Live Like St. Francis

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Live Like St. Francis

A snapshot of memorable Poverello Medal recipients who lived Christian charity and service.

Winter 2022 | Jessica Walker

In This Article

Simple and cast in steel, the Poverello Medal is Franciscan University’s highest non-academic honor. Named for St. Francis of Assisi, who was called il poverello or “the little poor man,” the award has been bestowed upon many different individuals and organizations—from religious to laity, doctors to lawyers, and even a canonized saint. Yet, each honoree demonstrated Christian character, charity, and service to the poor like St. Francis. Here are some recipients over the decades.


1949 – Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous

The first Poverello Medal was awarded to the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous during the inaugural Founders’ Day banquet on December 7, 1949. The College of Steubenville’s news release said the selection was “based upon the outstanding work in rehabilitation by this group.”

At the event, College president Father Dan Egan, TOR, presented the medal to Sister Ignatia, known as the “Angel of Alcoholics Anonymous,” who helped treat alcoholic patients at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio— a novel endeavor at the time.


1962 – Jane Wyatt

Hollywood came to Steubenville with actress Jane Wyatt. The three-time Emmy Award winner visited the Pi Epsilon Delta sorority and met with the press, “just being a pleasant, kind, and genuine person,” as a local newspaper said.

Wyatt had an extensive stage and screen career, most notably in the 1950s television show Father Knows Best. But she also worked with the underprivileged and was devoted to Father Patrick Peyton’s Catholic radio crusade for family prayer. When College president Father Columba Devlin, TOR, presented the medal, he said Wyatt carried the moral standards of her private life into her public life. Wyatt, in turn, spoke of her mother and husband as her greatest influences, adding that “anyone married to an actor or actress really deserves the medals.”


1976 – St. Teresa of Calcutta

It’s no exaggeration to say saints have walked here. After all, Mother Teresa gave the 1976 commencement address. President Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, personally wrote to invite her, though she hadn’t yet received worldwide recognition. He later recalled, “The common response I overheard people give when asked ‘Who is your commencement speaker?’ was ‘Some nun friend of Father Mike’s.’”

Although most commencement speakers receive an honorary degree, Father Mike decided the Poverello Medal better suited Mother Teresa’s compassion for the poor. According to attendees—no known recording exists—Mother Teresa encouraged the graduates to help the impoverished in their own lives, as well as grow in love and prayer.

She also showed her sense of humor. When one graduate received his diploma, he put on Mickey Mouse ears. Mother Teresa just laughed.


2018 – Fr. Michael Scanlan, TOR

The longtime Franciscan University president may have given Poverello Medals to others but, in 2018, he was awarded his own posthumously. Father Mike brought the struggling College of Steubenville from possible closure into spiritual renewal, shaping what it is today during his 26 years as president.

But that wasn’t all. As the award citation read, “Few Catholics in the latter half of the 20th century loomed quite so large as Father Mike. He was a scholar, a lawyer, a soldier, a civil rights activist, a pro-life leader, an author, a speaker, and a priest. Above all, he was a humble follower of Jesus.”

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