From the President

The “Secret” Sauce

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From the President

The “Secret” Sauce

“Three elements or core values—ingredients, if you like—make our secret sauce unique: encounter, conversion, and community.”

August 2023 | Father Dave Pivonka, TOR '89

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“What’s the secret sauce?” I get asked this question or something like it often. What is it that makes Franciscan University such a special place?

There are the obvious things: the charming town of Steubenville, the amazing professors, the committed staff, and the zealous students. There are the beautiful liturgies, the worship and devotion, the perpetual adoration, the palpable love of Christ and his Church.

All this is true, but how do you sum it all up? What’s at the heart of Franciscan University? What makes Franciscan University, well, Franciscan University?

I believe three elements or core values—ingredients, if you like—make our secret sauce unique: encounter, conversion, and community. These core values shape who we are as individuals, and they guide and inspire how we operate as a university. Not surprisingly, they are also hallmarks of Franciscan spirituality.

As our last few popes have especially reminded us, at the heart of the spiritual life is an encounter with Jesus. It’s not a philosophy, a theology, or a movement; it’s an encounter with the person of Jesus that changes us. This encounter is central to what we are trying to do at Franciscan. We are creating a culture and opportunities for students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, and guests to encounter Jesus.

We certainly encounter Jesus in the Eucharist in Christ the King Chapel, the Portiuncula Chapel, and the many other eucharistic chapels on campus. But we also encounter him in our classrooms, residence halls, offices, student center, and athletic fields. We find Jesus in all these places because we encounter him in one another. This was key for St. Francis of Assisi. He could see Christ in the leper as well as in his brother. We continue to strive to do the same at Franciscan University

When we pay attention to the Scriptures, we discover that when many individuals encounter Jesus, they are transformed. Be it the woman at the well, the leper, or the criminal on the cross, their encounters with Jesus changed them. St. Francis encountered Jesus in a dilapidated chapel, and it changed him.

This change, or conversion, is also a core value for Franciscan University. God constantly invites us to deeper conversion; we are never fully finished. This ought not cause us frustration or discouragement, but rather hope. We are never too far from God’s grace.

I see this invitation to conversion for each person and for the “institution” of Franciscan. We don’t always get it right; we make mistakes and fall short sometimes. But we continue to evaluate and adjust, working to be better and more faithful stewards of the great gift of Franciscan University.

Encounter and conversion take place in community, our third core value. Being in relationship with one another, bringing our dreams, hopes, gifts, talents, brokenness, and differences together in community is a remarkable grace. And, at times, profoundly difficult. From the beginning of creation, humanity has been messy, to put it mildly. Yet, it is in this messy community that we seek ongoing conversion and encounter.

Living as a Franciscan community means we seek forgiveness when we fail, and we work to do better. We rejoice in one another’s successes and grieve in our failures and sorrows. At all times, we strive to make Christ the King the Lord of our lives and this community.

By God’s grace, we will always be who we have been called to be: Franciscan University, a community of disciples striving, falling, yet moving forward and doing what Jesus has called us to do: “Rebuild my Church.”

Encounter, conversion, community: Turns out the “secret” sauce is not so secret after all.



Father Dave, TOR

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