Dr. Daniel Kempton, Convocation Remarks 2017
Dr. Daniel Kempton, vice president for Academic Affairs and professor of political science, made the following remarks at the Academic Convocation on Monday, August 28, 2017, to open the 2017-18 academic year:
God is a great giver of gifts. He gave us life. He gave each of us individual talents. He gave us the Church. He gave some of us a vocation to the TORs. He gave others spouses and children. He gave us all, His only begotten Son. But as Our Lord explained in the parable of the talents, God’s gifts are not simply for our enjoyment or benefit. They are given by the Master and are to be employed for His purpose, spreading the Kingdom.
For each of us, whether student, staff, or faculty, our life has been, or for new students and employees hopefully will be, profoundly enriched by the gift of Franciscan University. The University is a great gift to the Church. Visiting bishops and cardinals regularly affirm the importance of Franciscan graduates in their dioceses. Our conferences have transformed the lives of many more. Scholars throughout the academy acknowledge the importance of our research. Because Franciscan University has been such a great gift, at times we are tempted to see Franciscan as something to be preserved exactly as we inherited it. I believe there is a core truth to this sense. God has given Franciscan a critical core mission which should never be compromised. But, Franciscan has succeeded by steadfastness to its mission coupled with development, and growth. The founders started a college in downtown Steubenville, where none existed before. They then moved it to a hilltop. The University grew in students, faculty, staff, majors, and land. It bought up public housing, an old dump site, and a golf course and transformed each in turn. It rededicated itself to orthodoxy when most Catholic colleges were secularizing. It purchased a monastery in central Austria, still in need of renovation. It developed a new core. It went online.
Yet, Franciscan University hasn’t changed just for the sake of change. As Fr. Dave Pivonka, TOR, reminded us at Fr. Scanlan’s memorial service, Fr. Scanlan was guided in life and in leadership by Mary’s instruction at the Wedding at Cana, “Do Whatever He tells you” a passage you will see emblazoned on shirts across campus this year. Fr. Scanlan launched initiatives not based only on what seemed prudent, but based on, to quote one of his book titles, “What does God want?” While Fr. Scanlan is undoubtedly the personification of this commitment, in another sense this has always been and continues to be the essence of Franciscan’s uniqueness. Many of the biggest decisions in the University’s history were rooted more in saying “yes” to our Lord than they were in careful strategic planning. If the friars had done a careful strategic plan my guess is that they would have concluded that starting a Catholic college in Steubenville, just as the steel industry was starting its postwar decline, was not a great idea. Similarly, Fr. Scanlan, and his colleagues were returning Franciscan to orthodoxy just as the largest and wealthiest Catholic universities were racing toward secularization. They then purchased part of an old monastery in the foothills of the Alps as other universities sought to build study abroad programs in the glitz and glamor of London, Paris, and Berlin.
More recently, a new generation of Franciscan friars, led by a next generation father president, Fr. Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, has unveiled an expansive vision for the University that calls for a dramatic extension of our mission at a time when other colleges are struggling to meet enrollments or even closing their doors. I would imagine that your reaction is similar to my initial one, which has been alternately excitement and terror. Yet, this is one of the wonderful aspects of being a part of the Franciscan University family. While we engage in careful strategic planning, now with greater faculty, staff, and now student participation than ever before, ultimately, we are led by Third Order Regular friars. In a sense our University is a gift from God, through the friars, to the whole Church. Each of them has already been led by the Holy Spirit to discern his vocation. As a Church organization, we believe in the concept of legitimate authority. Our president is selected by our Board of Trustees from among the qualified friars as determined by the Provincial of the Order. Thus, when the friars have taken something to prayer and Father President has decided to share that vision with the whole University family, from my perspective, the time for planning and debate is over, and the time for intelligent, prayerful implementation has arrived. As a TOR institution, we should not be surprised if we are called to continuous conversion. Just as God is continually calling each of us to greater holiness, Franciscan University too is called to more. I look forward to employing my gifts, in concert with those of all members of the Franciscan University family, to implement an exponential expansion of the Franciscan University mission, so that Franciscan University truly becomes “the leading instrument for worldwide renewal at the service of the Catholic Church.”
In close, I hope and pray that all present have a blessed academic year.
Dr. Daniel Kempton, vice president for Academic Affairs and professor of political science, joined Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2011.
Prior to his time at Franciscan he spent two years in South Africa on a Fulbright Scholarship, followed by 21 years at the University of Northern Illinois teaching political science.