The tent went up again the following sum- mer as the number of priests doubled and conferences were added for religious sisters and youth. And again, the summer after that.

In fact, until the summer of 1993 when Finnegan Fieldhouse came into use, the “Glory Tent” made an annual appearance as people from across the country and around the world journeyed to Steubenville for Catholic conferences. Its red-and-white striped canopy would hear decades of passionate preaching and teaching, lively singing, and many, many heartfelt prayers.

“The tent has symbolized to the priests and the sisters and the youth being pilgrim people, people who follow the Lord, who follow the cloud of the Lord as he moves them forth, to stop when he says stop and to move when he says move,” said Father Scanlan in those early conference days.

The conferences continued drawing more “pilgrim people” into deep encounters with the Lord. Scores of employees, students, and volunteers from the local community spent countless hours setting up and tearing down, providing music ministry, and making shuttle runs to the airport for guests. The conferences’ scope expanded, too. For 11 years, a Bible Institute was held for those interested in delving into Scripture. A Catholic Charismatic Leaders Conference began in 1983. Other conferences touched upon topics such as Mary, healing, and marriage and family life. In the ’90s, conferences that people today will recognize emerged: Defending the Faith (1990), Applied Biblical Studies (1994), and the St. John Bosco Conference (1995).


“The Steubenville Conferences. . . have undoubtedly brought me so much closer to God. The bond he and I have now because of the events I’ve experienced at this place are completely life changing.” –Landen, 2022 Youth Conference Participant


The conferences became so popular, they could no longer remain Steubenville’s worst-kept secret. At the time though, space was limited. Only 5,000 young people could attend the two Steubenville Youth Conferences each summer.

Bishop Sam Jacobs of Louisiana had long seen the powerful effect the conferences had. He knew more teenagers could benefit from them, if only they had the opportunity. So, he recommended creating satellite Youth Conferences. He offered to host the inaugural 1995 regional conference in Alexandria, Louisiana, and Steubenville South was born.

The bishop’s idea spread. Now, in addition to 4 conferences on Franciscan University’s campus, 15 regional conferences are held for high schoolers across North America. From Florida to Canada, thousands of teens come together each summer for a weekend that invites them into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and shows them the power of the sacraments. They jump and sing along to worship music. They listen to inspiring talks on prayer, femininity and masculinity, and Christ’s mercy and love. They kneel before the Eucharist in adoration and join confessional lines that snake up and down hallways.

To date, over one million high school students have attended a Youth Conference. One fruit of those conferences has had a measurable impact: Since 2010, the annual Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate survey has found that between 8 and 16 percent of religious and seminarians slated for ordination in the United States listed a Steubenville Youth Conference as an influence in their vocational journey (15 percent in 2022).

For close to half a century, Steubenville Conferences have been renewing hearts and strengthening people for their lifelong journey with Jesus. It’s a testament to how a single, faithful yes to the Lord can ignite countless more.


Fanning the Flames

1987: Fire Rally in Syracuse, NewYork.

As the world headed into the new millennium, the University further expanded its evangelistic mission.

In the ’80s, Father Scanlan and a team of Catholic evangelists started FIRE rallies. Calling to mind Luke 12:49—“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”—they preached faith, intercession, repentance, and evangelization. These revival-style rallies were held in packed sporting stadiums and other large venues both nationally and internationally. Meanwhile on campus, an increasing number of young men expressed interest in discerning the priesthood. They needed guidance. They needed fellowship. In 1985, the Pre-Theologate Program (now called the Priestly Discernment Program) took shape. Following the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ guidelines for priestly formation, the program aimed to prepare these men academically for the seminary during their time at the University.


“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”


What started with four men in Koinonia Household quickly grew throughout the ’90s. Alongside regular studies, the men lived and prayed together with brothers walking the same path. In 1996, the first Vocation Awareness Fair was held—an event that still brings many priests and members of religious communities to campus each year.

The first Priestly Discernment Program graduate to be ordained a priest was the late Cornelius Cardinal Sim MA ’88 of Brunei. Now, the program’s graduates include hundreds of priests and religious.

Yet another program started during this era. This one, however, wasn’t limited to place. Instead, people could sit on their couches, turn their televisions to EWTN, and watch Franciscan University Focus.

The first show aired in 1993. There were no formal scripts. Just real, genuine conversations between host Father Scanlan, a special guest, and faculty panelists—with theology professors Dr. Regis Martin and Dr. Scott Hahn soon becoming regulars. The discussions included keen observations
and thought-provoking insights, along with the occasional humorous anecdote or witty joke.

A few things have changed over the show’s 30 years of run- time. It’s now called Franciscan University Presents. President Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, hosts each episode. The guests and topics come and go.

But the basic format has withstood the test of time. Every month, people continue to tune into episodes that discuss Scripture and the sacraments, religious persecution and racism, marriage and family, healing and forgiveness. And the show continues to serve as an evangelistic tool, shedding new light on everyday issues of faith and culture so viewers can engage them with truth and love.


On Mission

“You want to go to heaven, and God made you for that!” Father Dan Egan, TOR, the College’s first president, told the first graduating class. “Don’t let anything come between you and the good you can be to others. Be helpful and loyal to others, and it costs you personally nothing.”

Father Egan knew college students could be a transform- ing Christian presence in society. He also knew this mission wasn’t solely reserved for after they received their diplomas.

It started right here, at the College. Students went to Mass together, prayed together, and helped one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

But, as the College grew, formal missionary outreach programs developed. One such program was Works of Mercy, which proved students didn’t need to go far to find souls in need of the Gospel. Works of Mercy connects students with local community services and projects. The specific groups served have changed over the decades, but the primary out- reaches focus on serving the elderly, youth, and poor and needy of the Ohio Valley and nearby Pittsburgh.

In 1993, local parishes asked a group of students to give a retreat. That year, they led just one. But it would be the impetus for Student Evangelization Networking Teams (SENT). More than 200 students now participate in SENT and lead 32 retreats annually for middle schoolers and high schoolers at churches, dioceses, and schools throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and surrounding states. Each SENT team gives talks, shares their testimonies, plays games, and leads small groups—all to point the teens toward a deeper, joy-filled relationship with the Lord.

Other Franciscan students feel called to go on mission to the farthest corners of the world, and they gladly give up their breaks to do so. In 2003, mission trips officially became a separate outreach called Missions of Peace.

The pins of places traveled cover a map. Students have served the materially or spiritually poor across America— from San Diego to New York City, Denver to Los Angeles, and even in Steubenville. ThThey also pack their bags for destinations such as Belize, Ecuador, Jamaica, and Europe.

One group may lead prayer services and give chastity presentations. Another might pick up their ham- mers for home improvement projects. Yet another may assist with medical needs in remote villages. Each year, over 400 student missionaries go up into the mountains, down through city streets, and everywhere in between to serve as the hands and feet of Christ. Some alumni even go on to devote their lives to missionary work.

The stories of hearts changed and miracles witnessed from Missions of Peace are many. Yet, every year, it never fails: Students go on mission trips thinking about how much they have to give. They return in awe of how much they’ve received.


Lighting the Way

Living a life of holiness isn’t easy. Jesus promises his disciples they will encounter troubles in this world, and his promise rings true. Even leaders in the faith need to be buttressed against the storms.

In 2017, the Catechetical Institute officially launched. The institute extended Franciscan University’s catechetical formation to dioceses everywhere, providing support to people who teach the faith—in other words, forming those who form others.

In addition to events, the Catechetical Institute provides a wealth of online workshops featuring Franciscan University professors and other expert catechists. Different tracks meet participants’ unique needs, whether they’re serving youth, teaching in Catholic schools, or walking with catechumens in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. Although the institute has been around for just five years, it currently has over 100 partner dioceses and serves over 30,000 learners.

Franciscan University saw and responded to yet another need in the Church in 2019 by founding the School of Spiritual Direction. The school helps aspiring spiritual directors—priests, sisters, and laypeople—learn the art of accompaniment with formation in prayer, discernment, and the Catholic faith. Thus formed, they can help others see how the Holy Spirit is at work in their own lives. Graduates go forth to provide individual spiritual direction through a parish, retreat center, or other Church organization or ministry.

These and other outreaches recently received a new home in the Franciscan Center for Evangelization and Renewal. Located less than a mile from campus, the center now houses the Catechetical Institute, School of Spiritual Direction, Steubenville Conferences, Institute for Diaconate Renewal, and Parish Renewal Ministry—uniting these efforts and their 30 team members under one roof for the first time.

“We live in a culture and society that constantly needs evangelization and needs renewal,” said Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, at the center’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “It’s not just
a building for a building’s sake but it’s for something greater than us” because it’s “ultimately about building the kingdom of God.”

Looking back, it’s nothing short of miraculous to see how much Franciscan University has done to build the kingdom of God over the past 75 years. Still, as Father Dave has frequently said, God has much more for the University to do.

Plans are already underway for increasing the University’s current outreach and evangelization initiatives—doubling the number of teens touched by Christ through a Steubenville Youth Conference as well as the number of catechists formed by our Catechetical Institute; helping more people grow in personal holiness by forming hundreds more spiritual directors annually; and helping thousands of souls encounter the love of Jesus through a Steubenville Parish Mission, among other programs.

But the key going forward, as it was in the past, will be staying attentive to the Holy Spirit. Responding as the Spirit leads with faith, humility, and courage will enable Franciscan to continue this great work of evangelization begun here decades ago and carried out tirelessly by administrators, faculty, staff, students, and benefactors. Yes, by God’s grace, the light of Jesus Christ will shine forth ever more brightly from Franciscan University that all will “have the light of life” (John 8:12). Come, Holy Spirit!


“Don’t let anything come between you and the good you can be to others. Be helpful and loyal to others, and it costs you personally nothing.”


My Evangelization Story

I encountered Franciscan University first through a friendship with a Board of Trustees member, Jim Manhardt. When I began to teach at a local Bible study, Jim encouraged me to consider studying for the master’s in theology through Franciscan University’s Distance Learning. I did that, spent several summers on campus, loved every minute. I am thankful for Father Mike Scanlan, TOR—he was my inspiration! And Dr. Regis Martin, who showed me the beauty in words! Now, 12 years and counting, I serve as an adult Faith Formation instructor for our Palm Beach Diocese, an RCIA, CCD, and Confirmation instructor, a Charismatic Praise and Worship leader, and a prayer minister at the now famous Steubenville Florida Youth Conferences, where the Holy Spirit is changing and healing young hearts! When the Lord leads you to Franciscan, you can expect to be called to confidently and eagerly share what he has done for you! Praise the Lord! –Carolyn Dean, MA Theology ’10

Randy Malik MA ’87 and I organized a trip to Washington, D.C., January 1986 and filled the bus. It was a meaningful time together. —Sister Laura Swan OSB, MA ’88

While I was living in North Carolina in the 1990s, I was part of the renewal. A priest from Wilmington, North Carolina, was excited about his recent experience with the renewal and made arrangements for a weekend retreat at Franciscan University. I was part the chaperones, and it was exciting to see the students at the University evangelize these young high school kids. It was like a mini Youth Conference just for our kids. The kids came back changed. They were introduced to the University, households, and Jesus Christ. Years after the event, the priest, whose name was Father Jim Waters, passed, and at his funeral, a young adult approached me and told me how Father Waters had changed his life. He was one of the kids the University had evangelized. —Kenneth Forbush ’82

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