No doubt, some of you have heard that Fr. Mike Scanlan died this past week. He spent 85 years doing good on this earth, and after an extended illness, he went to be with his Lord.
Though my head is currently swimming with memories of this amazing man, I can’t let this week pass by without a few words — though greatly inadequate — about the man who made me want to be a Saint.
He was one of the greatest influences of my late teens and early twenties — and I like to believe that those encounters have made me a better person and still remain with me to this day.
I know I’m not alone in that, and I know that many others could say what I am trying to say in a more eloquent way — but he was one of my heroes — and I’m going to miss him!
He was a brilliant man, a Harvard educated lawyer, a lifelong student of the truth, and a gifted preacher. And I know that some people will think that it must have been a great loss for a man like Fr. Mike to struggle with some form of dementia in the end — because he was so brilliant — and it’s hard to see somebody so brilliant begin to lose their gift of reason and wit.
But, though he was brilliant, I won’t remember him for his intellectual prowess. No, I will remember him for his love — his great palpable love for every kid that set foot on the campus of the Franciscan University of Steubenville. And I have no doubt, that though his mind may have deteriorated, his loving heart remained intact until the end.
He was a humble man — I dare say, he probably died a Saint — and that humility may be one of the greatest marks of his life. Even in the end, he humbly accepted the diminishing of his brilliant mind so that God could take even that as His own. He gave it all away, and maybe Fr. Mike was giving it away for you and me and for anybody else whom he ever met along the way?
Why do I think this? Well, because I was blessed to have met him on a number of occasions during my time at the Franciscan University of Steubenville — and each encounter convinced me of the goodness of this man.
But perhaps even more unexpected was that each encounter convinced me of the goodness of myself. Sometimes it would have been near impossible to believe in my own goodness had I not seen it reflected in his eyes first.
He loved with a purity that was piercing, and I’d like to think that was the Holy Spirit at work.
It wasn’t unusual for Fr. Mike to come on a Sunday afternoon to the cafeteria and have a late lunch with whomever happened to be there at the time. It was a late lunch for him — but an early breakfast for some of us students who enjoyed staying out all hours of the night, imbibing a drink or two, and finding ourselves at impromptu dance parties till the wee hours of the night.
Sometimes when you saw him on those Sunday afternoons, the first thought you had in your head was “Father forgive me for I have sinned”, because — as already mentioned, you were a college student who liked the occasional beverage and dance party — sometimes a bit too much. 🙁
But he just loved us right where we were — and that love made us want to be better — for him and for God. I know it made me want to be a better person. And slowly his love for us and his ability to see the good that was in us — allowed us to see the good in ourselves and to let that goodness grow within us.
I know I wasn’t the only one whose encounters with Fr. Mike inspired them to go to mass on a more regular basis, to study their faith with more enthusiasm, and to begin to fall in love with the man that we saw inside of Fr. Mike — Jesus — that Man who was loving you through Fr. Mike.
It’s hard to explain it, except to say that Fr. Mike slowly decreased so that Jesus could increase in his life — and my life is different because of it.
Even after I left Steubenville, I still felt that call to be better, to go deeper, to look at the problems in the world and ask myself, “how can I help?” I decided to travel around the country and talk about chastity.
Because of that work, in January 1999, I was asked to fly to LA to welcome Pope John Paul II to the Americas. Somehow this minute of time made it’s way to the news, and Fr. Mike caught a glimpse of one of his former students welcoming the Pope to America.
I’m not sure how he found my number — but he did — and he left one of the nicest greetings of love and encouragement I have ever received. And he told me he was proud of me — and tears came to my eyes when I heard it.
I regret not calling him back to thank him for those words because they meant so much to me — and they still do. So I guess now I can say, thanks, Fr. Mike — those words have remained with me, and I’m still hoping that I might make you proud!
Pray for me, dear Fr. Mike, because if I could find in my heart even 1/100th of the love that you had for people, then I could say I knew how to love and I had accomplished something great with my life.
Rest in peace, dear Fr. Mike. Pax Et Bonum. You’re my hero! Santo Subito!