Five Franciscan alumni receive university honors

Recognized Friday for their service to the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the community and church were, from left, Timothy Delaney, the university’s director of alumni and constituent relations; honorees Stephen Wallace, Dr. Frank Petrola, Rosemary Anderson and Rocco Ambrosio; and the Rev. Sean Sheridan, TOR, the university’s president. The Rev. Jeffrey Kirby, a 1999 graduate of the school, also was honored. — Warren Scott

STEUBENVILLE — Five Franciscan University of Steubenville graduates were honored for their service to the school, community and church at the university’s annual Alumni Awards Banquet Friday.

The event is part of the university’s homecoming festivities, which continue today and Sunday.

The Rev. Sean Sheridan, TOR, president of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, said, “The university’s alumni are its ambassadors, engaging in ministry and service to the world in a variety of ways. We are honored to welcome back these five alumni who, because of their distinguished service, are great role models for our students.”

Honors went to Rocco Ambrosio, recipient of the Outstanding Young Alumni Award for conveying the Christian message through art; Rosemary Anderson, who received the Dr. John J. Carrigg Award for her commitment to Catholic education; the Rev. Jeffrey Kirby, who received the Bishop John King Mussio Award for advancing the teaching mission of the church; Dr. Frank Petrola, recipient of the Father Dan Egan Award for his faithful service to his patients and the community; and Stephen Wallace, who received the Alumni Citizenship Award for his service to children and their mothers.

A 2009 FUS graduate, Ambrosio had planned to transfer from the university to film school until he became involved in the theater department.

The northern California native worked on many of the school’s theatrical productions, learning acting, lighting, sound engineering, set design and directing.

He said the broad experience has served him well while working for Family Theater, Shalom Media and other Los Angeles-area production companies and coordinating the Hollywood Networking Breakfast.

Ambrosio co-founded, with fellow FUS graduate Julian Curi, Alabaster Films, and the two have produced a series of short films.

He said, “Everything from how to build a set to directing and acting techniques, I learned at Franciscan. But equally important was acquiring a sense of the theology, philosophy, and spirituality of art. Reading St. John Paul II’s ‘Letter to Artists’ really made me examine what was important about my work and formed the philosophy of art that pushes me forward.”

Ambrosio lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Sarah.

A 2004 FUS graduate, Anderson knew she wanted to be an educator when she came to the university and through her studies there, learned she wanted to teach literature at a school with a strong focus on Catholic education.

Following graduation, the Denver native returned to her home state to teach while earning a master’s degree in theology at the Augustine Institute.

Encouraged by Denver’s auxiliary bishop and others to become a principal, Anderson became principal of Our Lady of Lourdes School at the age of 27. The school was at risk of closing when she came there but under her leadership, its enrollment has steadily risen.

“By God’s grace, we continue to grow in enrollment with wonderful families. We have waiting lists, and people begging for spots and telling us they’re not sending their kids anywhere else,” she said.

A 1999 FUS graduate, Kirby, the son of a U.S. soldier, lived in Mainz, a heavily Catholic West German city until the fall of the Berlin Wall led to his family relocating to South Carolina.

Kirby’s background influenced his selection of Franciscan and while there, he was a member of the Brothers of the Eternal Song Household and National Guard. Despite his busy schedule, in three years he earned an undergraduate degree in history while participating in the honors program.

He credits his studies at FUS for influencing his decision to become a priest. Following seminary in Rome and ordination in Charleston, W.Va., he served as a high school chaplain, diocesan vocations director and part-time college instructor.

Kirby returned to Rome to earn master’s and doctoral degrees bioethics and theology, and last year became the first pastor of South Carolina’s newest and fastest growing parish, Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Indian Land.

“I’ve done a lot of other things as a priest that I’ve enjoyed, but being here now, in the parish, has given me a renewed sense of vocation. This is why I was made. This fits. I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said.

A Steubenville native, Petrola came to the former College of Steubenville, the university’s predecessor, because of a a happy accident. He had planned to attend Ohio State University but failed to apply for housing, so he enrolled at Steubenville, planning to transfer after a semester.

But he said he enjoyed it so much, he stayed.

After graduating in 1967, Petrola went on to medical school at the Autonomous University of Guadalajara. Following an internship at Allegheny General Hospital and residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, he established a family medical practice in his hometown that would continue until his retirement 33 years later.

Since 2003 he has served as Jefferson County health commissioner and is a co-founder of the Ohio Valley Health Center (formerly the Jefferson County Fourth Street Health Center), which for 13 years has provided free medical care to those without health coverage.

“It’s a little less work, but not much,” he joked. “But I couldn’t just sit around and do nothing.”

Petrola and his wife, Eileen, a former nurse, reside in Steubenville.

A native of Endwell, N.Y., Wallace came to Franciscan because his brothers and sisters had attended the school. While there, he was active in the intramurals program, winning three President’s Cups and 2006 Male Athlete of the Year; and the Brothers of the Eternal Song household.

He went on to earn a law degree at the Notre Dame Law School and served as clerk to a U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit judge, but decided he was more interested in working for a nonprofit charity.

In 2014, he became executive director of the Gabriel Network, a Christian nonprofit that offers long-term aid and maternity housing to struggling mothers.

Wallace said, “In addition to the critical thinking skills I developed there (at FUS) and at law school, I wouldn’t be able to do this kind of relationship work if I didn’t have the background of my family and household life at Franciscan.”

Wallace lives in Laurel, Md. with his wife and three children.

In addition to Sheridan, university officials involved with the dinner included: Timothy Delaney, director of alumni and constituent relations; the Rev. Shawn Roberson, chaplain; and the Rev. Nathan Malavolti, chief evangelization officer.