Fr. David Pivonka Named Franciscan University of Steubenville President

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by Bruce Walker  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  May 22, 2019   

Replaces Fr. Sean Sheridan under cloud of scandal

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STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (ChurchMilitant.com) - The embattled Franciscan University of Steubenville (FUS) in Ohio has named a new president. Father David Pivonka will immediately fill the vacancy prompted by the early April resignation of Fr. Sean Sheridan.

After completing his undergraduate studies from FUS in 1989, Pivonka earned an MA in theology from Washington Theological Union and a doctorate in education from the Graduate Theological Foundation. He has authored four books: Spiritual Freedom: God's Life Changing Gift; Hiking the Camino: 500 Miles with Jesus; Encounter Jesus: From Discovery to Discipleship; and Breath of God — Living a life led by the Holy Spirit.

The school began a leftward drift during Sheridan's tenure.  

Pivonka served from 1998 to 1999 as assistant to Fr. Michael Scanlan, another previous FUS president. According to Catholic News Agency:

Pivonka played a key role in one of Scanlan’s major initiatives: the establishment of the "household" system at the university. Households, small single-gender, dorm-based faith communities, were among the aspects of university life Scanlan introduced in order to support the faith formation of students. Pivonka served as director of household support from 1996 to 1998.

The priest has also served as director of the university's well-known youth conferences, a professor of theology, director of the school's Austria program, and as vice president for mission and planning from 2003 to 2005.

In recent years, the priest has led Franciscan Pathways, an evangelistic Initiative of his Franciscan province, focused on conversion, spiritual formation, and the Holy Spirit in the lives of Catholics. In that role, he produced "The Wild Goose" video series on the Holy Spirit, as well as other documentaries and pastoral videos

Scanlan is generally admired for reinvigorating the university's academic reputation, shoring up the school's finances and successfully recruiting faculty and students. However, he has also generated criticism for his handling of sexual assault allegations made against faculty priests.

The school's reputation most recently suffered from a scandal reported by Church Militant in which a book containing sacrilegious content was taught in a graduate-level course last spring.

The university initially defended Dr. Stephen Lewis, the professor and English Department chairman who introduced French author Emmanuel Carrère's explicitly pornographic work, The Kingdom: A Novel, to his students.


The novel portrayed biblical characters, including the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary, engaged either in explicitly depicted sexual activities or fantasies. Sheridan subsequently walked back his defense of Lewis and issued a directive to the Faculty Standards Committee "to immediately review and revise our existing policy on academic freedom to prevent future use of scandalous materials." Lewis resigned his department chairmanship but still teaches at FUS.

As noted by Church Militant, the school began what critics suggest is a leftward drift during Sheridan's tenure. Among other disturbing elements, FUS hired (and subsequently dismissed) a pro-abortion feminist faculty member. Additionally, Sheridan was directly responsible for hiring William Gorman as FUS' chief operating officer.

Gorman's career, Church Militant explained, is linked with disgraced Cdl. Donald Wuerl with whom Sheridan allegedly was attempting to curry professional favor. Under Gorman's watch, FUS allegedly began "implementing a 'diversity' plan that includes greater welcome for LGBT members."

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