Last year I had wanted to do a write up about a college professor from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He had been my history teacher. But things got sidetracked and time slipped by. As Octoberfest celebrations hit the air, again I was reminded of college days, so I made effort to follow up.
I was sad to hear the news that professor John Carrigg, PhD had passed away. While my college time was average, to have the opportunity to go away to college is something special. Sure there are plenty of fine colleges here in California and frankly, if I had to do it all over again, financially I would have stayed within California. But then again, that going away really provided something more than if I had stayed closer to home.
Going away to college provided a new experience and some perspective as all traveling does. Going to a place different than what I had been accustomed to opened my eyes to a greater appreciation. It is hard to fathom that it has been more than 30 years. 1983-1984 was the year I attended the Franciscan University of Steubenville. 1984, it had somewhat of an ominousness to it, because of the futuristic novel “1984” by George Orwell.
When I hear or see depictions of recollections of the 1980’s in today’s media, I have mixed feelings. Now looking back it all seems so… what’s that phrase? “Old-school.” Yet really taking a moment to think back, 1984 at some levels was not as easy to read. The 1980’s were as professor Carrigg would say, “interesting times.” Which I think that was a subtle way of hinting that at least as he saw it, the 1980’s were not going to be the “Happy Days” we liked to watch on TV. The Cold War was still going on and despite the push for America to go “upscale” with “Yuppies” leading the way, the threat of nuclear annihilation was very present, among other worries of the times.
I was young, not yet 21 and was hungry, yearning for something with more meaning and depth. Through all four years of high school I struggled in one way or another. But the message was very clear, “you must go to college.” I had my doubts and was an average student. But I managed to persevere, thanks in part to community college. When the acceptance letter arrived from the admissions office of Franciscan University, I was elated.
I was hoping that my going away would resolve the yearning and answer those deep philosophical questions that most young people have. “Who am I?” “Where am I going in life?” “What is my purpose?” Etc.
So, off I went that fall of 1983 to a place I had never been before. It all looked wonderful in the brochures and packet I had received. Yet, of course my expectations would change. First of all, being from California where the weather is mild and everything is seemingly ever-abundant, that in itself was challenged immediately upon arrival.
As soon as I got off the plane, I noticed that the air was heavy. “I need fresh air, I said to myself, it must be the air conditioning in the airport. Got to get outside to get some air.”
Oh but, I had never experienced humid wether and lingering thick summer heat. That long flight to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and then a bumpy van ride to Steubenville lead me to a place that did not glow like it did in the glossy brochures. Steubenville as I eventually learned was a mill town. In fact the entire “Tri-State area” as it was referred to with Pennsylvania and West Virginia nearby was a place much different than what I had grown up with, living in sunny California.
The contrast for me was immediate and I was homesick. The only consolation seemed to be the religion the school prided itself on. And, that was one of the main reasons why I chose to attend. The story of the life and legend of St. Francis of Assisi was compelling and it lead me to this mill town, amid working class people.
Steubenville which sits along the Ohio River is and had been an industrial town. When inflation and the gas crisis occurred in the 1970’s, it impacted places like Steubenville very hard. Growing up in California (especially the San Francisco Bay Area) I had never really, truly experienced a downturn economy and the impact it has upon lives.
I was shocked to see municipal buildings and roads crumbling because of a lack of funds. Sidewalks were like crushed saltine crackers, patted back together with a meager dribble of cement and pot holes were everywhere.
The faint smell of sulfur was pervasive and I asked myself “what am I doing here?” I focused on the religious aspect. On for Franciscan University it was unique. The atmosphere at that time as I recall, was an unusual blending of Catholic and Protestant elements. Franciscan University was strongly Roman Catholic, but treasured the scriptures, while acknowledging the varied Protestant expressions that have emerged over the centuries. In the 1980’s, the school had just obtained its university status, changing its name from the College of Steubenville to The Franciscan University of Steubenville.
I discovered later that Playboy magazine at one time had named the school as one of the most partying schools in the nation. But those days came to an end when in 1969 a “pentecost” occurred. The campus was the meeting place for a revival which then became the beginning of the Charismatic Renewal movement within the Catholic Church. A tall order to follow, for sure. Yet, at the time, I thought it was a noble aspiration.
Getting adjusted to this environment away from home took some initiative. After about two or three months of intense religious studies and lots of “religious experiences” “Hallelujah!” “Praying in the Holy Spirit,” and all that, secular subjects became a respite for me. Among them was the history courses taught by professor Carrigg. “Doc Carrigg” as he was called by everyone, was a gentleman and a scholar. In fact, he was a leading force for the college in his own way, long before any charismatic renewal took hold.
Doc Carrigg was a formidable person, devout in his expression of faith and loyal to the profession of teaching and education. At least that is how I saw him. In his formidable aptitude, he was also low-key. He had wit and charm and his own sense of academic flair. He liked to read and would insist we do more than just reference the text book.
How can I explain him and the experience of Franciscan University at Steubenville to a secular world? To be honest, it is hard for me to view the world of today with those 20-year-old eyes from 1983-1984. The world has changed. I am of those groups of people who knew the world before personal commuters and the digital revolution. And, yes the world is a much different place especially since the attack of 9/11.
Interestingly, it was while in history class that Dr. Carrigg was reading an article about the growing influence of Islam. It mentioned that regardless of its Catholicism, France was becoming a predominantly Islamic population. As he read this excerpt to us from a periodical of the time, we all thought how odd. But now as I think of it, perhaps that was an indication of things to come? Back then, who knew!
Carrigg would also keep up on current trends. He would point out comparisons to the history we read. The Crusades of the Middle Ages certainly saw a conflict between religious ideas. Or was that more of a struggle between Eastern Civilization and Western culture as more power was wielded? And is it not in some ways still going on? Carrigg would speak about that.
And, then occasionally he would digress to a bit of humor. Popular culture of the 1980’s had plenty to gossip about. When actress Shirley Maclaine published her autobiographical book, “Out On A Limb” mentioning her ‘new age’ experiences and beliefs, Carrigg remarked, “well, she’s an actress she can believe whatever she wants. Not like us devout Catholics we must keep the faith!”
I look at all religion much differently now. But back then, I was idealistic and very hopeful. And, Franciscan University with St. Francis of Assisi as its inspiration, held for me a hope that some how the world would survive and heal.
To be in Dr. Carrigg’s class was like having fresh air fill the room. Yes, it was history and lots of facts and details to remember. But it was the way he taught, his humor and wit. He always encouraged us to read outside material along with the text book. It was his custom at every class time to read a few excerpts from a book he had on reserve at the library for us.
As he would mention the book, its title, chapter, etc. Dr. Carrigg would write down the specifics on the chalk board for the class to note. One day in class, he happened to notice that we were not paying much attention and so he raised his voice and said, “by the way, the name of the book is “Sex and Death.” Everyone was startled and then we laughed. “That’s all you young people think about, I know, I was your age too, once.” And, he then went on to say, “there is much more to life than that. And that is why you are here.”
The other classes I took did not hold my interest as much. Oh at first it was impressive. My major was Theology/Philosophy with a minor in History. But as the weeks went on, I became a disillusioned and bored with it. Mostly my religion classes focused on doctrines and dogma. With all the pentecostal type of activity that was a part of campus life day and night, religion was weary to me.
Doc Carrigg took it all in stride. He used to repeat an old saying “low Church lazy, middle Church hazy and high Church crazy.” He was staunchly Roman Catholic. And while he accepted all the various changes in the Church, he still leaned towards the more traditional. He appreciated the liturgy in the vernacular, yet Carrigg used to say how he missed the Mass in Latin.
His classes were uplifting to me without all the religiosity going on around campus. He would mention religion but it did not feel like catechism or dogma to me as my theology courses were.
As a working class area, Steubenville had a mixture of many people. It had been mostly European, German, Irish, Italian. Their lives were centered on the industry of the steel mills. The University was a beacon and a light of hope for the future amid a dreary landscape.
Octoberfest was still celebrated on campus and the town and the school honored its past. But like everywhere else times were changing. More emphasis on religion was promoted for the university as it was completely committed to its calling as a center for spiritual renewal. That entailed lots of emotion, references to ‘The Holy Spirit’ and a few really thoughtful ideas about scripture and Judaic-Christian teachings. But I was getting worn out from all the fervor and intense religiousness.
Just to get a more tangible idea of what I am speaking about; the school at that time, had become so religiously filled with such enthusiasm that the business office established a routine. Upon tallying a student’s tuition bill for classes, the clerk would say, “other than The Lord, The Holy Spirit or Providence providing for you, how will you be paying for this?”
Thankfully for me, there was a Pell Grant. And a work-study program which at that time helped me find a job on campus. So, I had to work. Which that in itself was another new experience for me. Still, the experiences I had at Steubenville were important.
While I was offered the chance to join a fraternity, I declined. At that time, the university had “households” for each dorm on campus. Students would form a household or continue the tradition of an existing household. The formation of households on campus sufficed and served as a “mini-fraternity” or sorority. There were no pledges or initiations. Just an agreement to participate in campus life and attend weekly and monthly household meetings.
Households also helped with homesickness and feeling lost in an unfamiliar setting.
I have some very good memories of those times. In my homesickness for California I often was shortsighted to the many decent things about my time at Franciscan University. The outreach ministry program was very dedicated and provided us with some groundwork for future careers in either ministry or social work.
And, like any four-year institution of higher learning, Franciscan University offered all the necessary programs and course work needed to enter into one’s chosen career field. While I was there, the nursing program was chartered by the state government of Ohio in 1984 and then received accreditation from the National League of Nursing.
What struck me most of all, apart from the school’s unique religious atmosphere, was how many students came from all over the United States and other countries to attend. I remember meeting a few exchange students who had the means both financially and academically to attend an Ivy League college. Yet, they wanted to attend Franciscan University. As one student from Korea had said to me, “I wanted to see all of America not just the privileged parts.”
That said something to me, especially coming from the West Coast. At that time so much emphasis was placed on getting to college. And for me after so much struggle in Catholic high school, it had to be “the right one.”
As I think back, I realize education in America is seen much differently by those from other nations. And, while a lot is debated about how much is lacking in America’s education system, here was a situation where people from other parts of the world, saw what was good about it and wanted to be there.
I once had the unexpected honor of being invited to share a meal with Dr. Carrigg and his family. I had learned later that he was among the many returning service men and women who went back to school on the “G.I. Bill”
Established initially as “The College of Steubenville,” in 1946, it was a product of the optimism in the country that accompanied victory in World War II. The Franciscans of the Third Order Regular branch of the Order of Friars Minor (which is the official name of the order that St. Francis founded), took on the task of operating the school. Father Dan Egan,TOR and his associates worked to raise $348,000 to get the college up and running.
Dr. Carrigg was part of those early days. Originally from Buffalo, NY, Professor Carrigg returned from the war with the distinguished Purple Heart. He met his wife Mary Parker of Sandusky Ohio, while obtaining his PhD at Georgetown University.
The teaching job at the College of Steubenville was his first position as a professor. And, while he had the academic capacity to go on to more prestigious places like Princeton, Yale or Harvard, he and Mary would settle in Steubenville. They dedicated their lives to the community. Together they raised 10 children and were members of St. Peter’s Parish in Steubenville.
It must have been interesting for him to witness the college grow and then gain university status. No more the struggling college, Franciscan University is ranked in the top tier in its category (under ‘Masters Colleges in the Midwest’) according to the 2011 U.S. News & World Report’s list of ‘America’s Best College.’
Doc Carrigg was also involved in local politics, as reported by the Dayton Daily News upon his death this past February at age 93. Carrigg served as a councilman, president of council and county treasurer. His affinity for history was evident, not only in the classroom but also in the various associations and affiliations he belonged to.
Even if he seemed settled and stayed, his ambition and vision was on-going and steadfast. The Dayton Daily News also reported that he purchased a farm in Western Pennsylvania with the intent to work it using draft horses. He accomplished the task and then some. But as I learned of this I could not help but wonder, “where did he find the time and the energy?”
Maybe that could be answered by the very fact that he was part of that WWII generation that not only survived one of the most devastating wars in world history but went on to help rebuild the world. It is also important to note that to achieve his dream of owning the farm, he worked extra jobs. Like I said, where did he find the time?
While I did not keep in contact with him regularly. He did write a letter of recommendation so I could transfer to San Francisco State University some years later. I am grateful to him for that and the hours of history class time.
Dr. Kimberly Georgedes who now is the chair of the History Dept. at Franciscan University said, “I miss him dearly.” Carrigg suffered from the affects of Alzheimer’s and died surrounded by family in Kettering, Ohio.
College is perhaps among the first experiences of leaving home and familiar surroundings to venture out into the world. And, leaving the comfort of a place like California for a mill town like Steubenville was different. Yet, if I had not left the comfort of home, I would not have been able to have the journey and the privilege of meeting a professor who had a profound impact upon his students, the school and the greater community.