There and back again: A friar’s tale


Photo by: Isaac Iniguez

“I’m totally psyched about the future and excited that God’s doing great things,” said the new president of Franciscan University of Steubenville. “There’s a freshness about what God’s doing.” 

The Rev. Dave Pivonka, TOR, has been to campus many times before — both as a student and as a friar — but this semester marks the first time he has viewed campus from the president’s seat. When Pivonka first entered his new office, which overlooks the sidewalks most often used by students going to and from class, he was greeted by a card from the Rev. Sean O. Sheridan, TOR, assuring the new president of his predecessor’s prayers for him.


Pivonka was elected to succeed Sheridan on May 21, just after the spring 2019 graduation, but the university has been a part of the friar’s life for the past 33 years. 

Pivonka, the university’s first alumnus president, initially came to Franciscan in 1986. At the time, Sts. Louis, Elizabeth, Kolbe and Clare Halls had not been built, and St. Thomas More Hall had students living on only two of its floors. The library and fieldhouse likewise were not yet in existence, and the Portiuncula was only built the following year.  

“The facilities are really, really different, but there’s a similar spirit,” said Pivonka. “On one level, it’s familiar. … In other ways, it’s new. 

Prior to attending to Franciscan, Pivonka had spent two years at a state school in Colorado. Listening to a call in his heart, Pivonka decided to take some time off as a National Evangelization Team (NET) missionary, and afterward, he transferred to Franciscan University. 

Pivonka said that the thought of being a priest was always in his mind, and by the time he came to Franciscan, he was pretty sure that was what he wanted to be. He continued discerning during his remaining college years. 

“In fact,” he said, “this place, the Christ the King chapel for me, I can go in there and remember praying in there and just hearing the Lord speak into my heart about the call that he had put on my life.” 

Pivonka thrived as a student at Franciscan. Even though, as he said, the Ohio Valley is very different than the mountains of Colorado, Pivonka found his place among other young Catholics striving after holiness.  

“One of the things that I’ve loved … was that I was with fellow classmates that loved the Lord,” said Pivonka. These 33 years later, the students are still this friar’s favorite part about campus, just as he had anticipated. 

Pivonka has been on campus since right after the end of last semester, and he is overjoyed to finally have students back on campus.  

really love working with you, I love meeting you guys, I love your excitement, I love your passion, I love your zeal, I love how sometimes you do things that you don’t think all the way through and hopefully you learn from it. It’s all about that,” he said.  

Pivonka is a people person, and students can expect to see him frequently out and about around campus. He loves sports, especially baseball, and he hopes to attend many sporting events. Though he does not anticipate having time to join any intramurals, he does love to walk, and he invites students to join him in his journeys around the campus he can once again call his home.  

When he was a student himself, Pivonka joined Instruments of Peace (IOP) household. IOP’s charisms derived from the beatitudes and from St. Francis. Pivonka described the charisms as “that sense of the Lord using us as instruments to bring peace to whatever circumstances we find.” 

“I’m kind of a huge fan of peace,” said Pivonka. “With so much stress and anxiety, to experience the Lord’s peace is a great blessing.” 

Even though the household is now inactive, Pivonka still intends to be an instrument of peace to campus. “Ultimately, it’s not my peace that I’m able to share, but it’s the peace of the Lord. It’s his peace,” he said. Pivonka explained that in order to share peace with the campus, he must experience it himself, especially through adoration, so that he can bring peace to others.  

In addition to sharing the Lord’s peace with campus, Pivonka is bringing his religious order’s main charism  metanoia — to the forefront of his ministry as president. Metanoia, he explained, is ongoing conversion, and Pivonka does not intend to change the mission of the university but to keep it and its constituents on track to their ultimate end. 

“We need to make sure that we are very clear about what our mission is here as a university: that we’re really about the Kingdom of God,” said Pivonka.  

I really believe the Lord wants the students and the faculty and the staff to be saints, nothing less. … I want to do all that I can to make sure that that happens, and I want to get rid of anything here that’s going to hinder that, Pivonka said. “And sometimes we talk about building and adding. … That’s important. But sometimes pruning is important too. Get rid of those things that don’t seem to add our life or build our life. 

With a heart overflowing with love from God, Pivonka eagerly embarks on this leg of his journey of faith. Ultimately, Pivonka’s goal as president is straightforward: “My hope or my prayer … is just that the students, faculty and staff, that we all come to a deeper understanding that we are called to be saints.”