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Franciscan confers degrees, meets funding goal

A BIG DAY — Some of the members of the Class of 2022 gather for commencement exercises Saturday at Franciscan University of Steubenville. -- Linda Harris

STEUBENVILLE — On a day when Franciscan University of Steubenville conferred degrees on the 761 members of its Class of 2022, it also celebrated news it had surpassed its $75 million fundraising goal.

The Rev. Dave Pivonka, TOR, the university’s president, made the announcement Saturday during commencement exercises.

“We’re not finished,” Pivonka told the crowd, drawing cheers from the graduates and their families. “While we met our goal, the Scripture says that God has more than we can possibly imagine in store for us. I believe that is the case. Yes, we met our goal but our work is not completed. We met our goal that allows us to have new academic programs, new scholarships, new institutes. We’re also going to have a beautiful new building that will highlight faith and reason, but we’re going to continue pressing on. I believe the Lord has $75 million for us, yes, but I also believe He has much more for us.”

Pivonka said they’ll “continue to seek funding, seek support for other projects the university is going to need to do.”

Saturday’s graduating class was the largest in school history: The previous high was 733.

Commencement speaker was Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College since 1965. Kreeft, who converted to Catholicism as an undergraduate, ran through the Top 10 themes commencement speakers tell their audiences — identity, self-esteem, service to the world, creativity, critical thinking, peace, justice, openness, love and freedom — but then promptly labeled them as lies, “things like you can be whatever you want to be, and you can be the savior of the world, that sort of nonsense.”

Instead, Kreeft urged the Class of 2022 to remember Mother Theresa’s “life-changing and liberating principle: God did not put you in this world to be successful, but to be faithful.”

“Love cannot stop warring against hate, and light cannot stop warring against darkness as you see every time you light a candle in a dark room,” Kreeft said. “That little experiment is a clue about what is inevitably bound to happen in the end. However stinky and smoky and slimy the darkness is, it cannot endure the light. However successful the darkness may be for however long a time, and however it may increase and however many more times we continue to lose every battle in the culture war, the light is imperishable. All lies die; truth alone remains. Just go forth and preach the truth, the good news by word and deed and let the chips fall as they may.”

Pivonka reminded graduates of this year’s theme, Psalm 127, “Unless the Lord builds the house they labor in vain who build,” and thanked them “for allowing FUS to be a part of that building.”

“I guarantee you over the coming years, if you’re only going to go with your plan, your desires, your vision, what you want, you will deal with struggle and difficulty, and there will be hard times,” he said. “At times you’ll be frightened and not sure where you’ll go. Ultimately, if it’s you building, it will lead to chaos and confusion and ultimately away from the Lord. But if you allow the Lord to build, there will be frustration, there will be anxiety, there will be fear., but brothers and sisters, I guarantee you it will be the greatest adventure. There is a freedom in surrendering your plans, your desires, your hopes and your dreams to the Lord, because when He builds, what He builds is much more beautiful, much more amazing and much more remarkable than you can imagine. The Lord has a plan in your life.”

Pivonka, meanwhile, attributed the uptick in enrollment to “young people realizing education is important, it’s necessary (and) FUS provides an environment where they can be educated in faith.”

“They can kind of get away from the craziness a little bit, and come together with friendships and community and education,” he said. “So I think they really see this as an option where they can be formed in faith and formed in their profession. I think people are more and more drawn to that.”

He said the university’s newest degree programs — criminal justice and software engineering –have been well received, and this year they’re planning for mechanical engineering as well.

“We’re trying to meet the needs of students,” he said. “People come to us, they have needs, have desires. Those are areas people were going somewhere else.”

He expects the growth to continue.

“I do sense we are going to get a little bit larger,” he added. “My suspicion is that within the next couple of years we’ll add one more residence hall, so another 250-300 students. I never want to get so big that we lose that intimacy, lose that closeness, so I think we’ll see growth, growth in a couple of programs, growth in students, but then look at how can reach people across the country, maybe do a little satellite programs, things like that.”

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