The Franciscan Friars who founded and have operated Franciscan University since 1946 are members of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis of Penance (TOR) of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Their primitive origin dates back to St. Francis, the “little poor man” of Assisi. St. Francis of Assisi founded a single Franciscan family with three distinct branches: First Order, Second Order, and Third Order. The First Order was composed of those men who felt called to follow Francis in his mission to evangelize and serve the poor. The Second Order was composed of those women who felt called to follow Francis in the manner of St. Clare of Assisi, a close associate and friend of St. Francis. The Poor Ladies lived the cloistered life together in community. The Third Order was formed initially through the preaching ministry of Francis and the friars. Many men and women, some of whom were married and unable to join either the First or Second Orders, experienced a renewed thirst for holiness through their association with Francis.
Not all the members of the Third Order in the early 13th century were married. The movement also embraced hermits and recluses who lived lives of solitude and penance and single men and women who were active in various works of mercy. Eventually some of these individuals banded together in community and embraced a vowed religious life. One of these communities was the male branch of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis of Penance which resulted from the amalgamation of smaller communities within Italy in July of 1448. Despite an oftentimes difficult history, the Third Order Regular of St. Francis is present in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and North America. The Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, which owns and operates Franciscan University, was established in Loretto, PA, on September 25, 1910. The Province at its inception was dedicated to the apostolate of Catholic education.
The unique Franciscan character of campus life and education has continued to this day at what became Franciscan University of Steubenville in 1982. St. Francis’s love for the Church, coupled with his vibrant Gospel living, permeate all aspects of the University campus. Faith and reason come together as truth, sought in the classroom, unites with worship and life outside the classroom. St. Bonaventure, great Franciscan saint and doctor of Church and ardent follower of St. Francis, taught that the search for the truth through the arts and sciences can lead one to God when the search is united to worship and a life permeated with the Gospel. In this way, life outside the classroom impacts one’s capacity for truth within the classroom, and it is the aim and purpose of Franciscan University to aid every student in learning truth in all its fullness.