Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, the former president and chancellor of Franciscan University of Steubenville, passed away on the morning of Jan. 7, after an extended illness, at age 85.
The university’s current president, Father Sean O. Sheridan, said in a statement that Fr. Scanlan was “rightfully credited with revitalizing the Catholic and Franciscan mission of the University.”
“During his tenure as president from 1974-2000, his ideas, guided by the Holy Spirit, turned things around at the struggling College of Steubenville and led to its prominence as Franciscan University of Steubenville,” he said.
“Father Mike wisely surrounded himself with friars and dedicated people who helped him to carry out the Franciscan University mission. He also spent time with the students, listened to their concerns, and prayed how he might help them. He emphasized the importance of academics, particularly theology – now, by far our largest major – and stressed the role of campus ministry and student life in the daily lives of the students.”
Born Vincent Michael Scanlan in 1931 in Cedarhurst, Long Island, New York, Fr. Scanlan would go on to graduate from Harvard Law School and serving as Staff Judge Advocate in the U.S. Air Force before entering the Franciscan Third Order Regular. He made his first profession of Franciscan vows in 1959 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1964.
After being named acting dean of the College of Steubenville, he eventually became president of the college in 1974, a role in which he served until 2000.
“Over the next 26 years, he transformed the College into Franciscan University of Steubenville and gained for it a worldwide reputation for both excellence in academics and its passionate Catholic faith environment,” the university said in a statement.
“His success helped spark a restoration of authentic 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.”
Fr. Scanlan is widely credited with creating the Catholic atmosphere present at the campus today, establishing faith households for students, and developing new academic programs, particularly emphasizing the theology program, which has become the largest undergraduate Theology Program at any U.S. Catholic university.
He also started the university’s study abroad program in Austria, established a pre-seminary program at the campus, and helped the university pay off its entire debt and double its enrollment.
In 1989, Franciscan University, under the leadership of Fr. Scanlan, became the first U.S. Catholic college or university whose theology faculty and priests publicly took the Oath of Fidelity to the teaching authority of the Church, a practice that continues to this day.
Fr. Scanlan was also known as a pro-life leader, as well as an early leader in the Catholic charismatic renewal movement, and wrote 16 books and booklets. He hosted Franciscan University Presents for 18 years on EWTN and started the university’s summer youth conference series, which would grow to nationwide impact.
From 2000-2011, Fr. Scanlan was chancellor of the university, before retiring to the Third Order Regular Sacred Heart Province’s motherhouse in Loretto, Pennsylvania.
When asked in a December 2013 interview what he considered his greatest accomplishment, Father Scanlan said, “Living the life faithfully, living the [Franciscan] rule, being a Franciscan, being able to be sent wherever God wants you and serve his people. This is what is most important.”
Tributes remembering the lasting impact of Fr. Scanlan poured in after his death.
“He made the name of a small, relatively unknown, Franciscan University of the United States resound throughout the entire Catholic Church,” said Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, Cap., Preacher to the Papal Household
“Father Michael Scanlan, TOR, was a dynamo of evangelical energy who knew that the renewal of Catholic higher education was a critical component of the New Evangelization,” said George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
“His personal witness, exuberant manner of life, and ability to communicate the Gospel in a joyful way made major contributions, not only to Franciscan University, but to the entire Catholic Church in the United States—indeed, to the World Church.”
Dr. Scott Hahn, noted Professor of Biblical Theology and the New Evangelization at Steubenville, recalled Fr. Scanlan’s spiritual fatherhood.
“I experienced his fatherhood in many ways. He baptized our three youngest sons, and two of them are now discerning priesthood. I don’t think that’s coincidental,” Hahn reflected. “The day I met him he showed such love to my wife, Kimberly, who was not Catholic. She had been suffering after a miscarriage. He prayed over her – and soon we conceived again – and a short while later, Kimberly became Catholic.”
Father Mitch Pacwa, SJ, host of EWTN Live, recalled attending one of the Steubenville summer conference shortly after being ordained.
“This was a great witness to a young priest such as I,” he said, noting that he would later go on to become friends with Fr. Scanlan.
One time, he recalled, Fr. Scanlan “shared some of the difficulties, challenges, and pain of taking his role as a leader. Then he pulled out a photograph of a severely deformed young man that he knew, saying, ‘Compared to him, I don't have any real problems.’”
“This indicated the mature Christian approach to life that made it possible for him to maintain a healthy perspective on life's problems,” Fr. Pacwa said. “I will never forget that.”