While most Franciscan students are still trying to figure out what their dream jobs are, the Rev. Dominic Foster, TOR, is just beginning to live his. From assistant HR director to campus chaplain to religion teacher, Foster has done it all — but he’s finally doing what fulfills him most: counseling.
Working full-time as a counselor on top of his pastoral work may sound daunting, but Foster is not deterred from finding joy in it. He used Pope John Paul II’s term “accompaniment” to describe his work in the Wellness Center, which he began when he moved to Franciscan University of Steubenville during the summer of 2018.
Franciscan is a familiar place to Foster. The Millinocket, Maine native was an undergraduate theology and philosophy student from 1992-96, during which he discovered his Franciscan spirituality and vocation to religious life.
Attending Franciscan in what he called the “heyday of Pope John Paul II and Father Michael Scanlan, TOR,” Foster couldn’t help but be influenced by their saintly examples.
“Memories of Fr. Michael loom large from my student days,” said Foster. “He was a guy that I really consciously modeled myself after.”
Foster also had the opportunity to live with Scanlan during his second stint at Franciscan, this time as a friar. He took seriously the task of being shaped into a man like Scanlan and walking in his footsteps.
Foster’s vocation to the Franciscan Friars, TOR, revealed itself over time. As a child, he befriended a priest from the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer who spent the winters at Foster’s parish in Maine. Foster’s family also made annual pilgrimages in the summers to the Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré in Quebec, Canada, where Foster came to know the priest as a mentor.
From there came the idea of priesthood, which Foster considered more seriously during his years at Franciscan after receiving baptism of the Holy Spirit and being introduced to the charismatic renewal. After that, Foster said the choice was written on the wall.
“Once I knew I was going to be a Franciscan, I knew I was going to be a TOR,” he said.
After seminary and ministry work in Washington, DC, and a couple years at St. Francis University, Foster returned to live with Scanlan and the TOR community at Franciscan.
Foster was the founder of Men’s Ministry and played a large role in founding Women’s Ministry. At the time, the Office of Evangelization was also responsible for ministries such as the Festivals of Praise, SENT Ministries and weekly bar ministry in Steubenville and Pittsburgh.
After about six years, Foster said he felt he had done all he could with the job as it was configured, yet still felt a need to do more. He obtained permission from his provincial to go back to school for a counseling degree, which he has pursued for the past four years in Washington, DC.
He is also a member of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, a chivalric order of papal knighthood whose responsibility is maintaining the sites in the Holy Land and maintaining the Christian community in the Holy Land.
Foster, now back and counseling current students, has enjoyed watching years of progress in those students he mentored in 2008-2014. His spiritual fatherhood is evident in the 28-year-olds, now adults, who were 18 when he began working at the university.
“Many of those students I’ve stayed in contact with ever since they graduated,” said Foster. “I’ve done a lot of their weddings, a lot of their baptisms … Alumni weekend I had some former students surprise me to come back for a visit.”
Foster said there is a different dynamic in 2018 than 2008-2014. “It’s a different generation,” he said. “When I was here before it was the millennials, and I just got them figured out. Now we’re in the middle of I-Gen.”
He expressed some concerns about the party scene and lack of unity in this generation, which he attributes to more students coming in to the university “broken.”
“I just find that the religious element here is becoming more of an image thing than something people really want,” he said. “There’s much less understanding of what an integrated Gospel life means.”
However, Foster believes that through the ministry of accompaniment, he can reach some of the students. He’s already seen progress in his clients, which is rewarding.
“Some kids have a very romanticized understanding of a Catholic lifestyle, but it’s actually really hard,” he said. “It’s a joy as a priest, especially with a counseling degree, to be able to walk with people, bearing those struggles.”