The Rev. Sean Sheridan reflects on position
STEUBENVILLE – After one year in his new job the Rev. Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, is still teaching and learning.
Sheridan was appointed to be the sixth president of Franciscan University of Steubenville in June 2013 replacing the Rev. Terence Henry, TOR, who has remained at the university to serve as chancellor.
But while he said he never seems get enough sleep and spends a considerable amount of time away from the campus, Sheridan still enjoys teaching one or two classes every semester.
“Teaching is a passion for me. It gives me a unique perspective to build a relationship with the students. We generally have a regular student teacher relationship although a few students may sign up for the class to see what it is like to have the university president be the teacher,” said Sheridan.
Sheridan came to Franciscan University two years ago from a teaching position at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., where he taught canon law.
He spent his first year on campus living in an apartment in the Assisi Heights complex and teaching theology.
A native of Cresson, Pa., Sheridan was ordained to the priesthood in December 2006. Sheridan earned a bachelor of science degree in pharmacy and a juris doctor from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and a doctorate in canon law from the Catholic University of America.
He spent spent 10 years as a practicing attorney in Sacramento and Pittsburgh focusing on health care litigation, primarily with the representation of hospitals and physicians before he began to study for the priesthood.
“During my time at Catholic University I taught both undergraduate students and graduate students. The graduate students were priests who were studying canon law. And it was always nice to discuss issues with the students,” related Sheridan.
“The environment here on the campus is a little different. I live at the friary but I encounter students all the time as I walk across the campus. The students will wave through the window as they walk past my office. And it is not unusual to be stopped by a student who will ask if I have a few minutes to hear a confession,” Sheridan said.
Serving as president of the 68-year-old university means extra duties for the 52-year-old Sheridan.
“I probably spend 60 percent of my time on the road meeting with alumni and benefactors. It is a busy life but I have the best job in the world. When I was interviewed for the president’s job by the board of trustees I was asked if I would mind doing a lot of traveling. I replied if that was part of the job I would be glad to travel,” noted Sheridan.
“I begin each day with prayer with my brother priests. I try to celebrate one of the Masses we have at the chapel when I can. The friars have our meals together and I help celebrate the residence hall Masses. As pastor of the university I try to be at as many Masses as I can. A normal day runs from 7 a.m. until about 10 p.m.,” according to Sheridan.
“Yes, it was a change coming here from Catholic University in Washington, D.C. But I am so grateful to be in the Ohio Valley to minister to the people of God here. I love being part of the Ohio Valley,” noted Sheridan.
Sheridan took over the university president’s job in June 2013 and was inaugurated in October.
“When I learned I had been selected as Franciscan University’s sixth president, I felt a tremendous sense of peace and a tremendous sense of responsibility to lead this great university. It is inspiring and truly humbling for me to be here at Franciscan University with the students who are pouring their hearts into their education and their prayer life, falling in love with God and the Church, and striving to become saints,” said Sheridan.
During his inauguration address on Oct. 10, Sheridan also said he would like to see a larger chapel on the university campus.
“It is humbling to me to see a full chapel for each of our daily Masses. To further promote the faith life on campus and the spiritual needs of our university community it is time for us to build a larger chapel so that more of our students can worship the Lord together,” commented Sheridan.
Sheridan said plans continue to be reviewed for the construction of a new chapel.
“I want to make sure we are doing it right. There is a lot of discussion among the faculty, students and benefactors on how to proceed with the new chapel. Once we begin it will probably take one and a half to two years to complete the construction,” explained Sheridan.
He also called for education to be available to all qualified people.
“As both a Catholic and as Franciscan University we should endeavor to make a college education available. While financial aid is essential to making available Catholic higher education, we should consider alternative funding mechanisms such as growing the endowment so that our graduates will be able to minister within the church while also able to support their families,” he said.
“We build our future on the shoulders of giants of the past. We are continuing to move forward to reach out to those who cannot be with us. Our missionary outreach continues to expand. We have a mission trip in Ecuador right now. But our largest mission is in the city of Steubenville. Every spring break we have students here in the city reaching out to those in need,” Sheridan said.
“The foundation that runs our facility in Gaming, Austria, has recently purchased the entire property that will result in more students having the ability to study there for a semester. It is a great experience for the students because they are surrounded by church history that goes back hundreds of years. It gives the students a chance to see the universal church,” remarked Sheridan.
He also promised during his inaugural speech to, “stand with the successors of the apostles and continue to fight attempts of our government to violate our religious beliefs and ability to practice our faith. We will continue to be a pro-life institution that fosters the dignity of human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. Even though I also believe that God has much more planned for us we must safeguard our culture as we explore options for further development and growth. Such steps need to be taken in a deliberate way that allows for growth without jeopardizing our culture. We must remain true to our Catholic identity as a Catholic and Franciscan University.”
“Fifteen years ago I would never have thought I would be president of the Franciscan University of Steubenville. I entered the TOR community in 2000. And I am here now because I trusted in God’s plan,” Sheridan declared.
(Gossett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)