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Let The Fire Fall

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

Friday Book Pick: Let the Fire Fall by Fr. Michael Scanlan, T.O.R.

Even beyond American Catholic circles, Franciscan University of Steubenville is well-known, even famous. If it weren’t for †Fr. Michael Scanlan, TOR, (1931 – 2017) it is doubtful that the small college of Steubenville would have survived into the 21st century, let alone become the thriving, dynamic, totally unique Catholic University it is today. If you have ever been there, you know that Franciscan University is unlike any other university—even other Catholic institutions.

When I arrived on campus for the first time in 1992, I was stunned. There was a united Catholic family spirit on campus unlike anything I’d ever known before or even could have imagined. That was the first thing that had my attention. Then it was the Eucharistic availability, more than any other thing, that amazed me. Three Masses were offered every day—because they were needed. Every dormitory building, and nearly every building on campus, had a Eucharistic chapel. And then there was “The Port.” (Short for Portiuncula or “little portion.” But even that was a nickname—for the chapel which was actually dedicated to Our Lady Queen of Angels. The original Portiuncula in Italy was the place most dear to St. Francis of Assisi. He rebuilt it stone by stone with his own hands, he clothed St. Clare in the religious habit there, and it was at the Portiuncula that St. Francis wished to die. And so it came to pass, October 3, 1226.) At Franciscan University, the Port is the site of perpetual adoration. In the four years I was there I never got over it. No matter the time, day or night, even in the small hours of the morning, there were always students there praying. The Port is the crown jewel of Franciscan University.

When Fr. Michael Scanlon arrived on the campus of the college of Steubenville in 1974 as the fifth president of the College—six months a priest and 34 years old—Father was not amazed by the things I was amazed at when I arrived in 1992. He found promiscuity and substance abuse; he found vandalism and destructive behaviors; he found a student body suffering from loneliness, isolation, depression and even suicide. “Alcohol and drugs were the currency of college social life. Many students routinely got drunk on Saturday night and slept all day Sunday. Many used marijuana regularly….” Plus, “dorm life was full of promiscuity and predatory sex,” writes Fr. Mike in Let the Fire Fall. Considering what the campus life is today, the turnaround could not be more striking. With the task of transforming this growingly secular party school, Fr. Mike set out to change student life first, and by the grace of God, that he did.

Let the Fire Fall is not only about the University and its transformation, although this is wonderfully outlined in the chapter titled Rebuild my Church; rather, Let the Fire Fall is Fr. Mike’s spiritual autobiography. It is his testimony to the transforming power and far-reaching effect of a life lived in the Spirit—a life lived under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Fr. Mike was a man who lived his life with a sense of purpose, even urgency. He understood that when this life is over, there is eternity to face. Eternity with God or without. Eternity in heaven and in bliss, or eternity in hell in unspeakable misery. “I have come to see, more clearly than anything else, the immanent drama of life. A savage war is raging, and we are part of it. The work we do is of eternal importance because, like it or not, people will have eternal happiness or eternal misery according to what we do. Every person we work with, talk to, or pass on the street is a spiritual being who will live forever.”

Let the Fire Fall takes you chapter by chapter through the spiritual life of a man who, once awake to the spiritual priorities of the kingdom of God, set his hand to the plow and never turned back. From the moment he was “paralyzed” on Longfellow’s lawn in Cambridge (when Father was a law student at Harvard) and experienced God say to him in his inmost being, “Will you give me your whole life?” to his discovery of his vocation to priesthood immediately after passing the New York State Bar, to the renewal of his mind which he experienced during his preparation for priesthood, this book vividly outlines the process of a person being conformed to Christ. For me, this book is a riveting, inspiring and moving legacy of a man who was a spiritual father to me, and to countless others.

Fr. Mike’s spiritual legacy is the transformation of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he served as President for 26 years and chancellor for 11, before retiring in 2011. The spiritual fruit of this legacy will only be known fully in heaven. Fr. Mike took this life seriously because he knew it was the battleground for what happens next. He wrote, “Spiritual armies are arrayed in the heavens, on earth, and in our hearts to seize territory. We are both the soldiers in the battle and the battleground the war is fought on.”

He speculated, “What will we talk about in heaven? We will talk about the war and the role we played in it.” Fr. Mike went on to his eternal reward on January 7, 2017. I have no doubt that he has plenty to talk about.

Mother Clare, CFR



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