Franciscan University of Steubenville: On Mission with Saint Junipero Serra

When the 18th-century Franciscan Friar Saint Junipero Serra established the first missions along the Pacific coast of California, it was with the intention of sharing the good news of salvation with all the world. Blessed with a profound intellect and deep spirituality, Saint Junipero might have lived a comfortable existence as a teacher in his native Spain. Instead, he chose to become a missionary to the New World, laying the foundation for the spread of the Catholic faith throughout the Northern Hemisphere.

Today, Franciscan University of Steubenville continues this great missionary endeavor by educating, evangelizing, and sending forth joyful disciples empowered by the Holy Spirit to be a transforming Christian presence in the world. Western Civilization is now in many respects mission territory, as contemporary society continues pulling up and away from its Christian roots. Much like the conditions Junipero Serra encountered in his vocation and ministry, Franciscan strives to proclaim the Gospel in a culture where fidelity to Scripture and Tradition is increasingly foreign.

“When parents send their children to be educated at Franciscan, they can be confident that the Catholic beliefs and values with which they raised them will be nurtured, not undermined,” says Corinne Purcell, Interim Director of Admissions. 

“Each and every one of our academic programs, at both the undergraduate and graduate level, seamlessly integrates high academic standards, outstanding scholarship, and rigorous training with an authentically Catholic view of the world.”

Purcell says that Franciscan is also making a mission-based commitment to growing its financial aid to students and families.

“99% of our students receive some level of financial aid, totaling more than $31 million annually.”

Teaching from the Heart of the Church

One of the leading Catholic universities in the United States, Franciscan is especially known and respected for its rock-solid programs in theology, philosophy, and catechetics, while the growing success of its professional programs demonstrates the University’s commitment to engaging the culture and serving the world more broadly. 

“We have more than 40 undergraduate majors, all of them dedicated to teaching and serving students in a manner that puts Jesus Christ at the center,” Purcell says. “Whether its Biology or Business, Chemistry or Cybersecurity, English or Electrical Engineering, each and every one of Franciscan’s academic programs prepares students to make a positive impact in their careers, with and for their families, in the community, and wherever God sends them.”

A prime example of Franciscan’s engagement in some of the most important and contested issues in contemporary society is its Criminal Justice program. Launched in the fall of 2020, just as a wave of civil unrest was sweeping across the United States, Franciscan’s Bachelor of Science program offers something unique among American colleges in this field: a rich and dynamic curriculum, grounded in Judeo-Christian principles and Catholic Social Teaching, that examines the interactions between human law and higher laws from God.

“The principles of natural law that formed the bedrock of the world’s best justice systems for thousands of years have been replaced in recent decades by moral relativism, secular theories of social justice, and politics – all to the detriment of society,” says Dr. Charles P. Nemeth, Director of Franciscan’s Center for Criminal Justice, Law, and Ethics and founder of the program.

“At Franciscan, our students are being prepared and equipped to bring the light of sound moral reasoning, critical thinking, and respect for the inherent dignity of all human life to a culture darkened by the twin shadows of secularism and relativism.”

Nemeth, who brings more than 40 years as an internationally acclaimed educator, author, and expert in the field, says that today’s criminal justice majors are highly sought after for a wide array of specialty positions in both the public and private sector. These include law, consulting, security, intelligence, forensic support services, counseling and juvenile services, and other emerging fields related to criminal justice such as environmental and hazard mitigation, zoning and code enforcement, and school and educational security.

Nemeth believes that fostering relationships and creating internships and career opportunities with law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies is essential to the success of the program – and his students.

“Part of the philosophy of our program is to be realistic and highly professional, and there’s no way to do that without interacting on a regular basis with practitioners in the field.”

Creating Pathways, Building Bridges

In the wake of the pandemic, many colleges and universities have seen a decline in enrollment at a time when the need for education beyond high school is more important than ever. It’s estimated that upwards of 70% of jobs will soon require some credential beyond high school. Yet for too many young people, the road to a post-secondary degree is too often blocked by a variety of barriers, including cost, a lack of college readiness, and a cultural climate on many campuses that is unwelcoming to those who hold to traditional beliefs.

One of the ways Franciscan University is responding to the need for a more accessible and affordable path to a college degree is by making it possible for students to earn up to 36 credits while they are still in high school. The Franciscan University High School Advantage program offers a selection of Franciscan University courses, taught online by Franciscan University faculty – for just $150 a credit. 

“More than simply a dual enrollment program, what Franciscan offers to students – particularly those enrolled in faithful Catholic schools – is a bridge to a faith-affirming college education,” says Tom Costello, Franciscan University High School Advantage Program Manager.

Costello says that value goes beyond the cost savings — though that can be significant.

“What our students and families particularly appreciate is the ongoing spiritual engagement and formation faithful Catholics expect from Franciscan University of Steubenville. Creating those connections and nurturing those relationships is something all of us here at the university feel called to do. It’s a calling I know I am grateful to share.”

The Mission Continues

Saint Junipero Serra had a motto that not only inspired his work but shaped the way he lived: “Keep moving forward!” Purcell says Franciscan University of Steubenville is determined to continue doing just that, pushing ahead to bring the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ to new generations of students.

“These are challenging times and there’s really a lot of need in the world right now for the work of a university like Franciscan,” she says. 

“Franciscan is bucking national enrollment trends nationwide and is on-track to bring in our largest class in history. This is proof of the undeniable draw of Franciscan for students in search of strong, unapologetic Catholic identity and community in a world where they often feel alone and isolated in their faith. It’s an incredible blessing to have a role in this mission.”