“Fr. Mike is a priest to the core, and a Franciscan to the core. He brought a spirit of joy, and a certain simplicity and poverty of spirit. Even though Fr. Michael is a very intelligent man, and a very astute lawyer, he has a certain joy and exuberance. A lot of that is a reflection of St. Francis' spirituality.
“The charismatic dimension became important,” Schreck added, “and it was very much compatible with his Franciscan identity. Because of some of the same graces – openness to God, joy, and simplicity – the charisms of this movement and his Franciscan vocation really complimented each other.”
“He really wanted to focus on the clear teaching of the Catholic faith, and a powerful proclamation of the Gospel.”
Soon, he began making significant changes to the school's academics and culture. Although the college offered a few required theology classes during the early 1970s, it did not offer a degree in the subject.
“He said, if we're going to be truly Catholic, we have to recognize theology as central to our identity. Theology became a major, and they began hiring people who were solidly Catholic and believed in faithfulness to the magisterium.”
“The second thing was in campus ministry,” Schreck explained. At the time Fr. Scanlan became president, the most popular Mass for students was held at midnight. “A lot of students would go out and party, then they'd sort of drift into that Mass so they could sleep in all day the next day.”
“Fr. Michael said he wanted to take over the 10 o'clock Mass on Sunday morning, and it wasn't going to be shortened – it was going to be long, because he would be preaching. He personally said, 'I want this to be the focal point Mass.' It gradually became that, because people were attracted to his preaching of the Gospel.”
He also wanted to develop a stronger sense of community, having read studies that showed college freshmen were at risk for depression and suicide. His solution, which remains a distinctive feature of life at Steubenville today, came from the charismatic movement.
“In various charismatic communities, they had established what they called 'households,' which were small groups in which people would support each other,” said Schreck. For several years, all Steubenville students were required to join one of the households, a bold decision that Shreck said was surprisingly successful.
In 1975, Fr. Scanlan also began holding summer conferences on the campus. “He had conferences for priests, deacons, religious sisters, and the big one was for high-school-age youth.” The annual Franciscan University Youth Conferences now host more than 35,000 young people at 18 locations in the United States and Canada.
Along the way, Schreck said Fr. Scanlan never sacrificed the school's academic quality in the service of its dymanic spiritual life. “They were both necessary,” he observed.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
The College of Steubenville gained university status in 1980, and became the Franciscan University of Steubenville in 1986. At that point, Schreck recalled, “it seemed that the corner had been turned,” and Fr. Scanlan's experiment had clearly exceeded expectations.
Today, in addition to its expanded summer conferences, the university also offers distance learning, 42 undergraduate majors, and seven graduate programs. Schreck said that he expects the university to continue building according to Fr. Scanlan's blueprint after his retirement to a more private ministry.
“Because we put Christ first, at the center of our campus, I'm very hopeful about the future of the university,” Schreck said.