After nearly 13 years, Father Terence Henry is stepping down as President of Franciscan University of Steubenville. Tim Drake, senior editor with the Cardinal Newman Society recently spoke with him about his tenure, Catholic identity, and his contributions to the University.
Father Terence Henry, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville.
So, it was just announced that you’re moving on at the end of the academic year.
Yes, the winds of change are blowing here at Franciscan. The national norm for a president is six years. I’m looking back on this wonderful opportunity to serve the mission and I have a lot of fond memories. It’s been an awesome blessing to be entrusted with this responsibility.
Given the increasing secularization found in society, and among Catholic colleges and universities, why is fidelity to Catholic identity so vital?
C.S. Lewis once said that the atheist and the Christian hold opposite views about the universe, they both can’t be right, and consequently the one that is wrong will be working to help destroy that universe. The Christian life is the key to unlock a lock. Catholic education has so much to offer people today to escape moral relativism. Pope Benedict XVI says we’re simply being tossed about. An authentic Catholic education can help people stand on solid foundations and provide the key to life itself.
How does Catholic identity manifest itself at Franciscan University?
Cardinal O’Connor once said it’s easy for the Church to defend a Catholic principle that’s not under attack, but it needs to be at those points of attacks where the culture of death is pressing in. We’ve always asked how we can best serve the Church. We’ve established a Chair in Bioethics. Our theology and philosophy faculty are well established. Our science courses are rooted in authentic Catholic teaching. That’s how we’re responding to the culture of death.
In what ways might Franciscan be a model for the renewal of Catholic higher education?
We receive our understanding of our vocation and mission from the words spoken to St. Francis – “Francis, go and rebuild my Church.” We see that as so important. Any Catholic school can use that as a guideline.
When the Holy Father spoke at The Catholic University of America, he said that every aspect of a Catholic university campus ought to speak in union with the ecclesial church – not just academics, but our residence halls, the sportsmanship displayed, the entertainment we have – they should all speak to the mission. Catholic schools can go into an area that public schools cannot. Education involves mind, body, and spirit. Secular schools have to refrain from touching the spiritual part. Someone going to such a school will end up with career preparation, but no preparation for answering questions such as: “Who am I?”, “Why was I made?,” and “Where am I going?”
What, from your perspective, makes Franciscan distinctive?
I would say there are four distinctive elements about our university. One of those is the academic quality of our school. It attracts top students, and our SAT scores continue to rise. The quality of our professors and the personal interest they show in our students. Another is our unique culture. Pope John Paul II said that every Catholic college needs a Christian inspiration. Ours is St. Francis – a dynamic joy filled person. Everyone who visits campus notices how on fire our students are for God, and how willing they are to learn. We stand with the Church’s Magisterium and teaching. Finally, there is that sense of evangelism. Franciscan equips students to be salt and light. Our graduates are in all 50 states transforming the culture. They connect the intellectual formation they’ve received with a sense of applying that when they leave.
What changes have you seen during your time as president?
We’ve promoted John Paul II’s call for students. We’ve introduced new majors to transform the culture – an international business major, legal studies, a major in German, sacred music, a concentration in bioethics, and catechetics. The catechetical meltdown that took place for a generation among Catholics is being corrected by Franciscan University of Steubenville and our graduates. We have an endowed chair in bioethics. Where the Church needs to be is in those areas that the culture of death is attacking. In 2007, we entered the intercollegiate NCAA Division III and gained entry into the Allegheny Conference. The physical campus has nearly doubled in size.
What new projects are taking place?
In 2009, we completed our new friary. A unique element on our campus is that we have 20 friars who serve the spiritual needs of our students sacramentally, through counseling, in the classroom, in the residence halls, and by serving as moderators of our sports programs. That religious presence is very important for students, and it’s something we value greatly. That Franciscan presence has been a part of our school since its founding in 1946.
We are in the formative stage of our next capital campaign. The number one item on that needs list is the need for a new chapel. The student body under my tenure has grown an additional 600 students. The current chapel is no longer adequate. We’re hoping to address that need. I know that alumni will help. They can remember standing outside the chapel, unable to squeeze in, in January. Wherever I may be stationed, I would love to come back and be there at the dedication of the new chapel. It will speak to our Catholic and Franciscan heritage. The architecture will speak Assisi. It’s important that someone can set foot on campus and say, “This is a Catholic and Franciscan school.”
We also have been able to increase financial aid for our students through endowed scholarships. 39 new scholarships have been created in order to help them.
What do you see as Franciscan’s greatest strengths and weaknesses?
Our greatest strength is our commitment to the mission of our school – Catholic and Franciscan. That is the dominant charism of the University. Fidelity to that keeps us centered and provides a moral compass in a sea of moral relativity. That is the story of higher education in general.
We are mission driven, as is our household system, which replaced the fraternities and sororities of old. It’s a peer-to-peer way for students to encourage one another in a path of holiness. There’s been tremendous voluntary participation in household life. We’re up to 48 households now. Household life is a unique contribution that Franciscan came up with to have students support one another to grow in their faith. The bonds and friendships that students form in those households remain strong long after students graduate. They continue sharing in the challenges of living in a secular world. Learning takes place 24-7, and household life helps students to feel encouraged and supported by one another.
People who come on campus notice the physical growth of the campus, but the real story is the living stones – the students who want to grow in faith and wisdom. Cardinal John Henry Newman said a Catholic university is the only true university because it addresses the totality of the human person.
Our number one challenge is to increasingly be able to have the means to help students come to a small, private Catholic university and graduate receiving help. About 80% of our students receive some sort of financial aid, but it’s never enough. The need is acute.
What are you most proud of during your tenure?
I’m very proud that after a 20-year struggle our faculty has passed a new core curriculum that is more unified and integrated. It will provide a more common experience academically for our students. It was a battle because academically we’re not only a liberal arts school but also offer professional and pre-professional majors. I see a lot of blessings that will come from that.
Overall, when I became president, the general public probably wondered, “Does this mean that if Fr. Michael is not there, will the school mainstream itself in the bad sense of that word?” We’ve answered that. Our compass shows that we stand with Peter. If we stand with Peter, and not in front or behind him, we are on solid ground. That has been my main contribution. The school has remained faithful to the Magisterium. We have remained where the church would have us be, so that we can best equip young people to go into the world and transform it.
Do you have any idea what your new assignment will be?
I’m in a cloud of unknowing. I need to wait until May until I hear from my provincial. That’s where the vow of obedience kicks in. Will I be sent up the Amazon? I don’t think so. I’ve been in education all my life. That’s where my passion is.
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