The news a moment ago that Father Michael Scanlan, TOR — my beloved former boss and the president emeritus of Franciscan University of Steubenville has died — brought with it a flood of Holy Spirit-tinged memories.

I landed at Franciscan University of Steubenville, in the fall of 1994 as, in the University nomenclature, a “grad non-trad” (or master’s degree student). I can still vividly recall the smell of the Ohio Valley steel mills that dot the winding Ohio River within whiffing distance of the campus’s rolling green hills. We dubbed it the odor of sanctity — slightly (?) rancid, metallicky, all-pervasive. The kind of smell that will stay in your sweater for years. (I’ve heard it’s gotten a lot better nowadays.)

Alumnae of FUS will grin at some of these memories, and I apologize for a bit of self-indulgence:

  • For the first time, I looked forward to hearing a homily that lasted 45 minutes and a Mass that lasted two hours, three if it was the Easter Vigil. The man loved to celebrate Mass and to preach the Word of God. My dad always regarded Father Mike as a kind of successor to Bishop Sheen. Both priests had undeniable star quality, but not the thin veneer of celebrity, but a rich, warm quality, full of good humor and spiritual depth.
  • Learning that I would be working in the Public Relations office under the unredoubtable Lisa Ferguson, who hired me to crank out press releases and do some ghost-writing for the great man, including his talking points for the EWTN show Franciscan University Presents. For a revert to the Faith, this was amazing to me.
  • Ouch to the power of five is it ever frickin’ cold in Steubenville on a February morning!
  • Home-style brunches at fellow students’ houses after holy Mass on any given Sunday. (Who’s gonna freeload again? Who’s gonna bring the yummy Folger’s coffee from Kroger’s? Who has to leave early to head to the Portiuncula to adore the Lord?)
  • Two words: Drover’s and Dinor.
  • Road trips to heaven and hell: the Camaldolese hermitage in Bloomington, and the abortion mill in Pittsburgh.
  • Finally understanding, through Father Mike’s example, that you need to schedule prayer time as you would any other important appointment.
  • Wincing in pain at 6:30 AM during the bona fide Army Ranger exercise regimen led by now-Father Mark Ropel, SOLT. (Think water-boarding without the charm of the water.)
  • Marveling at the sight of long line-ups for Confession every day at 4PM and 7:30PM in Christ the King chapel.
  • Getting to know so many high-quality people, professors and students alike: movie nights at the home of Dr. Pat and Rita Lee, Dr. Scott Hahn, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (whose eagle-eyed wife Celeste made all my writing better), roving apostle Tom Nash, editor and Mac ninja Domenico Bettinelli — I’m just doing stream-of-consciousness now — Connie Cleveland, Bob Rice, Chris Chapman, Eileen Crosby, Jim Gontis, Christina Mills (nee Hermanson), the crew at the St. Joseph Center, John Lillis, Curtis Mitch, Chris Ledyard, Tony Searl, Jeff Cavins, the Curtis Martin family, Leon Suprenant. There are others and they know who they are, but I should probably stop here.
  • Sitting across from Father Mike during staff meetings, watching him stab the air mid-sentence to emphasis a point (accompanied by his signature, “this is key,”), getting his counsel in Confession, noticing him amble across the campus with that broad grin lurking just beneath the surface.
  • Whether it was his friend St. Mother Teresa or a nervous 18-year-old freshmen (not to mention nervous older grad non-trads like me), or a new faculty member, you got the same down-to-earth kindness. I remember thinking, So this is what personal sanctity looks like.

Father Mike, I can’t put into words my gratitude for your priesthood, your witness to the Catholic Faith, and your willingness to publically (this is key!) step into the breach for the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church.

O most high and glorious God, may the seraphic Saint Francis personally show Father Mike to his seat at the eternal Feast you have prepared for your good and faithful servant.

Requiescat in pace, Michael Scanlan, TOR.

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