COVID-19 closes university campus for semester


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Franciscan University of Steubenville’s campus closed for the rest of the spring 2020 semester, March 17. 

Both the university’s Steubenville, Ohio, and Gaming, Austria, campuses have been closed in light of the COVID-19 crisis. Students in Gaming had already learned that the scheduled 10-day trip to Italy had been cancelled for the first time in 28 years as of Feb. 26 due to the spread of COVID-19.

On main campus, most students and staff left campus March 6 for spring break at least vaguely aware of the threat of COVID-19. The university had sent out emails leading up to break requesting that students disclose their travel plans via an online form and had encouraged healthy habits such as handwashing through emails and posters around campus. 

March 11, the Wednesday of spring break, the university community received an email from the Rev. Dave Pivonka, TOR, university president, stating that in-person classes would be suspended until at least April 3. Classes were to be converted to online beginning by March 23, and students were given the option of staying home or returning to campus. According to Pivonka, “campuses in Steubenville and Gaming will remain open and operational at this time,” and travel from Gaming campus was limited to Austria only.  

Two days later, March 13, the university community received another email from Pivonka. In it, Pivonka announced that residence halls would close until at least March 22 and that “(t)he University’s leadership team will continue to evaluate the situation with the coronavirus and our response in these ever-evolving circumstances.” Students were permitted to come to campus temporarily “to pick up some or all of their belongings,” wrote Pivonka. 

March 14, students at the Gaming campus were officially informed in person or in writing that they needed to return home. March 17, Pivonka announced via email that main campus would remain closed for the remainder of the semester and all classes would remain online.  

Main campus students have been discouraged from returning to get their belongings until April 6, as of a March 20 email from Matthew Schaefer, dean of students. No end date for this has been set yet. There also is not yet a decision regarding whether or not commencement will occur. Commencement ceremonies are currently scheduled for May 8-9, 2020.  

The university has responded both financially and spiritually.  

Students received an email from John Herrmann, executive director of enrollment services, March 20, which informed them that they would receive a refund or credit for the remainder of their room and board for the semester.  

Though the Ohio bishops cancelled all public Masses March 16 through Easter Sunday, the university is streaming daily Mass at 12:05 p.m. through its Facebook page:

The university also responded to Pope Francis’ call for a worldwide rosary at 9 p.m. Central European Standard Time by sending out an email to the university community with an invitation to pray the rosary at 4 p.m. EST/1 p.m. PT, March 19.

The eLearning Staff is also praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet every Wednesday at 3 p.m. during the Lenten season on Facebook live. 

Pivonka has continued to send out encouragement to the Franciscan community. He wrote in his March 17 email: “God remains in control in the midst of this pandemic. He is our loving and merciful Father and is ever present to us. Let’s keep each other in prayer and continue to pray for miracles of healing, deliverance, and love and care for our neighbors. 

As of 8:30 p.m. March 23, there have been a total of 43,901 cases of COVID-19 reported in the US, with 557 deathsaccording to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, there have been 43,901 confirmed cases, with 16,505 deaths, according to the same source.