STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — The greatest blessing for Franciscan University of Steubenville’s president has been witnessing the enthusiasm of students, Father Terence Henry said after the news of his retirement as was announced.
In a Jan. 28 interview with CNA, he recalled serving as pastor of the student body, which he said was highlighted by greeting the students every day as they made their way to 8 a.m. classes.
“Seeing their enthusiasm and joy,” he said, “confirmed” the hope of Christ and his promise to “be with his Church until the end of the world.”
“One can never despair when you see our students and meet our graduates,” he said. “I feel my greatest blessing as president [has been] to see that every day — it’s just something that I’ll always remember.”
After serving as the university president for the past 13 years — significantly longer than the national average tenure of a school president — Franciscan University announced that Fr. Henry will step down from his role at the end of the academic year.
“I’m looking back on the time and it has gone by very quickly and I’m just grateful and conscious of the many blessings that the school has experienced during that time,” he said.
Father Henry, a Third Order Regular Franciscan, is the school’s fifth president, directly preceded by Father Michael Scanlan, the priest who reformed the school from a fading party college to a thriving university known for its authentic Catholic identity and academic excellence.
When he took over after Father Scanlon’s “exceptional” 26-year term as university president, Father Henry said many people questioned what course the university would take following its radical transformation in the 1980s.
“I think that I helped answer that question by maintaining that fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church,” without which, he said, “a Catholic university has no purpose of existing.”
Already known for its theology and philosophy departments after the leadership of Father Scanlan, the university expanded its academic reach to include 19 new academic programs such as business, legal studies, biology and bioethics during Father Henry’s time as president.
“Other programs are getting there as well and it’s just awesome that our school’s reputation is continuing to grow,” he said.
In 2007, the university established the Institute of Bioethics under the direction of Dr. Patrick Lee, which seeks to resist the “culture of death” by promoting Catholic-based research, writing, speaking and conferences.
Under Father Henry’s direction, enrollment has reached an all-time high in 2012 with 2,466 graduate and undergraduate students, the physical campus has more than doubled in size with 249 acres and the Barons athletics teams have gained re-entry into the NCAA Division III intercollegiate sports with 15 men’s and women’s programs.
Father Henry’s time as president has been marked by growth and expansion of the university in ways that can only be attributed to God and the faithfulness of the faculty, staff and students in responding to the needs of the Church, he said.
“I attribute that to the real dedication of our faculty and staff and just about anybody who works for the mission of our school,” he said. “They really are mission-driven — they make the president look good.”
Although Father Henry does not know where his next assignment will take him, he said that wherever he goes “there will be a great demand because the needs of the Church are many.”
In response to the question of where the university will be another thirteen years from now, Father Henry said he prays it will be “right there at the points of attack” where the culture contradicts the Church.
The new president will be decided by the board of trustees, who will select from friars recommended by the order’s minister provincial, Father Nicholas Polichnowski.
“Our present provincial is a former teacher here at Franciscan University,” Father Henry noted, “so I know that the choice of successor will be in good hands.”