There are just a few people who seem so close to Our Lord that, when they pass through death from this life, the sadness one naturally feels is tempered with a sense that at least they are now ''safely over the wall'' and beyond the temptations and evils of this world. It is a phenomenon which St. Augustine touched upon during his timeless discussion of the death of righteous men in his classical work, The City of God Against the Pagans. Don't get me wrong, such people still need our prayers, but the darkness of their death seems tangibly tinged with the brightness of Christ's light.
I must say that this mingling of sorrow with joy is what I have experienced since hearing the sad news of the death of Fr. Michael Scanlan on Saturday at the age of 85.
To most readers of this blog, and certainly those on the Continent of North America, Fr. Michael Scanlan T.O.R. will need little introduction: a graduate of Harvard School of Law; former staff judge advocate in the U.S. Air Force; priest of the Franciscan Third Order Regular; president, chancellor and president-emeritus of Franciscan University of Steubenville; and famous personality in the charismatic movement and on EWTN.
It was the dynamic Fr. Michael Scanlan who had led the restoration of the Steubenville campus from a financially struggling local college in the early 70's, into a successfully world famous Catholic university; globally renowned in more recent times for its theological orthodoxy, pro-life activism and energetic missionary outreach.
Or rather it was the Holy Spirit, working through Fr. Scanlan and his powerful gifts and leadership, Who achieved all of this. As the kindly Dr. Alan Schreck once recalled in a video-tribute to Fr. Scanlan: when being interviewed by the Trustees for the leadership role at Steubenville, Fr. Scanlan had simply stated: ''I want to make Jesus Christ really Lord of every aspect of the life of this campus.''
In doing so through the decades that followed, he became a friend to late-20th-Century leaders like Pope St. John Paul II, St. Mother Teresa, Mother Angelica and Fr. Benedict Groeschel; as well as a strong spiritual father to many folks across the generations and socio-economic backgrounds. I recall one touching story of how Fr. Scanlan helped to overcome the social exclusion of some young black-children in the locality through a very caring and practical approach that united communities together.
In the post-conciliar period, during which time far too many Catholic educational institutions were collapsing into dissent, rebellion and immorality, Fr. Scanlan bucked the trend by making Franciscan University's professors the first in America to take the public Oath of Fidelity to the Magisterium.
Under his leadership, the university built on this key defence of the Faith in several other practical ways. These included: developing the successful ''Households'' to help generations of young people grow together in holiness; creating a campus atmosphere in which a dynamic spirit of evangelization could take root and bear rich fruit; establishing the strong and healthy pro-life traditions, which include weekly prayers and outreach outside a Pittsburgh abortion facility, participation in the annual March for Life in Washington D.C., lobbying of local and national elections and setting up the Tomb of the Unborn on campus near to the perpetual Adoration chapel.
In 1975, Fr. Scanlan also established the annual summer conferences which continue to draw tens of thousands each year. Such is the scope of Steubenville's mission that the university now boasts over 12,000 graduated alumni throughout the world.
To be honest, as a Brit' I knew little of this, or the fact that he had been a famed leader in the charismatic movement, on the night that I first met Fr. Scanlan on the Steubenville campus.
It was a roasting late-summer evening in 2004 and he was wearing a pure white habit, instead of his usual dark T.O.R. habit, to keep cool from the baking hot sun. The other thing he was wearing was his trademark welcoming smile.
Father Scanlan was one of several Franciscan priests who were that night hosting a welcoming party for a dozen or so international students who, like me, had travelled a long way to get to Ohio from various countries, in order to study full-time at the university.
When he heard that Angie and I were British, Fr. Scanlan told us an amazing story about a conference he once gave in England. He said that, whilst he had been talking at the podium, he felt the Lord keep telling him to proclaim a certain man's name - a name he had never heard of before - and announce to that man that Jesus wanted him to know that He did love him.
Fr. Scanlan said that this seemed so odd that he thought, ''I can't do that!'' However, the sense of urgent prompting continued until he suddenly announced ''Mr. so-and-so. Jesus wants you to know that he does love you!'' Apparently, at the end of that long-ago evening in England, whilst Fr. Scanlan was chatting to members of the audience, a man came up to him and said: ''How did you know about me? Just this night, I had said to the Lord that I needed to know if He really loved me and I asked Him to show me!'' The whole time Fr. Scanlan was telling Angie and I that story, his smiling eyes were shining with great joy.
As we have shared here before, Angie and I have a little ''miracle'' story of our own.
A few months after we got married in 2002, we had a large EWTN satellite-dish installed at our home in Bootle near Liverpool, here in England. In the following months, we began to watch the Franciscan University Presents show every Sunday evening. That is how we first came to see or hear anything about Fr. Michael Scanlan.
To us, he was a holy-looking old American priest, hosting an intellectual theology show that featured more familiar writers, like Dr. Scott Hahn, Dr. Regis Martin and various guests, sitting around a low coffee-table each weekend.
In early 2004, when an advert came on EWTN for the MA course at Franciscan University, Angie turned to me and asked would I like to go there. Having already gained a BA in Theology in Liverpool, and having just recently resigned from my job as a PR/Education officer at a pro-life charity, due to the organization's unfolding compromises in the realms of contraception, sex-education and Rogerian non-directive counselling, combined with my desire to receive post-Ushaw seminary healing/orthodox formation, I shrugged and said something like, ''Yes. Why not?''
To cut a long story short, we began a 30-Day prayer to St. Joseph for guidance and found ourselves flying over the Atlantic for a visit to the campus just a few weeks later. By the start of the following semester, we had stored most of our belongings in my Mum and Dad's loft, sold our home for double the price we had paid just two years earlier and arrived in Steubenville on a family study-visa for a two-year course of studies.
The really amazing thing - something that made us both think of God's sense of humour and His protective Fatherhood - was the fact that we were loaned the actual coffee-table and chairs that we had seen so often on TV, to help us to furnish our Steubenville apartment, when the Franciscan University Presents team updated their set with new ones!
When you are 4,000 miles away from family and friends, on the far side of the Atlantic, details like that can really deepen your faith and sense of wonder about God's awesome Providence! Sometimes I would just look at that coffee-table - and the former Taco-Bell booth that someone loaned us to use a dinner table and chairs! - and shake my head in amazement!
At the other end of our two-year stay in America, just a few days before our final flight back home to dear old Blighty in 2006, we met with Fr. Scanlan near to the Franciscan Friary.
We had never been blessed with children and some friends had told us that Fr. Mike often prayed with couples in this situation; many of whom subsequently went on to have children of their own. In one legendary case, Fr. Scanlan had prayed with arms outstretched over one young wife, whilst her mother also joined in with the prayers from just behind her daughter. Apparently, in the months that followed, both the young wife and her middle-aged mother became pregnant!
Whenever you got near to Fr. Scanlan, you would see that powerful joy in Christ shining out from his eyes, his smile and indeed from his very countenance. Sometimes the university would put out glossy publicity materials that featured a laughing Fr. Scanlan at the centre of a group of happy students. The truth is that, although these were so obviously staged, they really did reflect the fact that Fr. Scanlan was like a spiritual father to so many young people. It was a very common sight to see him at the centre of groups of buzzing students like this in real life. He was very Christ-like and attracted people of all ages and types to be in his presence.
A lot is spoken about ''joy'' today by people who really are dissenting from Christ's true teachings. What they are selling is counterfeit; the stolen pleasure of sin is not the same as authentic joy. With God's grace, one can spot the difference a mile off.
In some sermons, Fr. Scanlan would teach that real Christian joy is not the same as happiness or pleasure; it is rather the deeper gift received by those who let go of trying to control their own lives, die to themselves, give everything over to God and live no longer for themselves, but for Christ Who lives in them. Those people are free. Their true joy can persist even beneath, and in the midst of, grave trials and sufferings.
I think I've met about three people in my entire life who lived like that. They were all Catholics and, I would say, that Fr. Michael Scanlan was one of them.
Anyway, when he prayed over us that day in June 2006, I was feeling pretty confused because part of me wanted to stay Stateside and not leave the strongly Catholic-culture around the Steubenville campus and town. Whilst Angie and I were never really at home with the charismatic movement, Steubenville was nevertheless a special place where there were several chapels hosting 24-hour adoration, many faithful Catholic families, regular community activities and much orthodox teaching. During the two years that we spent there: around 20 young adults - roughly 10 at each of the Easter Vigils - were received into the Catholic Church on campus; at least one baby was saved from abortion; and many homeless and disadvantaged people were given friendship and practical assistance.
Aware of our impending return to the UK, Fr. Scanlan prayed fervently for the fulfillment of God's plan in our lives and marriage, before giving us his priestly blessing for the future. At the end, he said that sometimes people are still not blessed with children, however this would be because God had some other plan for that couple to fulfill with their marital union.
There are many on-line videos featuring Fr. Scanlan that we think are worth your time to view. After hearing of Father Scanlan's death at the weekend, I watched one short video-clip message on the internet; wherein he gives a heartening message to alumni of the university. With those bright eyes of his shining as ever with Christ-like love, he encourages us all with the following words:-
I want to encourage you to live out your life with everything you have gained from the University. But know that faith has a place, and what you've learned about your faith, what you've studied in theology, what you've developed in the life of worship and the Sacraments, as well as implementing the Scriptures, in all you do, it's so important, pull your life into one, solidly rooted on the Lord Jesus Christ, and His Word, and going forth, saying: ''I am a disciple and I've got something to give.''
It is 10 years since we came home from our amazing experiences and learning at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. It has been a tough decade marked by a rapidly secularizing culture, the ongoing collapse of Catholic orthodoxy and the deaths of several close family and friends. We never were blessed with children either. But, it has also been a time in which we have hopefully deepened our discipleship in the Lord through these Crosses and trials.
It has certainly been a period in which we have gone much deeper into the Tradition of the Church through liturgy, prayer and further study; living now as we do from the Traditional Calendar and attending only the Traditional Latin Mass for several years.
And yet, like so many other folks throughout the world, we can only say that we would not be where we are today without all that we had first learned and encountered at Steubenville.
And for that, we must ultimately say a big ''Thank You!'' to Fr. Mike Scanlan and those people he picked to serve on his team. His ministry brought us closer to Jesus and helped us to grow to a deeper understanding of the Church and the present situation. In a very real sense, Franciscan University of Steubenville ''tooled us up'' spiritually and intellectually for what we are doing now through this apostolate.
Please join us in praying from the heart for the many priests, deacons, religious and laity who are now grieving the loss of a spiritual father; and also for the repose of Fr. Michael Scanlan's immortal soul: Eternal rest grant unto him, dear Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon him; and may he rest in peace. Amen.