Franciscan President Recalls 13 Years Battling Culture of Death

Father Terence Henry Passes on the Torch


Franciscan Father Terence "Terry" Henry is wrapping up a 13-year tenure as president of Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Having built upon the legacy of Franciscan Father Michael Scanlan, Father Henry now leaves Franciscan in the strongest position in its history, as he passes on the torch this June to his successor, Franciscan Father Sean Sheridan (see story on page 11).

In this interview with Register correspondent Peter Jesserer Smith, Father Henry discusses how fighting the culture of death was the core of his mission and comments on the grave danger of the federal contraception mandate. He also talks about the addition of NCAA sports, a new friary on campus and G.K. Chesterton, as he gets ready to embark on a very active retirement.


Father, what was it like when you took over as president of Franciscan back in 2000?

Father Mike Scanlan was an icon here at Franciscan. He served 26 distinguished years and accomplished so much. So I think the question on the minds of many was: "Would I continue the good work that he had begun or would the university change course?"

My goal from the outset was that we would keep the school faithful to the magisterium of the Church, and we would use as our compass the words of the late Cardinal John O’Connor, archbishop of New York. He said, "It’s easy to defend a principle in the Catholic Church that’s not under attack, but where we Catholics need to be is exactly at those points where the culture of death is pressing in."

I wanted to address those areas and use these words as a guide, which I interpreted as: "Francis, go and rebuild my Church."


Franciscan greatly expanded its programs under your administration, didn’t it?

The university was already well known for its theologians and philosophers, but now it is becoming well known in other areas. Our majors have continued to grow. We have a legal-studies major — the field of law is so important now, particularly in constitutional and natural law. We have an endowed chair in bioethics. We are grateful for the many blessings that the Lord has bestowed on us.


Why did you believe making bioethics a major presence on campus was necessary?

Bioethics is so utterly important, because so many of today’s ethical questions involve the life issues. We all know that life begins from the moment of fertilization. Life needs to be respected and honored.

Science now has the capacity to engineer human beings. So it needs to ask itself the question: "Just because we have the capacity to do it, does that mean we should do it?" Science needs to ask, "How do we serve the dignity of the human person and build that up?" — as opposed to going into a brave new world.

A human being is made in the image and likeness of God. When you forget the Creator, the creature becomes unintelligible.


You’ve also emphasized scholarship in the sciences.

Yes, the sciences need to be infused with a solid formation in faith. Without faith, science has a tendency to become too compartmentalized and become value-neutral or even value-hostile. It’s so important that faith and science be connected and that we form people correctly.

C.S. Lewis said the atheist and the Christian hold two opposite views of the world, but they both can’t be right. Consequently, the one who’s wrong will be acting in a way to destroy the world — and that’s what our culture of death is doing.


Why did you decide to bring Franciscan back into NCAA sports?

Our students wanted to bring sports back, and so I decided to bring it back with the knowledge that they would use sports as another means to give witness to Christ. Our students have been outstanding in the witness they give to other teams. They invite them to pray before a game and after a game — win or lose — and I’m very proud of them for doing that.

Bringing sports back as NCAA Division III ensured that the mission of Franciscan would remain primary. In Division III athletics, there’s no scholarship money involved, so no student is coming to Franciscan for athletic prowess. The person is there for the right reasons.


You oversaw a major $31-million capital campaign. How did that boost Franciscan’s mission?

We’re now able to offer more financial aid to students. Our student body is larger than at any time in the history of the school, and the needs of our students continue to grow.

We’ve also been able to address ongoing needs and challenges. We’re very grateful that, property-wise, we’ve more than doubled the size of the campus. We have more residence halls and a new friary, where more than 20 religious live and minister here to the students. And we have room to expand.


What has it been like to have a new friary on campus?

The friars have been so instrumental in helping pastoral ministry here on campus. I truly don’t know how a school can survive with a single chaplain and meet the sacramental needs of its student body. Our friars are involved around the clock in spiritual counseling, offering Masses and hearing confessions. Our students make great use of them. Some of the friars teach in the classroom, and we have three of them at our Austrian campus for our study-abroad program.

We’re getting vocations, too. Vocations are relational, and they come from interacting with students. Our friars are good at that. Our post-novitiate formation house is full at a time when many religious communities would be grateful to be half full or a quarter full.


What about Franciscan’s lawsuit against the mandate requiring the university to pay for birth control, sterilizations and abortion drugs? How does that threaten Franciscan’s Catholic identity?

We’ve taken a strong stand against it, because it is trying to coerce us to violate our most fundamental principles. It is a real threat to our First Amendment freedoms, which, historically, have always taken a preferred position by the courts. We’re going to fight this. This is a line in the sand. If we give in on this, then the Catholic Church can be forced to give in on any issue. At that point, we’re no longer Catholic.


What happens if you lose in court?

We still won’t give in. If I have to visit the new president in jail, so be it. If I end up there, so be it. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But the one thing you can be absolutely sure of is that we’re not going to comply; we can’t comply.

We are in the age of heroic witness. Catholics at times have taken the faith for granted. Those days are over. The Church is being actively persecuted. If enough Catholics stood up, this persecution would be beaten back.


What do you admire in your successor, Father Sean Sheridan?

First of all, he has great pastoral sense. He’s very personal and intelligent. He’s a professor and has served on the board of trustees. Whatever he’s done in ministry and service to the [TOR] province he has done very well. I know he will apply all his talents to serving the school as president and will represent us very well to the public.


You’re very committed to the pro-life movement.

Nothing is more important than that issue. Innocent human life is being destroyed. We have to defend the weakest and most vulnerable in our society.


Rumor has it that you’ve been on every March for Life during your time as president. Is that correct?

Yes, but I’ve gone on the March for Life since the late 1970s, when I was a history professor at Bishop Egan High School in Bucks County, Pa. We would organize March for Life trips with our students. That continued at St. Francis University in Loretto, Pa., when I was stationed there as vice president. The march was already a strong movement here when I arrived in 2000, and I’ve done all I can to strengthen it further.


You’re a big fan of G.K. Chesterton. Why do you like him so much?

He’s so highly quotable! This guy lived approximately 100 years ago, and he saw the very things we are living with right now. On almost any issue — social, political or moral — he has something profound to say. He does it in such a way that it sticks in the mind’s eye.

Chesterton did say — and it’s a thought that has been going through my mind as I prepare to hand the torch over to our president-elect, Father Sean — that the key to happiness in life is gratitude. So I am looking back over the past 13 years with gratitude to God for the opportunity to serve such an awesome mission.


What’s your fondest memory of Franciscan University?

Just seeing our students every day as they head to class in the morning. They’re out there in every kind of weather, and their spirits are all the same: They’re joy-filled and happy to be alive.

I’ve many fond memories of our graduates, too. A president today travels so much, all over the country, and it’s so good to have the opportunity to meet our graduates and learn what they’re doing. I think it’s great to see that they’ve connected what they’ve learned here at Franciscan with how to serve the Church in their everyday lives: in the marketplace, in their families and in their parishes.


Once you retire, what is next for you?

The new president has asked me to stay on and help him as he transitions into his new responsibilities. He’s going to have to move in about 20 directions at one time. In actuality, he’ll be able to move only in about 10 of those, so he’ll have the fun of delegating.

I’ll assist him in any way that I can, and I’ll be very much looking forward to that. I would have felt bad to have left this wonderful mission.


So, no easy retirement playing golf in Florida, then?

The kids have kidded me that I’ll have a chaplaincy somewhere in the High Sierras. It would have been a nice dream — we’re actually taking a group of 18 students this June to Yosemite, so we’ll be climbing those peaks in the Sierras — but no such luck. I’m so happy to be part of this mission.


What’s your hope for Franciscan’s future?

I hope that Franciscan will always ask itself the question: What are the needs of the Church, and how can it serve those needs? If it does that and continues to submit itself to the Church’s magisterium, it will continue to be blessed. That’s my hope and prayer.

God has accomplished a whole lot with a little school here in the Ohio Valley. It only proves that if you give yourself over to him and put first things first, he will bless those efforts. I’m confident that wherever our school is 10 years from now, it will be there battling wherever the culture of death is pressing in.

Peter Jesserer Smith writes from Rochester, New York.