Dear Class of 2018: Follow Jesus, and Hold On to These 3 Things

Graduates, remember this: You may not know where you’re going, but you have every reason to believe that it’s going to be good.

Fr. Michael Scanlan (back row, center), Jeanette DeMelo (third from right) and family at Franciscan University of Steubenville in 1998.
Fr. Michael Scanlan (back row, center), Jeanette DeMelo (third from right) and family at Franciscan University of Steubenville in 1998. (photo: Photo provided)

On May 12 at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Jeanette DeMelo, editor-in-chief of the National Catholic Register, received an honorary doctorate of communications and delivered the following address to the graduates.



Fr. Sean, esteemed members of the board and faculty, parents and friends, and dear graduates of the Class of 2018:

How many of you have you heard about the way God worked in Vincent’s life?

Vincent was an Irish-American boy born on Long Island in New York. He was only three when his parents separated. His father moved to Mexico to pursue a business venture. Vincent stayed with his mother, and grew up in lower Manhattan. Wanting her son to gain prestige and success in life, his mother sent him away to boarding school for elementary and high school. Smart, athletic, fun-loving and charismatic Vincent seemed to succeed at whatever he put his mind to — whether it was tennis, popularity, or highest of grades. He graduated top of his high school class and academically sailed through college.

He joined ROTC, spent time in the Merchant Marine, led the Catholic Newman Club, found the girl he was going to marry, got into Harvard Law School and had job offers waiting before his diploma was in his hands. Duty to the Air Force required him first. He served as an Air Force lawyer — an ambitious JAG officer who never lost a case. 

Vincent was 25 years old and headed for great things.

But a year later, Vincent donned another uniform, responding to another call of duty, a higher one. He entered Roman Catholic seminary at St. Francis Seminary in Loretto, Pennsylvania. 

In 1964, at the age of 33, Vincent was ordained a priest of the Franciscan Third Order Regular. He aspired to be a foreign missionary in the Amazon jungle of Brazil. 

He became a missionary — but one of a very different sort than he expected. 

The same month of his ordination, Father Vincent Michael Scanlan was appointed academic dean of the College of Steubenville. Taking the job was an act of obedience, and a challenge. Father Mike admitted he knew nothing of college administration. For five years he toiled as dean and then was assigned to lead St. Francis Seminary. 

However, several years later Father Mike returned to Steubenville. He was hired as what many thought would be the college’s last president. The school was in financial ruin. Student enrollment had dwindled. Academics languished. But for Father Mike Scanlan the most disturbing problem was the spiritual emptiness and moral decay he saw. He vowed to make Jesus Christ Lord of every aspect of the school. And over the next 26 years as president, that’s what he did. 

Now, have you heard about the way that God worked in Vincent Michael Scanlan’s life?

Of course, you have. The way Father Michael answered God’s call in his life has directly impacted your life and mine! And a million others. 

I once found a book on my parents’ shelf — a silly little book called The Official Preppy Handbook. And there listed among the best “preppy” party schools was the College of Steubenville. That was Steubenville in the 1970s when Father Mike took over. There was no Catholic identity. The buildings were empty. Enrollment was barely 1,000. Look around the room at this class of 700! Look at the size and vibrancy of this campus!

Let me stop right now, and say: Thank you. Thank you, God, for reviving this school and bringing us here. 

Thank you, Father Michael, who has now journeyed homeward, toward his eternal reward. May perpetual light shine up him. 

Thank you, Father Sean, the friars and the board of trustees for building upon the legacy.

Thank you, professors and faculty: those who’ve been here since the beginning of Father Mike’s work and those who joined along the way. 

Thank you, parents, including my own, for your generosity and the sacrifices you made to let your precious treasures enter the adventure this place brings. 

And graduates, congratulations! Through your hard work, you’ve become part of a wonderful legacy.

Franciscan University of Steubenville today is recognized among the most authentically Catholic schools in the country and even world because of Father Michael’s vision for a university. He wanted students to experience the “dynamic orthodoxy” that is marked by fidelity to the Church and openness to the Holy Spirit. And he wanted us to go forth from this place equipped to evangelize the world. 

Graduates, do you know that Father Mike set in motion many of the majors displayed on the diplomas you are about to receive? 

He developed the departments of communications arts, nursing, computer science, economics, humanities and Catholic culture, and theology, which has become the largest undergraduate theology program at any U.S. Catholic university. He recruited quality professors and insisted upon the academic rigor which helped give the school the credibility it has today. 

Of course, he’s known for bringing the Catholic Charismatic Renewal to campus — with the praise and worship and vibrant preaching and emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. But with that, he also made the liturgy central to campus life, brought Eucharistic adoration to students, and encouraged lives of daily prayer rooted in the sacraments. The deep Catholic culture and spiritual life he fostered combined with the solidly Catholic education and missionary spirit is what makes Franciscan recognizable worldwide.

Franciscan grads are priests, religious and laity passionately loving the world for Christ’s sake. We are found in chanceries, parishes, schools, politics, and every sort of apostolate, including Catholic journalism.

At the time of Father Michael’s death last year, countless articles recognized these accomplishments, including more than 20 articles or blogs at the Writers just kept sending us tributes.

But I’ll turn to a less likely compliment given by John Allen, writing at Crux. Here’s what he wrote:

It’s virtually impossible to overstate the importance of Steubenville in American Catholic life on Scanlan’s watch.

The place barely had an enrollment of 1,000 when Scanlan took over. He more than doubled that number … , and in the process turned Steubenville into an unlikely magnet for national and international talent.

Whatever one made of him, Father Michael Scanlan was among the lions of an entire era in American Catholic life. Whether one was rooting for him, or quietly wishing he would just stop, there was never any question - none at all - that he mattered.

Father Michael Scanlan mattered, and so do the graduates of this university — when we allow God to work in our lives like Father Mike did.

So, what’s next? Graduates, what’s next for you?  

This is the question so many people are asking you, especially these days around graduation. 

And if you’re anything like me in 1998, when I sat in your spot in this fieldhouse, it’s a difficult question to answer, because you just don’t know! 

You’re probably proud — and you should be. You’re probably relieved to be finishing exams — and you should be. You’re likely sad to be leaving friends, household brothers and sisters, and this unique place you’ve called home — I know that I was.

But if you’re anything like I was, you’re probably not sure exactly what comes next. And you might be a little anxious about that. 

To disperse with the inner anxiety that the question “What’s Next” caused me, I’d tell everyone with a big smile on my face: “I don’t know but it is going to be good!”

When I said those words back then, I said them with the confidence of youth, and a little “don’t go there” sass. But I can still say it today — with the same confidence of youth, of course — but also with 20 years of experiencing its truth. And I’m sure 20 years from now I’ll be able to say it with mature confidence and even more experience.

When Professor James Gaston, my academic advisor in HCC, asked me what I planned to do after I graduated, I told him I wanted to be a writer. He comically quipped: “Are you independently wealthy?” 

Still, my first job out of grad school was in journalism. The opportunity came through a Franciscan alumna. Her husband, whose family owned a publishing house, was going on an extended trip and needed someone to take his place writing for their small-town community newspaper. I subbed for him for a few months, writing about that summer’s tomato crop, the Catfish Queen beauty pageant and board of education meetings. When he returned, he offered me a job for another of the family’s publishing endeavors, a very small monthly Catholic newspaper. I did everything from writing and editing to selling ads and delivering bundles of papers. Of course, it paid peanuts (I actually made my living tutoring). But it was a solid start in Catholic communications. 

Ten years and three jobs later I became editor-in-chief of EWTN’s National Catholic Register, which in November celebrated 90 years of Catholic journalism and was honored last year with the Catholic Press Association’s Newspaper of the Year. 

Professor Gaston, where are you? Your humorous caution was, in a way, true: I no longer write much. For me, management and leadership of a wonderful team of writers and editors became my profession. I tell this little story because I believe God gives us inklings of his plan often revealed through our natural interests, personal networks and concrete circumstances. Only when we look backward can we connect the dots and see the amazing constellation of His work. 

That certainly was true in Father Mike’s life — only hindsight shows the way Providence used all he had experienced to build this place for God. And it is going to be true in your life too.

Graduates, you don’t know what’s coming. But you have received the foundations of what you need to take the next steps. In fact, if you’ve sought to absorb all this university seeks to offer, you have received the core of what you’ll need for the rest of your life: a solid education, a life of prayer and virtue, and community.

First, your education. You’ve spent these years gaining academic and practical knowledge, pursuing an intellectual life and learning to think critically from a Catholic world view. Some of you will go on for graduate degrees and even doctorates. But for each of us, love of learning and critical thinking must continue. We need it to stand our ground in Catholic faith and morals and to engage the world around us persuasively. We need to stay smart to do that!

Second, your life of prayer and virtue. For me, Franciscan University strengthened the seeds of faith planted by my parents and the Charismatic Renewal in New Orleans. I saw my parents praying, bent over their Bibles, every morning; their efforts to make it to daily Mass often; and their frequent fasting. At Franciscan, the practice of faith was deepened. Here I was given not only the what and why of Catholicism in my studies, but I was also given every opportunity to enter into a life of prayer with the availability of Mass three times a day, Christian prayer in the morning, confession easily accessible, the Port open for Eucharistic adoration 24/7, and a common ascent, however imperfectly practiced, of the moral life visible on campus. 

Never again has it been so convenient for me to live the Christian life. Although I must say, having lived in Rome, where there’s a Church or nearly every corner, worked in chanceries with chapels on the grounds and now at EWTN with daily Eucharistic adoration a short walk from my office, I have no excuses. Despite how distracted I often am, I know that this life of prayer is essential for remaining in tune to God’s work in and through me. It’s the fuel for the journey. 

Third, your community. At Franciscan, you’ve made deep friendships; you’ve joined a household; you’ve received good counsel from mentors and advisors; and now you are joining the ranks of alumni, who are spread all over the country and world. Many of your friendships will prove to be lifelong. Stay connected. And you never know when someone from this Franciscan University network will become instrumental in your life’s path. 

Allow me just another word about the importance of community going forward. Each of us is called to a specific state of life that involves community. Be diligent in discerning your vocation. And be patient! Wait joyfully, even if it seems like you’re waiting for ever! I was 35 when I met the man who is now my husband and it was in the most unexpected of ways. A consecrated layman introduced us, through Facebook. But that’s not the strangest part. My future husband lived in Peru. Our courtship was cross-continental! The wait was worth it, Juan Andrés.

Now let me conclude, so you can get your diplomas.

Graduates, remember this: You may not know where you are going but you have every reason to believe that it is going to be good. That is not blind optimism, that is Christian hope. That is the hope that Fr. Mike had when he embraced a failing college and made it great. And it is the hope that we are all called to have even when we cannot see the future. Even when the path and plans we’ve made have been changed. Even when we meet momentary failure. Even when we wait a long time. The only way to continue to maintain hope is to rely on those three things you have been given here: the learning, the life of prayer, and the community.

Graduates, if you hang on to those three things and let Jesus Christ be Lord of your life as Father Michael Scanlan did... I don’t know where you’ll go, but I know it is going to be good.

Thank you.