BY JORDAN OTERO
Franciscan University of Steubenville’s “obligation to engage in a dialogue between the culture of our society and our Church” will serve as the crux of the Rev. Sean O. Sheridan’s, TOR, vision for his tenure as the University’s sixth president.
Sheridan, who was inaugurated as president Thursday, spoke to the the audience gathered in Finnegan Fieldhouse about Franciscan’s mission both within the University and “proclaiming the gospel beyond the University.”
Sheridan said that he will “remain committed to advancing the mission of the University, both as a university dedicated to academic excellence and a university that is Franciscan and passionately Catholic in its very being.”
“As a Catholic and a Franciscan university, we do not exist separate and apart from either the Church or our world,” he said. “We minister together as members of these larger communities and, at appropriate times, have the opportunity to influence these communities by advancing the teachings of the Church or challenging our society when it strays from the truth.”
The willingness of those in the University community to “respond to the Lord’s invitations and to move the University forward as directed by the Holy Spirit” has been a “key component” in Franciscan’s history, he said. The Catholic identity of Franciscan University is “at the heart of our mission, which in turn is the basis for the decisions that we make here,” he continued.
“A visitor to a Catholic university should not have to look for indications that the university is Catholic,” Sheridan said. “It should be evident that such a university is in its name and in fact a Catholic university.”
Sheridan was elected president by the Franciscan University Board of Trustees on April 19, 2013. He began his presidential duties June 1, continuing an unbroken chain of leadership at the University by Franciscan Third Order Regular priests of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, which founded Franciscan University.
The Most Rev. Nicholas Polichnowski, TOR, minister general of the worldwide Third Order Regular of St. Francis, was the homilist for the inaugural Mass. He reflected on readings that Sheridan selected for the votive Mass of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, reminding Sheridan that he is “commissioned to be a pastor” among the students, faculty and staff at Franciscan University. Polichnowski said that such a role requires the “gospel love” presented in the readings, which means acting as a “conduit of that love to someone else.”
“We charge you, Father Sean, not so much as the institutional president,” he said. “We charge you to safeguard the conduit of mercy within the pastoral outreach of this university.”
Polichnowski presented Sheridan with a rosary from Pope Francis. The pontiff gave Polichnowski the rosary during his Oct. 4 visit to Assisi as a gift to Sheridan on the occasion of his inauguration. Polichnowski also offered Sheridan a carving of the Sacred Heart. These gifts, Polichnowski said, were to serve as a reminder for Sheridan that his ministry as president must be centered in prayer.
The Very Rev. Richard Davis, TOR, minister provincial of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, shared memories during the inauguration ceremony of Sheridan from when he first expressed interest in discerning life in the Third Order Regular.
“I watched this young man progress in wisdom, grace and age … and I knew that God had plans for him,” Davis said. “He is my brother and I am greatly proud of him today.”
Davis encouraged Sheridan “not to be puffed up with pride,” but to remember that “humility, as sons of St. Francis, must always be a hallmark of our lives.”
The ceremony began with a procession of Franciscan University faculty in academic attire, followed by an invocation by the Most Rev. Jeffrey Monforton, bishop of Steubenville, and words of welcome by various officials associated with Franciscan University.
The inauguration itself symbolized a transfer of power, as the Rev. Terence Henry, TOR, Franciscan University president from 2000 to 2013 and now University chancellor, brought forth the presidential seal of office. The seal of office was then conferred on Sheridan by Davis, who is also chairman of the Franciscan University Board of Trustees.
Following the ceremony, a reception was held in the JC Williams Center. Thursday evening also began the Inaugural Symposium on Catholic Higher Education and the New Evangelization, which was kicked off with an address by Monforton.
On Friday, Oct. 11, at 8:30 a.m.. John Garvey, president of The Catholic University of America, will speak on the symposium’s main theme. At 10:15 a.m., Sheridan will give “A Presidential Perspective on Franciscan University of Steubenville and the New Evangelization.”
The afternoon session will consist of a faculty panel discussion and remarks by Dr. Daniel Kempton, vice president for Academic Affairs. Friday at 7:30 p.m., Dr. Scott Hahn will speak in Christ the King Chapel on “The New Evangelization and Franciscan University.”
A native of Cresson, Pa., Sheridan was ordained to the priesthood in December 2006. He holds a juris doctor from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and a doctorate in canon law from The Catholic University of America, where he also served as an assistant professor in the School of Canon Law. He has been teaching theology at Franciscan since 2012.