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Father Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, Installed as President of Franciscan University of Steubenville


Ceremonies, Speakers Focus on Commitment to Catholic Identity

Posted:  2013-10-11

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FSS-inauguration
Father Richard Davis, TOR, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Franciscan University of Steuebnville and Minister Provincial of the Province of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, affixes the chain of office onto Father Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, sixth President of Franciscan University of Steubenville.  


Father Sean's inaugural address: video and transcript
Welcome remarks by Jamie McAleer, Board of Trustees: transcript
Photo Gallery: Facebook

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio—At the moment the presidential seal of office was affixed to his academic regalia and hundreds of people rose in unison to applaud his accomplishment, at the moment he was officially inaugurated as the sixth president of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Father Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, diverted attention away from himself and to Christ.

Turning away from the crowd, he raised his arm and pointed to the gigantic San Damiano Cross on the wall of Finnegan Fieldhouse as if to say, “To Christ be all the glory.”

A few minutes later, Father Sheridan opened his presidential address by saying, “I would like to begin this afternoon by thanking almighty God for bringing us to this day, for bringing each of us here, to this point in our lives; for entrusting to us this university, the great Franciscan University of Steubenville.”

Humility, sacrifice, and prayers of thanksgiving to God were dominant themes during two days of celebrations to mark Father Sheridan’s presidential installation.

At an October 9 Holy Hour held on the eve of his inauguration, students, faculty, staff, and guests filled Christ the King Chapel to pray for Father Sheridan. In his homily before the Benediction, Father Sheridan said that becoming a disciple of Christ “means to stand at the foot of the cross” as St. Francis of Assisi did when he abandoned his life to Christ. “We, too, will have crosses to bear in life. We, too, will have to make sacrifices in life. That is what we are called to do as followers of Christ.”

The homilist for Father Sheridan’s Inaugural Mass the following morning, October 10, was Father Nicholas Polichnowski, TOR, minister general of the worldwide Third Order Regular of St. Francis. Contrasting the installation of a president at a secular university to what was occurring at Franciscan University, he said, “We, in our faith commitment, began here, in the Eucharist. Because not only is Father Sean being installed as an institutional president, he’s also being commissioned by the Third Order Regular of St. Francis to be a pastor among you.”

Father Polichnowski had just returned from Assisi where he joined Pope Francis to celebrate the feast day of St. Francis, and he came bearing two gifts for Father Sheridan.

“I told Pope Francis where I was going next, and he gave me this,” Father Polichnowski said, holding up a box with a rosary blessed by Pope Francis on St. Francis’ feast day. The rosary, he said, is a reminder that “Father Sean’s ministry must be centered in prayer.”

He also presented Father Sheridan with a wood carving of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, for whom the province of the Franciscan Third Order Regular that governs Franciscan University of Steubenville is named. The carving is “to remind [Father Sheridan] that he is an instrument of the Lord put here on this campus by the Third Order Regular of St. Francis to guarantee that the floodgates of mercy remain open,” said Father Polichnowski.

Three bishops participated in the Mass: Bishop Jeffrey Monforton of the Diocese of Steubenville; Bishop Emeritus Gilbert Sheldon of the Diocese of Steubenville; and Bishop Joseph Bagobiri of the Diocese of Kafanchan, Nigeria, who graduated from Franciscan University in 1987 and was the University’s first alumnus to become a bishop.

The inauguration ceremony, held in the afternoon, featured speeches by four constituencies in the life of Franciscan University and a major address by Father Sheridan.

Father Richard Davis, TOR, minister provincial of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Province, spoke on behalf of the Franciscan Third Order Regular.

He recounted interviewing Father Sheridan as vocations director in the 1990s and inviting him to a Come and See Weekend. “I knew God had plans for him,” said Father Davis, as he watched Father Sheridan “grow in wisdom, grace, and age” from his time as a novice to his solemn profession of vows in 2005.

From living in community with him, Father Davis attested to Father Sheridan’s lack of pride. “Humility, as sons of St. Francis, must always be a hallmark of our lives. What we are called to do and who we are is God’s work, not our work. It’s God’s plan, not our plan,” said Father Davis.

“Remember your role as shepherd,” he said to Father Sheridan. “Remember your role as a Franciscan friar. You are part of a long-standing tradition. You are part of God’s grace and plan.”

Father Christian Oravec, TOR, also of the Province of the Sacred Heart, spoke on behalf of Catholic higher education and in particular, the two Franciscan universities administered by the TOR province. Mrs. Jamie McAleer represented the Board of Trustees and spoke as a parent of two Franciscan University students (Text of her address is available at www.franciscan.edu/inauguration). Father Terence Henry, TOR, immediate past president of Franciscan University (2000-2013) and now University chancellor, spoke on behalf of the University.

The main address of the day was Father Sheridan’s inauguration speech, titled “Moving Forward as the Holy Spirit Directs.” He began with a commitment to advance the mission of Franciscan University

“both as a university dedicated to academic excellence and as a university that is passionately Catholic in its very being.”

He outlined the history of the University since its founding in 1946, saying, “There is much more for us to do.” He emphasized, “even though we have seen many of our students being formed to transform the culture through what takes place here at the University, we have only seen a glimpse of what God has planned for Franciscan University and for each one of us.”

Much of his talk unpacked what it means for Franciscan University to be “academically excellent” and “passionately Catholic.”

Referencing what he called the “distorted view” of the popular culture on issues such as contraception, abortion, marriage, and euthanasia, he said, "We stand with the successors of the apostles and will continue to fight attempts of our government to violate our religious beliefs and ability to practice our faith. We will continue to be a pro-life institution that fosters the dignity of human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death."

Father Sheridan praised Franciscan’s academic environment in which professors work side-by-side with their students in the classroom and “do their own research, write scholarly publications, and advocate in the public square. . . . We need to be more active with being the voice of academic excellence in the public square,” he said.

He pledged to continue to foster an academic and student life environment that promotes “the dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of God.” He hopes to re-establish Franciscan University Press to publish more scholarly works that promote Franciscan University’s academic excellence.

Throughout his 40-minute speech, Father Sheridan made references to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Blessed Pope John Paul II, while reiterating that Franciscan University’s Catholic identity “should pervade every aspect of the University’s operations.”

He said, “A visitor to a Catholic university should not have to look for indications that the university is Catholic. It must be evident that such a university is in name and in fact a Catholic university.”

Father Sheridan directly quoted Pope Benedict in his 2008 address to Catholic educators in the United States. “Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics. Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content. It demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates with the ecclesial life of faith.”

Father Sheridan went on to explain how that “life of faith” unfolds at Franciscan University.

A landmark moment in the history of the University occurred in 1989, he said, when the Theology Department became the first theology faculty of a Catholic university to make a Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity. This year, at Father Sheridan’s invitation, the Philosophy Department, members of the Sacred Music Program, and members of the President’s Cabinet also made these professions of faith.

“At a time when faculty members and administrative staff at some institutions are drifting away from the magisterium, 19 members of our faculty and professional staff publicly proclaimed their fidelity to the magisterium. People who witnessed this event later told me that it brought tears to their eyes to know that they or their child are part of a university that is truly Catholic,” Father Sheridan said.

He praised the sacramental life of the University, the large numbers of students who attend daily Mass and receive the sacrament of reconciliation, as further evidence of a vibrant spiritual environment.

“To further promote the faith life on campus and the spiritual needs of our university community, it is time for us to build a larger chapel so that more of our students can worship the Lord together,” he announced.

Father Sheridan said he believes God has much more in store for Franciscan University.

He pointed out the many student mission trips that evangelize in the Steubenville area and throughout the world, the pilgrimages sponsored by the University, and the many spiritual conferences held on campus and throughout the country.

“We must foster these forms of outreach in assistance to the Church and continue to develop new methods of evangelization in the future. Deeper, more effective means of evangelization will lead others to Christ and will ultimately lead to the transformation of our society.”

In the area of financial aid, he said a larger endowment is needed to enable students to attend Franciscan University who might not otherwise be able to do so.

He concluded, “Please help me to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to move us forward. . . . Help me to form our students who desire to transform a world that is in desperate need of the voice of the Poverello that St. Francis was for the people of his day. Help me to do something heroic for our students, our Church, and our world. Help me to make history at Franciscan University.”

The complete text, video, and audio of Father Sheridan’s address along with other inauguration videos and text of Jamie McAleer’s greeting may be found here.

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