Capital Campaign | Featured

Raising Up a New Generation of Builders

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Capital Campaign | Featured

Raising Up a New Generation of Builders

Franciscan University’s $75M capital campaign will provide more of the tools needed to rebuild a Church and culture in crisis.

Winter 2022 | Emily Stimpson Chapman

In This Article

Secrets are hard to keep. Especially good ones. Which is why the launch of Franciscan University’s new $75 million Rebuild My Church Capital Campaign was, as President Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, ’89 called it, “one of the worst-kept secrets in Franciscan’s history.”

Talk about a capital campaign began just over two years ago, at the end of 2019, when Father Pivonka, along with the University’s faculty, staff, and trustees, began internally discussing the school’s many and growing needs.

At that point, a decade had passed since the conclusion of the last capital campaign. Ten years’ worth of growth—in students, faculty, research, and outreach—along with 10 years’ worth of change—in the Church and culture—had created challenges at the University that normal fundraising efforts couldn’t resolve. Something more was needed. Not simply more funds or more space or more programming, but more reflection on what God was asking Franciscan to do, both now and in the future.

By early 2021, the fruits of that reflection had taken shape, and the University began the quiet phase of Rebuild My Church, the largest fundraising campaign in the University’s history.

In the beginning, the University hoped to raise $35 million before announcing the campaign to the public. That itself was a huge goal—larger than the total raised during Franciscan’s last capital campaign. Some weren’t sure it was possible. Father Dave was sure, however. So was the Board of Trustees. And they were proven right, as one friend of the University after another stepped up to support Franciscan.

“It was an easy decision for me to give,” says one of those friends, campaign chair and former trustee Mickey Pohl. “I gave because it is the work of the Holy Spirit going on here. At a time when our faith is under attack, this place is the hope for our future, and hope is the anchor of our faith.”

“This is a place where faith is alive,” echoes trustee John Goetz. “The joy and happiness on campus is palpable. I was happy to give to the campaign because Franciscan has made me a better person, and it’s made my family closer and more dedicated to the love of Christ.”

Because of those men and so many other trustees and generous donors, when Father Dave went before reporters on December 10, 2021, to share the news of the campaign’s public launch, he could announce that more than $65.2 million had already been raised for the campaign, putting the University within striking distance of its $75 million goal.

“I am awed by how many of our alumni and friends consider Franciscan their spiritual home and by their eagerness to support what God is doing in and through Franciscan University,” says Father Dave. “This past year, they helped us reach 87 percent of our campaign goal. For that, we are humbled and grateful beyond words.”


Rebuild My Church

The campaign itself takes its name from Jesus’ words to Francis of Assisi, first spoken in 1205, as the saint prayed in the ruins of the tiny San Damiano Church. Kneeling before the chapel’s beautifully painted crucifix, Francis asked, “Lord, what do you wish from me?”

When he looked up, the Christ on the crucifix answered, “Can you not see, Francis, that my house is falling down? Go, and rebuild my Church.”

Francis, ever the literalist, began picking up the crumbling blocks of San Damiano and putting them back in place. He soon came to understand, however, that Jesus was talking about something much bigger than any one chapel.

“Maybe he first recognized that call was about a culture getting darker and darker,” speculates Father Dave. “Or maybe he first recognized it as a call to rebuild the relationship between the Church and that culture. Or maybe he discovered Jesus’ call was about restoring faith and confidence in the Church he loved.”

Regardless, Francis’ ultimate response to Christ’s call was to found the Franciscan Order, which helped renew the medieval Church.

Today, the Church faces a similar crisis. Confusion and corruption have permeated Christ’s Body on earth, and basic building blocks of Christian culture are crumbling.

As Father Dave has noted, young people have experienced this attack most profoundly. So many don’t know who they are or who God created them to be and lack a foundation of faith. Not surprisingly, nationwide 75 percent of young people stop going to church during their college years. The vast majority never return.


Campaign Priorities

Decades ago, St. John Paul II predicted this crisis that our Church and culture would face, when he called for a “new generation of builders.”

He continued, “Moved not by fear or violence but by the urgency of genuine love, they must learn to build, brick by brick, the city of God within the city of man.”

Franciscan University believes its primary work is to raise up those builders, to form a new generation of faithful Catholics, who know, love, and live their faith in every sector and corner of society. Already alumni are doing that work, working in the culture to change the culture. More and more young people are coming behind them, and Franciscan needs to prepare them for the confusion, divisiveness, and brokenness that awaits them when they graduate.

“This work we are doing becomes more challenging every year,” says Father Dave. “It’s easy to tear things down. But it’s hard work to build things up. And the more in our culture that gets torn down, the more we have to rebuild.”

At its heart, Rebuild My Church: The Campaign for Franciscan University of Steubenville is about equipping the school for that work. It’s about giving the University the tools it needs to form the next generation of builders.

The three most important tools Rebuild My Church aims to provide are a new academic building and conference center, more scholarship aid for students, and more funding for evangelization, outreach, and other academic programming.

Christ the Teacher Hall ($48 Million)

The centerpiece of Rebuild My Church is a new combined academic building and conference center, Christ the Teacher Hall, which will meet the University’s most pressing need: more space in which to educate the next generation of Catholic leaders.

Twenty-two years have passed since Franciscan’s last academic building, SS. Cosmas and Damian Science Hall, was built. At the time, Franciscan had just over 2,000 students studying on campus. Today, there are more than 2,500 students on campus. That’s a 20 percent increase in Franciscan’s student body, with zero increase in space to educate these students. Another 900 Franciscan students take courses online. The growth is an amazing blessing. But it has come at a price, including overcrowding in classrooms and class scheduling difficulties for academic departments and students.

The University faces similar space constraints in its mission to engage the Church and culture. Part of the University’s mission is to take the best of what it offers students—in both research and scholarship—and diffuse it more powerfully into society. Over the past 15 years, it’s made tremendous strides in this area and established numerous academic centers and institutes. It also has continued evangelizing and forming the faithful through conferences and other faithfilled programming.

As the need for faithful Catholic engagement continues to grow, however, the school requires a more effective space in which to host conferences, symposia, and events.

Right now, Finnegan Fieldhouse serves as the sole location for most of those gatherings. When it was constructed 30 years ago, it was conceived as a dual-purpose facility, hosting athletic events and major campus events during the school year and conferences during the summers.

Since then, Franciscan’s student body has increased, athletics has added 18 varsity sports, summer conference attendance has tripled, and all current centers and institutes have come into existence. With such tremendous growth, Finnegan Fieldhouse can no longer meet the University’s current needs, let alone future needs.

Fr. Dave Pivonka, TOR, and Bob Hickey answer questions from reporters at the press conference that launched the Rebuild My Church Campaign.

Fr. Dave Pivonka, TOR, and Bob Hickey answer questions from reporters at the press conference that launched the Rebuild My Church Campaign.

Both those problems will be addressed through the construction of Christ the Teacher Hall. There, two wings—an academic building committed to the works of reason and a conference center used for forming people in the faith—will be joined together, reflecting the school’s commitment to faith and reason. The name of the new building reflects that same commitment.

Father Dave explains, “Since it was constructed, Christ the King has been the center of worship on campus. There, countless students have encountered Jesus’ mercy and love in the Eucharist, the sacrament of confession, the prayers of the Mass, the preaching of the friars, and the silence of private prayer. But there is no divide between the Christ we worship in the chapel as our king and the Christ we encounter in the classroom. Christ is our teacher, too.

“At Franciscan, Christ is at the center of our faith life and our intellectual life,” he continues. “There is no separation between faith and reason. We believe by calling the building Christ the Teacher, we’re highlighting this reality for our students and all who come here for the conferences that will take place in the building.”

The new three-story academic wing of Christ the Teacher Hall will house three departments: Business, Engineering, and Nursing. It will also include 12 new classrooms; 13 state-of-the-art engineering laboratories and nursing simulation rooms; 37 faculty offices; multiple collaborative spaces; and a café and lounge for students.

The conference center wing will offer seating for up to 500 people and flexible meeting space for smaller gatherings; a chapel where Mass can be offered for groups of 20-30 people; a 4,200-square-foot outdoor elevated terrace overlooking the campus, which can host up to 280 people for events; and, importantly, a new Welcome Center, which will house the Admissions Office and serve as a central gathering spot for campus visitors.

“It will be a beautiful intersection of faith and reason that will breathe life into the campus and empower our nursing, engineering, and business programs,” predicts the University’s Vice President of Advancement Bob Hickey ’97, MBA ’01.

Improved Access to a Franciscan Education ($18 Million)

Every year, hundreds of intelligent, faithful young people apply to Franciscan. And every year, many of those students have no idea how they’ll afford to attend Franciscan if they’re accepted.

Franciscan University works hard to keep its tuition low. It also works hard to get students the help they need to pay that tuition. Nevertheless, the total net costs to students remain high because the University can’t yet offer students the scholarship aid other colleges and universities offer.

Many of Franciscan’s students also come from large Catholic families. While the average number of children nationally is two, in families that choose to send their children to Franciscan, the average number of children is five. For those families, affording a quality Catholic education for all their children can seem impossible.

Addressing this problem is essential. Without increased aid, Franciscan University can’t attract the best and brightest young Catholic minds, and many of the young Catholics who do attend will leave burdened by student loans, potentially hindering them from serving the Church, entering priestly or religious formation, or getting married and starting families.

Accordingly, the Rebuild My Church Campaign seeks to raise $18 million in scholarship aid, some of which will be distributed immediately and some of which will be invested in the University’s endowment and accrue earnings that fund scholarships in perpetuity. Thanks to many generous friends—including one couple who donated $3 million in scholarship aid for students willing to go without smart phones during their time at the University and another who donated $5 million in scholarship aid for students from western Pennsylvania— Franciscan is well on the way to meet that goal.

“The thing that breaks my heart the most,” says Father Dave, “is when someone can’t come to Franciscan University simply because of a lack of financial resources. This is a problem we can fix.”


“The Lord is inviting Franciscan University, in the same spirit as St. Francis, to begin rebuilding the Church . . . I hope all our friends will join us.”


Outreach and Evangelization ($5 Million)

Pope Benedict XVI once said, “If we allow the love of Christ to change our heart, then we can change the world. This is the secret of authentic happiness.” This is also Franciscan University’s secret. Here, students encounter Christ through his Church and leave to change the world with joy.

It’s not only students, though, who leave Franciscan transformed by an encounter with Christ. For 47 years, the University has sought to lead others to that encounter through a host of evangelical and formational outreaches, from summer youth and adult conferences to the work of the Franciscan Catechetical Institute. Just one example of the fruit that work bears is that, in 2020, 16 percent of all newly ordained priests in the United States attended one of Franciscan’s youth conferences prior to entering seminary.

For as much as Franciscan has done, however, the spiritual hunger in our culture continues to grow. The University hopes to do more to meet that hunger, using funds raised by this campaign to expand current conferences and youth outreach efforts, create more online programming in evangelization and outreach, and launch an initiative to help dioceses revitalize Catholic life and liturgy in their parishes.

In doing this, Franciscan hopes to bridge the gap between the rich resources the University offers and the needs of struggling dioceses, parishes, and schools.

John Goetz, trustee; David DeWolf ’99, trustee and campaign vice chair; Fr. Dave Pivonka, TOR, ’89; president, Franciscan University; Mickey Pohl, trustee emeritus and campaign chair; Dr. John Irvin ’58, trustee emeritus; Chris Irvin ’90, trustee.

John Goetz, trustee; David DeWolf ’99, trustee and campaign vice chair; Fr. Dave Pivonka, TOR, ’89; president, Franciscan University; Mickey Pohl, trustee emeritus and campaign chair; Dr. John Irvin ’58, trustee emeritus; Chris Irvin ’90, trustee.

Looking Ahead

In a world filled with death, unbelief, and corruption, Christ called Francis to “Rebuild my Church.” Francis answered that call, giving everything to help Jesus renew the Church. Francis understood, however, that the work of rebuilding was never done. The brokenness of the world always demands more—more work, more fidelity, more prayer. This is why, near the end of his life, Francis would say to his fellow friars, “Let us begin again, brothers, for up until now, we have done little or nothing.”

Franciscan University understands this, too. By God’s grace, it has accomplished more in its 75-year history than many imagined possible. But so much more work needs doing. And the University thinks God is asking it to do that work.

“I believe the Lord is inviting Franciscan University, in the same spirit as St. Francis, to begin rebuilding the Church,” concludes Father Dave. “Many people see the Church as part of the problem. But I know the Church is part of the solution, and Franciscan is going to be at the heart of that solution. I hope all of our friends will join us.”

Too Good to Pass Up

Alumnus Bob Hickey shares why he returned to his alma mater to work on the Rebuild My Church Campaign.

The man largely responsible for the overwhelming early success of Franciscan University’s current capital campaign, Vice President of Advancement Bob Hickey ’97, MBA ’01, is new to the job, but not to the University.

In 1994, the New Jersey native was a seminarian at Seton Hall University when he noticed an ad for Franciscan University on the back of an Our Sunday Visitor newspaper. “Be Bold, Be Catholic, Be Educated,” it proclaimed.

“There have been six to seven times in my life where I felt like God was talking to me, and that was one of them,” he recalls. “I had never heard of the place before, but I could feel I was being called. Of course, this was back before the Internet, so I had to get a map out to even find Steubenville!”

When Hickey arrived at the University, his plan was to complete his undergraduate degree in social work, then enter the seminary for the Franciscan TORs in Loretto. That stayed the plan until January 1996, when Hickey was playing basketball in Finnegan Fieldhouse. He glanced over and saw, for the first time, Jen McInnis ’96. Immediately he knew he wasn’t going to Loretto.

“It took me so long to discern and decide on the seminary,” he says. “I thought deciding not to go would take just as long. But it didn’t. It took five seconds. That was another time I heard God speaking.”

Eleven months later, just two days after completing his last final exam, the couple was married.

Over the next 25 years, Bob held numerous jobs in fundraising and sales—for a religious order, a Catholic university, Key Bank, and eventually the Diocese of Cleveland. In between those jobs, though, he came back to Steubenville—first in 1998 to work in the Financial Aid Office while earning his MBA, then again in 2008 to manage Franciscan’s last capital campaign. He also came as a parent. His oldest daughter graduated from the University in 2020, and the next three behind her are current students (four more children are still at home).

Finally, in June 2021, Hickey returned to Franciscan to direct the Rebuild My Church Campaign.

“I wanted to help,” he explains. “And after 10 and a half years as director of Development for the Diocese of Cleveland, I felt equipped and prepared to do that.”

Just three months after arriving in Steubenville, Franciscan’s former vice president of Advancement, Tom Pappalardo, retired, and Hickey was asked to take his place. Fortunately for Franciscan, he said yes.

“I love the University,” he concludes. “Everything good in my life, I attribute to the University in some way. I have nothing but gratitude for this school, and the opportunity to be a part of this, to work with Father Dave and such an amazing team in the Advancement Office, was too good to pass up.”


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