Celebrating the Legacy of the Franciscan Friars Over Their 24 Years of Service to the Catholic University Community

By Zoey Maraist
CatholicU, Fall 2022

Alumni describe the Conventual Franciscan friars as funny, holy, approachable, and charismatic. They’re known as authentic sons of St. Francis of Assisi who devote themselves to the poor. They’re willing to get tacos with students in the middle of the night and enjoy jumping in a bounce house during Cardinalpalooza. They mentor, support, and tease. They don’t lead from the front, but accompany students side by side. Above all, alumni say that the way the Franciscans live their lives has drawn students into a deeper relationship with Christ.

After 24 years of service, the Franciscans will no longer lead Campus Ministry at Catholic University. The Franciscans leave behind a robust Campus Ministry that gives students numerous opportunities to frequent the sacraments, attend retreats, go on service trips, and grow in friendship with God and one another. 

Former President John Garvey thanks the friars for welcoming him as he was navigating being the third lay president of the University. He credits their work in growing Campus Ministry, in keeping the food pantry going, and attracting a record number of students to Days of Service. Vice President for Student Affairs Judi Biggs Garbuio is grateful for the way they kept the sacraments available during the height of the pandemic, how they served students in crisis, and how they ministered to faculty and staff. 

“They’ve left an indelible mark that we don’t even know the depth of,” she said.

Though their work may be complete, the fruit of the friars’ labor lives on, said alumni. What the Franciscans taught by their words and example still guides alumni today.

A Vocation Inspired

Father Matt Foley, O.F.M. Conv., B.A. 2001, arrived at Catholic University a year before the Franciscans and a decade before his own solemn vows. He attended Sunday Mass, but wasn’t involved in Campus Ministry. Then he met Father Bob Schlageter, O.F.M. Conv.

“He has a very dynamic personality, he was very welcoming, [and] he wanted me to be holy,” said Father Foley. Soon enough, Father Foley was involved in all kinds of Campus Ministry activities — daily Mass, men’s group, and retreats. “My relationship with God became something that was real as opposed to just something that I did,” he said.  

On Wednesday nights, Father Bob established adoration followed by socializing and snacks. Father Foley watched the event blossom. “By the time I graduated, there would be so many people there, the chapel would be overflowing and people would be kneeling on the stairs outside,” he said.

Spending time around the friars gradually led Father Foley to religious life. “One of the things I was struck by [with] each and every one of them [was] their love of Christ, especially in the Eucharist, love of the poor, and the importance of community, and I think that was something I was looking for,” he said.

In 2008, when Father Foley made his solemn vows, Father Bob was one of his witnesses, the equivalent of a best man. Today, Father Foley works as president of St. Francis High School in Hamburg, N.Y. “If I had 100 lives, I would want to live every single one as a friar,” he said. “If I didn’t end up at The Catholic University of America, I never would have met the Conventual Franciscans. I’m grateful to God for my vocation.”

A Privileged Time

Father Bob arrived with a mission. “We wanted to relate to the largest number of students that we could without ever compromising any principle of our faith,” said Father Bob, the first friar to serve as the University chaplain and director of Campus Ministry (1998 to 2010). “I was hoping to find a way to invite the young men and women into a deeper relationship with our Lord and with each other.”

Father Bob fondly remembers adoration followed by confessions, as well as retreats, the mission trips, and the 9 p.m. Mass that was always packed to the gills. He remembers the Easter Vigil baptisms and confirmations, how they hosted hundreds of high school students for the March for Life, and how student ministers started an end-of-year party that grew into an extravaganza with carnival rides and fireworks. He remembers going around at the start of each year and blessing the residence halls. “Always an adventure — you’d never know what you’d find in those rooms,” he said.

He remembers when Pope Benedict XVI visited campus. “What I loved most about that was when he came out of Pryzbyla Center, he got in his Popemobile and the kids and some seminarians started singing the Salve Regina over the P.A. system outside,” he said. “When [the pope] heard that, he stopped his Popemobile and I think sang with them or gestured to them; [it was] very moving.”

Father Bob’s years with the students was storied time in his ministry, he said. “I loved just being with them,” he said. “They were full of life, they were passionate, they wanted to be the best they could be. They [were] a never-ending source of fun and surprises, and I found it very life-giving to be with them. It was a privilege to be with them."

A Place to Belong

It was the fall of her first year and Sally Santellano, B.A. 2003, wanted to go home. But her parents made her stay and, by Christmas, all that had changed. “I had totally built this group of friends in Campus Ministry, but definitely Father Bob and Father Mike helped me through that homesickness too,” said Santellano. “Really, we’re all just looking for a place to belong and once I found that, I didn’t think about going home ever again.”

One memorably homey moment was spent during the holidays on campus. “[Father Bob’s mom] would come down for Thanksgiving and cook a full Thanksgiving meal in the friary for anyone who couldn’t go home, so one of the years I didn’t go home, we all ate with Father Bob and his tiny little mom,” she said. 

She remembers the friars’ ministry of presence — how they would interact with students at sporting events or in the cafeteria. “They would go to the dorms, knock on the doors and Father Bob used to say, ‘If I spray this holy water, is this room going to burst into flames?’ They just made even the quietest kid or the biggest party kid just talk to them,” said Santellano. And as they got to know the students, they would encourage them in the faith.

Through Campus Ministry, Santellano volunteered at what is now known as St. Ann’s Center for Children, Youth, and Families. Though she had wanted to be a drama major, the experience inspired her to major in social work instead. She now works as a principal at a Catholic grade school on the South Side of Chicago. 

Recently, before embarking on a road trip to Florida, Santellano learned Father Bob was a pastor of a church in Georgia. It was a little out of the way, but she couldn’t resist stopping to see him. “He hasn’t changed — he’s still loving and funny and welcoming. [The drive] was totally worth it,” said Santellano. “I’m just really grateful that they served while I was there. I know they really changed a lot of lives and they definitely changed mine.” 


Santellano knew something was wrong when she saw Father Brad appear in the girls’ hallway of The House. “You have to come downstairs right now,” he told Santellano and the others. “We watched the second plane hit the second tower on the big screen TV in The House.” Soon, Santellano was walking through residence halls checking on people and making flyers to advertise an impromptu Mass for peace.

That night, they could still see the Pentagon burning from the roof of The House. 

Later, Campus Ministry hosted events such as an open mic night, adoration, and a candlelight vigil at which they read the names of everyone who had died and had a connection to Catholic University. “I remember Father Bob just saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to bring people together,’” said Mike Tenney, B.A. 2005. 

It was a scary time, said Father Bob. “No one really knew what to expect next. I remember on 9/11, there were a lot of kids who were requesting to go to confession so there were priests in Caldwell Chapel for hours and the students were coming to confession because you just didn’t know,” he said. 

“I remember one of our students was sitting on the floor out in the hallway talking to her mother and she’s yelling, ‘I don’t know where Gettysburg is, I don’t know where Gettysburg is.’ And her mother, who was as upset as she was, was yelling out of the phone, ‘If something happens, just get to Gettysburg.’ I just picked (the student) up and I said, ‘We’re going to take care of you, honey. Don’t you worry. We’ll take care of you.’”

Hope for the Hopeless 

From his marriage to his career to his faith life — David Lanetti, B.S.Arch. 2019, M.Arch. 2020, says that everything he has, he can credit to the support of his parents and the Franciscans. “Grateful doesn’t seem like that strong of a word but really [I’m grateful] from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “They helped me to develop the skills to succeed and get to where I am today.”

His relationship with the Franciscans began when he was hired as a sacristan. “Father Justin gave me a shot and wanted me to help because he knew my faith was important to me and he wanted me to understand Mass in a different way,” he said. “Everything flowed from that.”

The summer after his first year, Lanetti stopped to talk to Father Jude DeAngelo, O.F.M. Conv., after Mass. Lanetti’s grandmother had recently passed away, and he asked Father Jude to pray for her. “He said, ‘Of course, and why don’t you stop by my office and we’ll talk about it?’ We got dinner and just had this amazing conversation about life. That was the beginning of Father Jude’s mentorship in my life. He really made a point to watch out for my faith life and watch out for me, which I can never thank him enough [for].”

Lanetti soon felt a call to the priesthood, and broke up with his girlfriend to discern. But with Father Jude’s help, he realized he was called to marry his girlfriend after all. “Father Jude really has a way of saying very little and helping you to work through the problem yourself. Ultimately, he helped me to realize that really what I was missing was my now wife. We started dating again and two years after that we were married,” said Lanetti. “Father Jude was such a big part of that that it was pretty obvious that he would be the celebrant.” 

Father Jude also gave Lanetti the confidence to pursue his dream of being an architect, and he now designs residential and sacred dwellings. “Father Jude always believed in me, that I would be able to do this career,” said Lanetti. “He’s helped me believe in myself.”

Lanetti used to joke with Father Jude about the fact that the friar bears the name of the patron saint of hopeless causes. But over the years, Lanetti realized what a fitting name it is. “Students would come to him with seemingly hopeless causes and he would make it seem like it’s not hopeless, and that everything is in God’s hands.” 

A Ministry of Accompaniment

Joe McQuarrie, B.A. 2015, said the trajectory of his life was changed by a CatholicU service trip to Jamaica, which inspired him to pursue a career serving others. Now, he works at Cristo Rey New York High School as a teacher and director of Campus Ministry. “That’s really kind of been the ‘aha’ moment in my life — how to live most fully alive is to live for others,” he said. “Instead of judging or trying to fix, just accompanying them and loving them where they are. Whether I’m in a home for people with AIDS in Jamaica or a classroom in East Harlem, it’s the very same thing I’m trying to do. 

“That all stems back from those mission trips and how good of a job Campus Ministry did with making those intentional and purposeful and giving opportunities for people to go on those,” he said. 

As a House minister, McQuarrie helped host the Friday night events for students, whether it was laser tag, a ball game, or visiting the zoo. Toward the end of the year, when the budget was nearly spent, they had to get creative. “They let us put on this big movie mayhem house party event where every single room was an event — there was Disney karaoke and a Lord of the Rings adventure activity and a superhero wrestling arena in the basement. The friars were like, ‘Go nuts, we trust you,’” he said. 

Whatever the activity, “the intention behind it was always giving people space to get to know one another and build community,” said McQuarrie. “So much of Church outreach can feel like, ‘You come to us.’ But the friars especially were like, ‘Our door is open and we’re standing outside the door (leading you in) or we’re trying to be in a space where you already are and to bring that grace there.’”

In the Peaks and Valleys 

Pope Francis’ visit during the second week Joe Basalla, B.A. 2019, was on campus is something Basalla will never forget. “I still think about it — people travel halfway around the world to Rome just to see the pope and here he [was] driving through my college campus,” said Basalla. 

The Franciscans helped Basalla and the other students prepare for the momentous occasion. “I remember the friars very much encouraging the students to take the visit of the Holy Father seriously, that this isn’t just a photo op, this is a great spiritual moment that the vicar of Christ is coming. We should pray for him and his ministries, we should educate ourselves on what he has taught,” he said. “A number of us fell in love with not just [the pope’s environmental encyclical] Laudato Si, [but his message of] reaching out to people on the margin, [and] addressing the needs of the poor and the vulnerable.”

While Basalla’s college experience started on a high note, there were difficult moments too, such as when a student died unexpectedly of natural causes. The friars helped shepherd the campus through the tragedy. “Everyone on campus knew Father Jude to be a down-to-earth, approachable individual, someone whose heart and office was open for conversation as well as for spiritual direction, [and] the sacrament of penance. Because that was the known identity of Father Jude, when he would come to the University and issue statements about our need to pray and have hope in the resurrection, that [came] across more powerfully,” said Basalla.

When the second wave of the clergy abuse scandal rocked the Church, the friars held informational and spiritual listening sessions, said Basalla. They spoke about how St. Francis received a call from Christ on the crucifix to rebuild his Church. Basalla, now a theology teacher, still thinks about the message. “I talk with my students still, [telling them] Francis’s call isn’t just for Francis — all of us can share in the rebuilding of the Church in our own particular way,” he said. “I don’t know if I would have that if it wasn’t for the Franciscans.”

A Community of Encouragement

The Franciscans were so normal and relatable, said Mike Tenney, but at the same time, they were so remarkably filled with joy and peace. “It made you stop and say, what is that — how do I get that?” he said.

Tenney joined Campus Ministry when he arrived on campus, and he got to know the friars especially as a resident minister. He was part of the first group of resident ministers, or students who live in the residence halls and spiritually serve students in upper classes.

“I remember one time the three friars were doing a late-night prayer service with all the student ministers right before the freshmen showed up. [Father Bob] gave each one of us a tiny stone to hold in our hand. He said, ‘This year might be tough, but squeeze this rock in your hand. You’re allowed to give up on each when that turns into dust.’ That became a phrase through the year for us — until dust. God doesn’t give up on you, so we’re not allowed to give up on each other and this mission.”

Another message of the friars has lingered, too. “Something Friar Santo [Cricchio] always used to say is, ‘Your yes helps me say yes.’ Basically saying that everyone is called to a life of holiness and service, a college student just as much as a priest, and to find encouragement in the face of one another.”

If he could, Tenney would pass on a message of gratitude to the Franciscans. “Your yes still helps me say yes.”