Our History


Old North Campus

Franciscan University was born on December 10, 1946, a product of the optimism in the country that accompanied victory in World War II. Indeed, most members of the first class were veterans of the war and were making use of the GI Bill to pay for their education. The school in which the 258 students (including seven women) enrolled was known officially as the College of Steubenville, and its origins were distinctly humble. Bishop John King Mussio, recently installed in 1945 as the first bishop of Steubenville, decided that the time was right for a Catholic college in that region of Ohio. Asking the Jesuits for their help, the bishop was told that the diocese would have to pay $1 million up front to bankroll the enterprise. Unable to meet such an expensive request, the bishop turned instead to the Franciscans.

Building on Faith

The Third Order Regulars, the TORs, had already achieved surprising success with St. Francis College in Loretto, Pennsylvania, and the friars not only accepted the challenge of starting a college in Steubenville, they offered to provide their own financing. With $348,000 in borrowed funds, Father Dan Egan, TOR, arrived in Steubenville and set to work on the daunting task of starting a college from scratch. Assisted by Father Regis Stafford, TOR, Egan began by purchasing the Knights of Pythias Building on Washington Street to serve as the grandly named Main Campus, along with several buildings that became the North Campus.

Fr. Dan Egan(1)

From the first, there was a feeling of making do. Owing to the considerable walking distances between the two campuses, students were given the unusually long period of 15 minutes between classes. The College library was placed in the basement of the Pythias Building, a spot that had once been an infamous nightclub. There were also makeshift classrooms converted from a Quonset hut and a former Army barracks.In a speech delivered just before the school opened its doors, Father Egan described his vision for the College. His words had a timeless relevance: "The College has a two-fold purpose . . . to give those who enroll here a thorough sense of values designed to train men for a full life which occupies 24 hours a day, not simply eight hours spent in the shop or office. It also aims to contribute to the development and the welfare of a man's nature, recognizing that he has not only a body but an immortal soul." The curriculum reflected this goal, with mandatory courses in theology and philosophy; non-Catholics were exempted from theology requirements, but they still had to take such courses as Basic Truths 101, Character Formation 102, and six hours of Social Psychology. In June 1950, the first graduating class was honored with 17 different events, including a solemn Mass at St. Peter's Church and a June 8 commencement at Steubenville High School. Two years later, one of the long-range hopes of Egan was realized-40 acres of hilltop land a mile from downtown Steubenville was secured to provide for a brand new campus. Sadly, Father Egan did not live to preside over the new era. In March 1959, smoke from a fire in the friary claimed his life. Throughout the 13 years of Father Egan's leadership, the College had been tiny, but it was blessed by an abiding Catholic spirit and a genuine commitment to the future. In 1949, for example, the first Founders' Day Dinner was held at the Fort Steuben Hotel and the first Board of Advisors was formed. Egan also attracted a faculty of talented scholars and encouraged an Athletic Department that included intercollegiate football and basketball. The football team suffered through several losing seasons-save for 1947 when it had a record of 4-4-1-and was disbanded in 1950 because of the prohibitive costs of the sport. The basketball team, meanwhile, was surprisingly successful throughout the decade, once winning 56 home games in a row under coach Hank Kuzma and earning the title "Number One Small College Basketball Team in the U.S. " with a record of 24-1 in 1958.

A New Campus


In the summer of 1959, Father Kevin R. Keelan, TOR, began the first of two terms as president of the College (1959-62 and 1969-74). Keelan's first term was marked by the fulfillment of Father Egan's plans for a new campus. In 1959, a groundbreaking was held for a complex of six new buildings on the hilltop, and two years later the College completed its move from downtown Steubenville. The new campus marked a period of progress that was continued by Father Keelan's immediate successor, Father Columba J. Devlin, TOR, who served as president from 1962 to 1969. In 1965, the graduating class topped 100 students for the first time. By 1969, the campus boasted 10 buildings, including dormitories, the Holy Spirit Monastery, laboratories, and the distinctive Christ the King Chapel. The progress on the campus was matched by a growth in the student population. By 1970, there were 1,111 total students, permitting the College to pay off its debts.

The apparently endless period of development could not be sustained as a financial and cultural storm broke during the second presidency of Father Keelan. First, the College ceased to be the sole educational center in the Steubenville area. Four other state-supported schools had been established in the previous years, all of them offering lower tuition. Combined with the general decline in births at the end of the baby boom, there was a steady drop in enrollment.

Financial shortfalls from the drop in enrollment prompted layoffs among the faculty and staff and cutbacks in programs. In an effort to attract a wider cross-section of students, the curriculum was revised. The once solid requirements of philosophy and theology were abolished: Philosophy ceased being mandatory at all, and only six hours of theology were necessary for graduation. Equally troubling was the gradual erosion of authentic Catholic spirit.

Let the Fire Fall

Encouraged by the changes in the curriculum, some students petitioned that unlimited open visitation be introduced in the dorms. Father Keelan refused the appeal and resisted the spiritual decline despite his increasing health problems, but it was clear that a new direction was needed for the College. The lowest point came during opening day of the 1973 fall semester when a meager six students and eight members of the faculty attended the first Mass of the term. Soon after, Father Keelan asked to be replaced due to illness. In 1974, the Board of Trustees chose Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, to succeed Father Keelan. He had served as dean of the College from 1964-69 and was well known as one of the leaders of the Catholic charismatic renewal. Father Scanlan was the only one of the four candidates to hold the opinion that the College could actually stay open without being combined with some other state school.From the start, Father Scanlan made it clear that things were going to be different. Instead of approaching the needs of the College from academic and administrative directions, he went straight to the heart of the problem. The College of Steubenville needed a profound Catholic renewal. As he wrote in his autobiography,:"What was needed was a series of changes over time that would eventually alter the system and transform the whole atmosphere of the College. This would be a step-by-step process, but it would be guided by a clear understanding of the eventual goal-a spiritual transformation."

Typical Problems, Atypical Responses

Father Mike, as he was soon called, considered student life his top priority. He spent his first semester in fall 1974 getting to know the students-playing seven intramural sports with them, attending their plays, concerts, and sporting events, showing up at any party he heard about, invited or not. What he discovered were many students struggling to come to terms with the dramatic cultural and moral shifts of the sixties and seventies, testing authority, and haunted by a desperate sense of loneliness and isolation. Sunday morning Mass was poorly attended, and a petition was sent to the new president requesting that it be moved to afternoon. Other petitions followed, such as a renewed demand for open dorms and an end to the campus curfew. These problems were no different from those of most Catholic and secular universities at that time. But Father Mike's response was.

Rather than merely refusing the Mass petition, Father Mike declared that he would be celebrating the Sunday liturgy himself. And while other administrators-even at many Catholic colleges-caved in to student petitions for co-ed dorms and against curfews, Father Mike rejected them. Instead he inaugurated "households," an innovative residence life program requiring students to form small groups for ongoing communal prayer, sharing, and mutual support. Despite some initial resistance, the households proved effective in ending the severe isolation on the part of students. Households remain a cherished tradition today, even though membership is no longer mandatory. Other resources were spent on campus ministry and student life, as well as youth conferences that also attracted new students.

Recruitment targeted young Catholics who were active in the charismatic renewal or who wanted to attend a college dedicated to authentic Catholicism. In time, the entire atmosphere of the College was reformed, in part by the influx of excited new students. The restoration of campus life meant that other improvements were delayed, and the changes came at a high price. By 1976, the enrollment was so low that some faculty assumed the College's days were numbered. Others disagreed with Father Mike's program, and many members of the student body, the faculty, and the administration resigned or left for other schools. Some of the administrators chosen to replace them also departed. Anger was also felt locally and among some alumni when the expenses involved in athletics and low attendance at games prompted the school to abandon its participation in basketball in 1981. Slowly, Father Mike assembled a team that could implement his vision for the school as a place of vigorous Catholicism and academic excellence. The fruits of their efforts were apparent in 1980 when the College earned the official designation as the University of Steubenville, through the addition of several graduate programs, including an MBA, MS in Education, and MA in Theology. In 1985, in recognition of the Catholic Franciscan spirit suffusing the school, the Board of Trustees voted to change the name to Franciscan University of Steubenville. Two years before, the University had paid off its entire debt, inaugurating a new era of construction. The John Paul II Library was dedicated in 1987. The next year, the one-time Ohio Valley Skating Rink was purchased and converted into the St. Joseph Center for offices and classrooms. In 1992, the Finnegan Fieldhouse was dedicated, boasting courts for basketball and racquetball, a weight room, and an exercise room. By 1989, full-time undergraduate student enrollment was 1,179, surpassing at last the previous high set in 1970. The vibrant quality of the faith was also attracting faith-filled Catholic professors who often applied at the encouragement of students or who had heard about the school from priests returning home from the annual summer Priests' Conferences held every year since 1975. Father Michael interviewed every applicant personally and found scholars who shared his enthusiasm for "dynamic orthodoxy," an educational approach marked by fidelity to the Church and openness to the Holy Spirit. In 1989, the members of the theology faculty along with the friars at the University were the very first professors and campus ministers in the United States to make the newly formulated Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity called for in the Church's New Code of Canon Law. In 1991, the University secured the use of a recently restored 650-year-old Carthusian monastery, the Kartause Maria Thron ("Monastery of Our Lady, Throne of Jesus"), for students to spend a memorable semester studying in picturesque Gaming, Austria, in the foothills of the Alps. The following year, the University launched the Language and Catechetical Institute (LCI) at Gaming to provide desperately needed catechetical training to teachers from Eastern Europe. In 1996, the University helped to launch the International Theological Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family (ITI) at Gaming. In 1999, Father Michael made the decision to step down as president of the University. He was asked by the trustees, however, to serve as chancellor. Taking the helm of a college in 1974 plagued with debt and lacking spiritual vitality, Father Michael was able to bequeath to his successor a university with a world-renowned faculty, a student body of over 2,000, and a tradition of dynamic orthodoxy.

Transforming the Culture

Appointed the fifth president of Franciscan University in August 2000, Father Terence Henry, TOR, has held to the University's legacy while moving the school into the future. He has promoted Pope John Paul II's call for Catholics to influence every aspect of culture, introducing new majors in drama, catechetics, German, sacred music, and legal studies, and a concentration in bioethics for the MA Philosophy Program.

He also introduced the Commuter Grant Program, which encouraged and aided more local students to study at Franciscan with their peers from around the United States and many countries.

Father Terry also successfully oversaw the University's re-entry into intercollegiate sports in 2007 as the Barons became provisional members of the NCAA Division III and gained entry into the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference. These affiliations give student-athletes the opportunities they need to transform the secular sports culture with the light of Christ as players and later as parents, coaches, or athletic directors.

The physical campus has more than doubled in size with the purchase of adjacent property bringing the total acreage to 239, allowing the beautification of lower campus along University Boulevard, and ensuring plenty of space for further growth. A new residence hall, the 48,000-square-foot SS. Louis and Elizabeth Hall, opened in fall 2007 as home to 177 students. Apartment-style housing became available in 2008 for upperclassmen and graduate students when the University purchased a neighborhood adjacent to campus from the Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority.

Father Terry undertook the most ambitious capital campaign in the University's history, with a $25 million goal earmarked for student scholarships, a new friary, and chairs in bioethics and catechetics among the top needs. In 2009, the friars moved into their new home, which gives them more room for ministry, outreach, and hospitality as well as a better working and living environment. With enrollment currently topping 2,400, Father Terence stresses that the focus of the University remains its students. "The student body of this school in the Upper Ohio Valley is made up of students from 50 states and 12 countries and is very diverse. But they are unified in their desire to serve God and to equip themselves with the skills to live in a secular world and to try to transform the culture. It is exciting that they have kept this goal of contributing to the culture of life and the civilization of love."

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