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Franciscan University continues to produce priests


‘My time at Franciscan played a significant role in my discernment of the priesthood’

A small Catholic college is helping replenish the priesthood.

Franciscan University of Steubenville continues to produce priests, both for the Third Order Franciscans and for other religious orders and dioceses.

The current graduating class also has at least three men pursuing the priesthood, according to Fr. Patrick Whittle, a Franciscan priest and director of the Ohio university’s Priestly Discernment Program. He is a priest with the Third Order Franciscans religious order that runs the university.

One will join a diocese, one will spend a year in Ireland doing missionary work, and a third will enter a religious order.

The Priestly Discernment Program at Franciscan seeks to “form good Christian men who can respond to God’s call with a gentle heart,” Whittle (pictured) told The College Fix during a video call. He is a graduate of the program himself.

The program dates back decades, and the first person to graduate and become a priest was made a cardinal, meaning he could have voted for the next pope. Brunei Cardinal Cornelius Sim graduated from the university in 1988 and died in 2021.

The program helps to foster discernment within the aspects of communities of men and in small groups.

Whittle did not have exact numbers, but told The Fix there are about a few hundred priests who are now alumni of the program, several seminarians, and twenty current members. He took over the program in August 2023.

He says it is “an honor to lead and serve” these young men in their discernment.

The program includes daily Mass, weekly holy hours of prayer in front of the Eucharist, and liturgy of the hours (regular prayer at set times throughout the day).

The discernment program uses the four pillars of intellectual, human, spiritual, and pastoral formation set forth by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Franciscan adds a fifth column of “fraternal formation, or the building up of community life and brotherhood.”

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Members live in households together, according to the program website.

Past members include priests now in West Virginia, Dallas, and even Lithuania. Archbishop Gintaras Grusas participated in what was then called the Pre-Theologate Program, according to the PDP website.

Other alumni priests did not go through the program but still credit their time in helping them discover their vocation.

“My time at Franciscan played a significant role in my discernment of the priesthood,” Fr. Joseph Krilich, a priest with the Third Order Franciscans, told The Fix via email. He is now at St. Francis University in Pennsylvania.

“I began to be open to discernment of the priesthood, but I thought it was a ‘stage’ of my spiritual life that I would grow out of,” Krilich said.

He said further, “however, that was obviously not the case. FUS provided me with the support and opportunities that I needed in this time of early discernment of my vocation.”

He offered advice for young men seeking the priesthood. He says “if you feel God may be calling you to the priesthood, first give Him the time each day to speak to you and then do not be afraid to take the next step.”

Editor’s note: The article has been updated to add that Whittle is a priest in the Third Order Franciscans.

MORE: Small Catholic college has produced 104 priests

IMAGE: Franciscan Friars, TOR/Facebook

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Elaine Gunthorpe is a student at Christendom College where she is studying political science and economics. Elaine is involved with the Christendom College Republicans, Network of Enlightened Women, and Shield of Roses. She also writes as a Campus Correspondent with Campus Reform.