Franciscan University was founded in 1946 at the urging of the Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio, which turned to the Third Order Regular of St. Francis of Penance to teach returning war veterans. The University’s ownership and the responsibility for its Catholic identity rest with the Franciscan community based in Loretto, Pennsylvania.
The University is located 40 miles west of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on a hill overlooking Steubenville, a small, industrial city with a population of about 19,000. For many Catholics, the term “Steubenville” has come to represent the University, rather than the city. The 2,500 students are 97 percent Catholic, hailing from 50 states and 13 countries.
Franciscan University provides an abundance of opportunities for both academic and spiritual growth, and the role of the friars is at the core of both. Twenty Franciscan friars serve students through spiritual direction, teaching, chaplaincy, or providing Sacramental needs. “Our greatest strength is our commitment to the charism of Franciscan joy lived out in fidelity to the magisterium,” says President Father Sean O. Sheridan, T.O.R. “This commitment is expressed through our pursuit of being academically excellent and passionately Catholic in the manner in which we deliver Catholic higher education.”
Father Sheridan outlines four elements that make Franciscan distinctive. “The academically excellent nature of our school, the quality of our professors and the personal interest they take in our students, our unique Catholic culture, and our evangelistic outreach that focuses on the New Evangelization.”
A largely lay board of 24 trustees reports to the Order. Traditionally, the minister provincial of the province is chairman of the board. Seven other members of the board are also Franciscans.
The University offers majors in mostly typical liberal arts fields, as well as three religious-oriented majors in humanities and the Catholic culture, catechetics, and theology. It boasts the largest number of students majoring in theology and catechetics of any Catholic university in the United States, and so too the largest number of students majoring in philosophy.
Franciscan’s tuition rate is lower than the average for private institutions in Ohio. The undergraduate cost for tuition, room, board, and fees (effective summer 2013) is $30,860.
Under the rubrics of the new core curriculum adopted by Franciscan University in 2012, undergraduates at Franciscan complete an integrated liberal arts core curriculum of 45 credits for B.A. majors and 42 credits for B.S. students, based on the Western intellectual tradition and the Franciscan character of education and in accord with the Catholic mission of Franciscan University. The core includes 18 hours of philosophy and theology courses for B.A. students, and 15 hours of philosophy and theology courses for B.S. students. In addition to the core requirements, B.A. students must prove proficiency through the intermediate level of a foreign language, which is satisfied by most students by 12 hours of foreign language instruction.
Students can choose from 41 majors, including a new engineering dual degree program, and 37 minors. The minors include human life studies and Franciscan studies. Franciscan also offers majors including drama, catechetics, international business, legal studies, German, sacred music, and a concentration in bioethics for its Master’s in Philosophy. Five of the majors are reserved for associate degree candidates. There also are pre-professional programs including medical fields. Students can pursue an eight-seminar or 32-credit honors program that relies on the Great Books and the Catholic intellectual tradition.
Franciscan now offers an online MBA. It also offers an online Master of Science in Education with a Concentration in Online Instruction, one of the first degrees of its kind, which equips K-12 educators for online education. Sixty percent of Franciscan’s graduates pursue advanced degrees. The University offers eight different master’s degrees, including an M.A. in theology and Christian ministry.
There also is an impressive study-abroad experience for undergraduates. Approximately 175 students per semester, most in their sophomore year, study for one semester at a former Carthusian monastery in the Alpine town of Gaming, Austria. Coursework is four days a week, allowing students to travel throughout Europe. A 10-day Rome-Assisi trip and a 10-day break are built into the experience. Approximately 50 percent of all graduates participate in this program. There are also several other study-abroad opportunities, including a semester at Oxford.
Ninety-four percent of the faculty is Catholic. Theology department faculty members and all new campus ministers take an Oath of Fidelity.
The most prominent building on the 244-acre campus is Christ the King Chapel, a 44-year-old modern-looking structure noted for a large steel cross atop its roof.
Seven or eight priests hear confessions four times a week, and there are 20 Masses celebrated each week. Daily Masses are held Monday through Friday at 6:30 a.m., 12:05 p.m., and 4:45 p.m., and attract more than 700 students each day. All four Sunday Masses are filled to capacity.
The Masses are reverent. Most are charismatic or contemporary. An Extraordinary Form High Mass is offered monthly and Low Mass is offered weekly. The Rosary and other devotions are prayed daily. On Tuesdays, students gather for Praise and Worship and prayer. There are monthly Festivals of Praise and frequent retreats, including silent ones, throughout the school year. Solemn vespers and Benediction are held in the chapel every Sunday evening for students.
The University offers a priestly discernment program that helps about 50 men discern vocations. An annual Vocations Awareness Day showcases nearly 75 religious orders and dioceses. There also is a Franciscan house on-campus where some young men live in a “mitigated program” of scheduled prayer and quiet as part of the spirituality of the Third Order Regular. There are days of discernment for women who might consider religious life as well.
Additional opportunities for prayer exist at the small chapel known as the Portiuncula; it hosts 24-hour Adoration in the spring and fall semesters. There are also a Marian Grotto, outdoor Stations of the Cross, and a life-sized creche. The campus has Eucharistic chapels in every residence hall.
The Tomb of the Unborn Child is a unique memorial with an eternal flame that pays tribute to aborted babies and reflects the University’s strong pro-life commitment. About 750 students attend the March for Life in Washington, D.C., each January.
About 70 percent of the undergraduates live on campus. Franciscan has a three-year residency requirement. There are 12 single-sex residence halls and a nearby apartment complex that houses men and women. Residence halls mix lower and upper classmen together. Each residence hall has a director to ensure that the hall’s activities conform to the University’s policies and guidelines.
Wireless access is available in the student union, the library, and other places on campus. Access in residence halls is filtered. The student cafeteria is not equipped with wireless access in order to foster conversation between students.
Opposite-sex visitation in student rooms is restricted to Fridays from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm and Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., and in common areas from noon to 1:00 a.m. Doors must remain open when someone has a guest of the opposite sex. There is a defined and enforced code of conduct, but no dress code at the University.
Students of age are allowed to have alcohol in their rooms, but not in the presence of minors. While some drinking problems have been reported, most occur off-campus. The campus is safe; most crimes committed pertain to petty theft.
Students often congregate in the J. C. Williams Center, the active student center located near the middle of campus, to hear bands and visit the Pub deli. The center includes a lounge, Jazzman’s Café and Bakery, student mailboxes, a bookstore, meeting rooms, and a gallery.
A health center staffed by a nurse practitioner treats routine matters. Trinity Health Systems operates two medical centers in Steubenville. There are a number of larger hospitals in nearby Pittsburgh.
Three hotels are located near campus. A variety of restaurants, a mall, and other retail businesses are located slightly farther away. At the bottom of the hill from campus are a coffeehouse and a café.
The city of Steubenville is an old industrial town that has seen better days. The downtown is rather dilapidated and has a higher than average crime index.
Downtown Steubenville is known for its 25 large art murals, and Pittsburgh has a wide variety of sports, cultural, and entertainment opportunities. The Pittsburgh International Airport is a half-hour away.
Students can participate in more than four dozen organizations and student-led programs, including an unusual number of groups engaged in spiritual and Catholic outreach efforts. These include Latinos for Christ; Ut unum sint
Society for Christian Unity; Love Revealed, which promotes marriage, family, and sexual integrity; and the Knights of Columbus.
The Students for Life club is very active. In addition to participating in the annual March for Life, they have a prayer ministry outside abortion clinics four days a week, train sidewalk counselors, and host prominent speakers. Annually, a coffeehouse is held to raise money for a pregnancy help center in Steubenville.
Other groups include Excite, which sponsors entertainment and social events, theatre, an equestrian club, student government, and the weekly student newspaper, The Troubadour
Students participate in community outreach programs such as Project St. Nicholas, which works with needy Steubenville residents. The Works of Mercy outreaches and other programs assist with food kitchens and other ministries, such as ministering to the homeless in Pittsburgh and working with local youth.
Missions of Peace sponsors international mission trips during breaks to places such as Belize, Jamaica, Honduras, and Ecuador. Domestic mission trips have included: Chicago, Fargo, Florida, New Mexico, New York, and Steubenville.
A unique aspect of the University is the “faith household” system. Three or more students of the same sex can come together as a household to support each other spiritually, academically, and in other ways under the guidance of an advisor. Nearly 900 students are involved in a household.
In addition to a wide variety of campus activities, households each sponsor their own events
Homecoming provides the opportunity for the St. Francis Festival on campus. The chaplain blesses animals, and some students dress in medieval period costumes. An evening service commemorates the death of St. Francis.
The athletics program intentionally integrates faith and sports. The intercollegiate athletic program includes 16 Division III NCAA teams, an intercollegiate rugby team, and four intramural sports that attract hundreds of student participants. Most head coaches are Catholic, and all support the University’s unique mission.
The Bottom Line
There’s no place quite like Franciscan University of Steubenville, and its students’ enthusiasm for serving God both during and after their college years is most refreshing and exciting.
Few institutions share Franciscan University’s reputation for strong Catholic identity, including a powerful witness to the pro-life cause and evangelization, which penetrates everything the institution does. Still a center for charismatic Catholic worship, the University today embraces other orthodox approaches to Catholic spirituality and attracts a diverse population of students, albeit nearly all of them Catholic.
Catholic families will find in Franciscan University a thoroughly Catholic environment that prepares servants of God for every walk of life, while offering a solid education and vibrant campus life.