Franciscan University Announces New Institute for Catholic Humanitarian Service

May 16, 2024

STEUBENVILLE, OHIO—Franciscan University of Steubenville established a new Institute for Catholic Humanitarian Service (ICHS) to meet the growing need for highly-skilled humanitarian service professionals fully formed in Catholic faith and morals.

According to its founding director, Stephen M. Rasche, JD, faculty fellow at Franciscan University, the institute’s mission is “to identify, develop, support, and implement vocational approaches to humanitarian service that are fully informed by and faithful to the teachings and magisterium of the Catholic Church.”

Through theology formation, rigorous practical training, and direct field experience, the Institute for Catholic Humanitarian Service will equip students and others to embrace humanitarian service as a vocation and provide ongoing practical assistance to those in need locally and globally.

The ICHS is part of Franciscan University’s new “Franciscan Encounter” initiative, which works to bring together and leverage the University’s academic, administrative, and evangelizing resources to extend its mission and impact far beyond its Steubenville, Ohio, campus.

Two initial institute projects will be undertaken in collaboration with dioceses in Nigeria, where the ICHS will implement donor funding and assistance in the rehabilitation of a major Catholic school as well as a long-term care hospital for tuberculosis and leprosy patients.

The work of the ICHS in Nigeria will include the restoration of existing buildings and the construction of new buildings, funding the acquisition of new equipment, supporting the development of new curricula, and much more. Members of the ICHS will work on site and remotely to assist in these initiatives and to provide training, guidance, and support to staff and students.

“These types of projects are at the heart of the Catholic service tradition of providing education and health care to the marginalized,” said Rasche.

The ICHS is based at Franciscan University, but its collaborative efforts will have a national and international scope. For the first three to five years, the institute will focus its efforts on the marginalized communities of Africa, the Middle East, and select open-conflict zones. In the United States, the initial focus will be on the Ohio River Valley and western Pennsylvania where the institute will develop programs to directly address the human marginalization of communities affected by rapid economic decline. As part of its global approach and emphasis on competency in fieldwork, the ICHS will establish founding partner relationships with the Catholic University in Erbil, Iraq, and Veritas University in Abuja, Nigeria.

“We are thrilled to announce this new Institute for Catholic Humanitarian Service at Franciscan,” said Father Dave Pivonka, TOR ’89, president of Franciscan University. “With Steve Rasche’s vast experience and inspirational leadership, we are confident this institute will foster a much-needed renewal of proven Catholic alternatives to the current top-down, secular approaches that dominate global humanitarian aid today.”

An attorney by profession, Rasche brings to his new role over 35 years of international business and front-line senior management experience in Catholic humanitarian service in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. He facilitated the successful implementation of over $50 million in institutional and private aid in some of the most marginalized and dangerous parts of the world for Catholics, including Iraq and Nigeria.

Rasche sees ICHS responding to a profound practical and moral problem in international humanitarian service.

“Despite the establishment of an entrenched, well-financed international aid industry, those of us with experience working closely with the marginalized in the field, often through the Church, have seen how little of the mainstream aid reaches those most in need,” said Rasche. “And we have also seen how often the aid they receive comes with the condition that they adopt controversial, ideological social objectives which rob those in need of their most basic human dignity.”

“At ICHS,” continued Rasche, “our many years of vocational service within the Church tell us there is a better way. Our approach is more direct, more respectful, more giving, and more human. It places the dignity and faith of the human person at the center. We want to show the world such a way still works, and is indeed still working, even on a broad scale. In this, ICHS remains fully convinced of the example of service the Catholic Church can still provide when she walks humbly with the people.”

In addition to faithful Catholic formation, Rasche emphasized the need to instill a high level of competency across a wide spectrum of skill sets related to humanitarian service.

“We live in a dangerous and difficult world,” he said. “Those seeking to go out and serve in it need to know what they are about. At ICHS, we will work every hour to bring humility and competency together to help improve the path of a true vocation of service.”

The ICHS will be overseen by an independent board of directors comprised of global Catholic clergy, religious, and lay persons with demonstrated leadership in Catholic humanitarian service.

The work of the Institute for Catholic Humanitarian Service is made possible by the generosity of several leading Catholic charitable institutions as well as many other committed benefactors. For more information about the ICHS and how you can support its work, please visit

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