“By their fruits you will know them.”
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples this barometer to help them distinguish between false and true prophets, adding that “a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit.”
If this is one standard by which we are to measure a life well lived, certainly that of Father Michael Scanlan, former president and chancellor of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, who died Jan. 7, would serve as a prime example.
“As a priest, he administered the sacraments with full confidence in their power to restore all things in Christ and generously exercised his considerable gifts of prayer, teaching, preaching and healing both on campus and around the world,” said Father Sean Sheridan, current university president, in a statement following the death of Father Scanlan. “He led countless people into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. It is, perhaps, most of all for his spiritual fatherhood that so many will remember him with gratitude.”
Many of us never know the difference we will make in the lives of others in the world, though we pray that we may have a positive impact in some way. But Father Scanlan’s legacy is different. The fruit that he bore is evident in the revitalization of not only Franciscan University, but of the revitalization of Catholic identity in Catholic colleges and universities around the country and the world. And this revitalization, in turn, led to the creation of countless apostolates born out of the vision, passion and spirituality of alumni of Franciscan University in the past few decades.
A few examples: Curtis Martin and Edward Sri, co-founders of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students; Matthew Kelly, founder of the Dynamic Catholic Institute; Dominican Sister John Dominic, founder of the thriving Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Marcus Grodi, president of the Coming Home Network; and Tim Gray, Scripture scholar and co-founder of the Denver-based Augustine Institute. Another force of the university not to be missed at the faculty level is Scott Hahn, Catholic convert, author, speaker and professor, who has gone on to inspire tens of thousands of Catholics.
Such a list reminds each of us of the ripple effect that is possible when we share the Faith with passion and clarity. As Cardinal John Henry Newman, author of “The Idea of a University” and a great influencer of Catholic education, writes in his famous prayer, each of us is “a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.” When we live up to our potential in fostering this connection, the harvest will be bountiful. Father Scanlan knew and lived this well.
In his final address to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 2015, Archbishop Carol Maria Viganò, outgoing apostolic nuncio, stressed the importance of encouraging universities to be “faithful to the title of ‘Catholic’ that they bear.” He told the bishops, “In this way, their students can be inspired to take their rightful place in the world, teaching others to work toward being the true Catholic family that God intends them to be.”
As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, let us be thankful for the example of Father Scanlan and for the work of so many other Catholic educators — these integral links in the chain — who quietly yet effectively go about the work of spreading Christ’s light to their students. Though they may not know now the impact they are having, may they be encouraged to remember that “by their fruits you will know them.”
Editorial Board: Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor