Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Steubenville a Conservative Crossroads

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Steubenville a Conservative Crossroads

Article excerpt

At a time when many of America's best-known Catholic colleges and universities are engaged in soul-searching about how to maintain their Catholic identity, no such struggle is underway at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. A visitor couldn't be on the campus five minutes without realizing this is a very -- some would say almost excessively -- Catholic place.

The university is nestled on a hill overlooking Steubenville, an old steel center in the Ohio River Valley. The population today is under 20,000, but in its prime Steubenville was a much larger, swinging town -- a mob stopoff halfway between Chicago and New York, and the birthplace of Dean Martin. It featured, among other things, a notorious red-light district.

The university had always been a sleepy regional college, gradually secularized like many Catholic institutions of its era. As the steel industry collapsed in the 1970s, many believed the college would go down with most of the rest of the local economy. That's when the board of trustees turned to Third Order Franciscan Fr. Michael Scanlon.

Scanlon was by that time a leading figure in the Catholic charismatic movement, and as university president he quickly turned Steubenville into a center of charismatic activity -- healing, speaking in tongues and prayer rallies under a huge tent on campus. Though controversial -- some people charged the university had a cult-like atmosphere -- the charismatic emphasis gave Steubenville a reputation for fierce devotion to the church.

Scanlon's vision of "dynamic orthodoxy" has over time attracted like-minded faculty, administrators and students. Today the university boasts an undergraduate enrollment of over 2,000, including the largest undergraduate theology program in the country, and a thriving graduate program in theology. Almost 80 young men are in preparation for the priesthood.

As Catholicism's center has gradually moved to the right over the past decade, Steubenville has emerged as something of a Holy See for the conservative -- or "faithful" or "orthodox" -- wing of the American church. The local Holiday Inn is a kind of conservative Catholic crossroads. …

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