Q&A: What is ‘Franciscan’ about Franciscan University of Steubenville?

Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio, is widely known as one of the most faithful institutions of Catholic higher education. But among those institutions recommended in The Newman Guide, it is the only one that maintains a “Franciscan” identity. The Cardinal Newman Society recently caught up with Father Jonathan St. André, a Franciscan friar of the Third Order Regular who works and ministers at Franciscan University, about what makes this Catholic university so unique.

Newman Society: When someone says they are “going to Steubenville,” most Catholics today immediately recognize that they are headed to that vibrant Catholic university in Ohio. We almost forget to say, “Franciscan University,” and yet the Franciscan charism is essential to the education you provide. What is it about Franciscan University’s charism that makes it so special? 

Fr. Jonathan St. André, TOR: The primary charism of Franciscan University of Steubenville is ongoing conversion, since that charism is the foundation of the TOR friars who serve at the University (the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular of Penance—penance being another word for ongoing conversion). The University’s charism is to offer in everything it does the opportunity for people to become disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ! People can tell there is something special here, and what they sense is a vibrant faith rooted in an openness to the Holy Spirit and the joy that comes from following the Lord.

Newman Society: As a Franciscan friar yourself, you have studied the lives of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Clare. What about their lives translates into a Franciscan University education?

Fr. Jonathan St. André, TOR: Contrary to popular opinion, Saint Francis and Saint Clare were not against education, rather, they were wary of the pride that can puff up one who has been educated, and they warned that studies were to be promoted as long as they did not extinguish the spirit of prayer and devotion. A Franciscan University education is Franciscan in that it promotes humility through study, always recognizing that one is called to further learning and to be generous in sharing what one has learned. A Franciscan education aims to direct all disciplines to charity, the love of God and love of neighbor. Saint Francis and Saint Clare exemplified this love of God and love of neighbor in the way in which they encountered all created things. They saw the hand of God in creation, and they shared this vision of God’s presence in the material world with their followers so that through the created world every person could make their way toward the eternal life for which they were made. At Franciscan University, we seek to adopt the same understanding of Saint Francis and Saint Clare—that the created world leads us back to God.

Newman Society: How do students experience this Franciscan charism on campus and in the classroom?

Fr. Jonathan St. André, TOR: Whether it is in the classroom, on the sports field, participating in our households (faith-based communities) or going on a mission, there are multiple invitations to grow in holiness every day and throughout one’s time at Franciscan University. Saints Francis and Clare were in love with Jesus and the mysteries of his life, particularly the Incarnation and the Passion. Students experience the Franciscan charism in the University’s devotion to the Lord in the Eucharist (daily Mass, perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament) and in the call to ongoing conversion (sacrament of reconciliation). We cultivate the Franciscan charism on campus by celebrating Franciscan feast days and teaching our community about the holy men and women of the Franciscan tradition. The friars in their witness and preaching seek to show our University community the many ways that they can live the Gospel in fulfilling their personal vocation to holiness. In the classroom, students are taught the connection between the Franciscan charism and the discipline they are studying. Students can also enroll in classes that focus on Franciscan spirituality and gain a Franciscan Studies minor.

Newman Society: What do you hope Franciscan University students carry forward into their lives after graduation?

Fr. Jonathan St. André, TOR: I hope our students who graduate bring with them a deep, vibrant, personal relationship with the Lord grounded in a sacramental life in the Church. I hope they have a sense of their personal vocation to holiness and a sense that their discipline of study can be carried out to the glory of God. I hope they continue the deep relationships they have formed and always foster a sense of Christian community in their lives.

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