Funeral services scheduled for former Franciscan president, Rev. Michael Scanlan, TOR

Rev. Scanlan, credited with saving FUS, dies

The Rev. Michael Scanlan, TOR, above right, talks with Pope St. John Paul II in 1986. Scanlan, who is credited with saving the Franciscan University of Steubenville from closure in the mid-1970s, died Saturday at age 85. — Contributed

STEUBENVILLE — The Rev. Michael Scanlan, TOR, fourth president of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, died early Saturday at the age of 85 following an extended illness, according to a university press release.

He had served as president of the College of Steubenville and later the Franciscan University of Steubenville from 1974 to 2000, chancellor from 2000 to 2011 and was named president emeritus in 2011.

He had been living at Garvey Manor, a Catholic nursing home in Hollidaysburg, Pa., since 2013 due to declining health.

Funeral arrangements at Christ the King Chapel on campus Tuesday include Franciscan Crown Rosary with Franciscan friars at 4 p.m.; viewing from 4 to 8 p.m.; wake service at 7 p.m.

On Wednesday, a memorial Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. at the Father Matthew Finnegan Fieldhouse on campus, with online streaming on the university’s website. There will be viewing from 4 to 7 p.m. and a vigil service at 7 p.m. at the St. Francis Friary, Loretto, Pa.

Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Thursday at 11 a.m. in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception at St. Francis University in Loretto.

Scanlan was born Vincent Michael Scanlan in 1931 in Cedarhurst, Long Island, N.Y. He received his bachelor’s degree from Williams College in 1953, and his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1956. He was admitted to the New York Bar Association and served as staff judge advocate in the U.S. Air Force before receiving a call to the priesthood and entering the Franciscan Third Order Regular. Scanlan made his first profession of Franciscan vows in 1959 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1964.

He was named acting dean of the College of Steubenville in 1964. In 1969, he was appointed rector-president of St. Francis Seminary in Loretto, serving there for five years before returning to the College of Steubenville in 1974 as its fourth president.

Scanlan, who was one four candidates for the president’s job, arrived as the school was struggling financially.

He would later tell the story about removing a for sale sign posted in front of the St. Thomas More dormitory tower.

Scanlan told a reporter from the National Catholic Register in 2011, “We had two empty dormitories. The local banks wouldn’t lend us any money. We were listed in an educational journal as one of 13 colleges expected to close by the following year. It was a warning to investors and benefactors not to waste their money. Quite a number of faculty were resigning because they felt it was hopeless. The most telling feature was on my first day as president, they had a “For Sale” sign in front of our largest residence hall. The first thing I did was pull up that sign. I told folks, ‘Even if you’re going to die, you don’t advertise it.'”

His drive and passion for keeping the college open helped spark a restoration of traditional Catholic education in the United States and beyond, with many colleges and universities renewing their Catholic identity and new schools imitating his emphasis on Catholic Church teaching, the university press release stated.

The Rev. Richard Davis, TOR, minister provincial of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, lived in community with Scanlan for 20 years and remembered him as “one of the most obedient, charitable, humble, and very holy men in our community. His concern for faithfulness in living out his religious life was a source of respect and imitation for me. The good he has done for the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, for the order, and most importantly for the entire Church is a tremendous source of honor. I thank God he was my brother, my mentor, and my friend,” said Davis.

The Rev. Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, current university president, said Scanlan used the gifts and talents God gave him and “guided by the Holy Spirit, turned things around at the struggling College of Steubenville and led to its prominence as Franciscan University of Steubenville.”

“Pivotal to his success for campus renewal,” said Sheridan, “was the time Father Mike spent with students. He listened to their concerns and prayed how he might help them. He emphasized the importance of academics, particularly theology, and stressed the role of campus ministry and student life in the daily lives of the students.”

One of Scanlan’s first priorities was to form a Catholic culture that emphasized faith and reason. He addressed the loneliness typical of college life by establishing faith households, small faith-sharing groups of men or women. What began in the spring 1975 semester as an experiment in Christian living serves today as the cornerstone of the university’s student life experience, with 45 percent of the undergraduate student population participating in 50 households.

During Scanlan’s tenure as president, the university became the first U.S. Catholic college or university whose theology faculty and priests publicly took the Oath of Fidelity professing their adherence to the teaching authority of the church. Each year since, all new theology faculty, priests, and others involved in the spiritual formation of students have taken the oath.

The College of Steubenville became a university in 1980 under Scanlan’s push for the development of graduate programs.

In 1992, Scanlan established a study-abroad program in a restored 14th-century Carthusian monastery in Gaming, Austria, that now has more than 150 students living and studying each semester.

By 1983, the university had paid off its entire debt. Enrollment more than doubled, from about 1,000 students in 1974 to 2,150 in 2000, his final year as president. An era of new construction began with the addition of Finnegan Fieldhouse, John Paul II Library, Sts. Kolbe and Clare Residence Halls, Sts. Cosmas and Damian Science Hall, the Portiuncula Chapel, and the Lower Campus complex.

“Who could object to you doing something to keep it open? We were able to make changes bigger and better and faster because of that situation. Had the university been doing much better, we never could have made changes nor had that much success. It was exciting to be able to establish what was most important to me and the values in my heart in terms of what was Franciscan, Catholic and unique to Steubenville,” Scanlan would later cite.

In the summer of 1975, Scanlan hosted a summer conference on campus for priests, followed a year later by a Catholic evangelistic conference for teens. In 2016, 55,000 high school youth and adults chose from 31 Franciscan University summer conferences held in 16 states and Canada.

Scanlan was a champion for the pro-life movement. He established President’s Day in January so students could attend the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., without missing classes.

During a protest outside a Youngstown abortion clinic in July 1989, Scanlan was arrested and jailed for a week along with the late Bishop Albert Ottenweller of Steubenville.

For information, including videos, photos, tributes from Church leaders, and to share personal stories about Scanlan, visit