Connections around us

It’s sometimes easy to overlook the impact the Franciscan University of Steubenville has on the community and the impact the community has on the university.

That relationship is important, and there have been several interesting examples offered up during several events that have been held on the school’s campus during the past couple of months.

“We look to continue to ask for your help with our growth and continue to do things that will help us with God’s mission to the community and beyond,” Mike Florak, executive director of community relations at the school, said while speaking during the annual Founders’ Association Dinner on Dec. 1.

The dinner is held each December as way to remember the opening of the school. Last week’s was the 69th-annual event and it was held in the Gentile Gallery in the school’s campus. It’s a tradition that was started on Dec. 7, 1949, by the Rev. Daniel Egan, TOR, the school’s first president, as a way to bring together the college and the community.

And while the location has changed many times over the years — that first dinner was held at the old Fort Steuben Hotel — the mission has not.

“Events such as the Founders’ Association Dinner, the Baron Club Dinner and the gatherings held by the women’s guild bring members of the community up here on campus and enable us to further those relationships,” Florak explained.

“Without you, these things aren’t possible. All of the good things happening in this community are not only happening because of what’s happening here at Franciscan, they are happening because of the hearts of the good people here in Steubenville. We look forward to furthering those relationships in the future.”

The financial connection between the school and the community has been well documented. Students who come to town to study, their parents who come to visit and salaries paid to those who work at the university translate into millions of dollars being added to the economy of Steubenville and the Tri-State Area.

Enrollment at the college continues to grow, as the Rev. Sean Sheridan, TOR, the school’s president, pointed out while speaking at the 39th-annual Alumni Awards Banquet on Oct. 5. He said that this year’s freshman enrollment was a record 689 students.

Each of the alumni honored that evening said the values they had learned and the experiences they shared while at the university have helped them succeed in their lives and their careers.

Those graduates have helped spread a positive message about Steubenville the university and Steubenville the community. And that helps to attract students from around the United States and the world. The 31 international students enrolled this fall were recognized at a dinner held Nov. 5. They’ve come from Canada, Nigeria, Bermuda, Singapore, Gibraltar, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Ireland, India, Indonesia, Zambia, Haiti, Iraq and New Zealand. Each brings a unique perspective to the school and into the community.

For Sheridan, those ties come as no surprise and go all the way back to the founding of the school.

“The friars who came here in 1946 knew they were not going to be able to do it all themselves,” Sheridan said at the founders’ dinner. “So, they quickly reached out to the people of Steubenville asking for help, even asking for chairs for the classrooms. They also asked for prayers and support, financial and in whatever way they could.”

It’s a connection that was put into words very well by Mark Nelson, whose family received one of this year’s Founders’ Awards. Nelson, who met his wife, Gretchen, while studying at the school, said he was amazed at what he saw when he traveled to Tennessee to attend the funeral of a friend from his college days.

The influence of the school and the city was striking, Nelson explained, saying he even saw those who attended the funeral wearing shirts of many different colors representing the households on the campus.

“And,” he continued, “most of the cars had bumper stickers that read ‘proud parent of …,’ or ‘alumni of …” or “student of …” and they didn’t say the Franciscan University of South Bend or the Franciscan University of Pittsburgh — it was the Franciscan University of Steubenville. It showed that the impact Steubenville had on that little community — eight hours a way — was huge.

“It just drew to mind the closeness that the school has with the city of Steubenville,” he continued. “Steubenville would be a much, much different place if the university was not here, and the university would be a much, much different place — or not even exist — if Steubenville, the city, was not here.”

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)