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Amid rising campus antisemitism, Catholic schools offer ‘safe haven’ to Jewish students

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“It is a call to conscience,” said Robert Nicholson, head of the Philos Project. “If Franciscan can do this, why can’t Notre Dame or Yale?”

Menachem Wecker


John Carroll, who studied in Europe due to anti-Catholic, pre-revolutionary American laws, became the first U.S. Roman Catholic bishop in 1789—the same year he founded Georgetown University. Nearly 235 years later, Catholic schools are among the nation’s most respected colleges and universities, and some are offering “safe haven” to Jewish students, who are increasingly subjected to antisemitic hatred on campuses.

Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio announced on Oct. 18 “an expedited transfer process for Jewish students in danger of antisemitic discrimination and violence on campuses across the United States” in the “wake of the horrific Hamas terrorist attack on Oct. 7.”

“With our fellow Christians around the world, we are praying for justice and peace,” stated Franciscan Fr. Dave Pivonka, the school’s president. “But with too many universities preaching tolerance but practicing prejudice, we feel compelled to do more. We are witnessing a very troubling spike in antisemitism and serious threats against Jewish students. We want to offer them the chance to transfer immediately to Franciscan.”

Pivonka added that the community would welcome Jewish students “with generosity and respect.”

“Our religious differences will not cause any conflict. On the contrary, at Franciscan, our radical fidelity to Christ and the Catholic faith demands of us fraternal charity toward our Jewish brothers and sisters, as it does toward all people,” he said.

In a release, Pivonka invited other presidents of Catholic schools to join the effort.

On Oct. 23, Walsh University, a Catholic school in North Canton, Ohio, announced that it “joins Franciscan University of Steubenville in providing a safe place of refuge for any Jewish college student experiencing antisemitism by providing direct admittance to Walsh University.”

“As the region balances on the brink of war, with fears of widespread terror and more deaths, we condemn this unspeakable evil and denounce those who choose to ignore or seek to justify unthinkable acts of barbaric behavior against Jews in Israel,” stated Tim Collins, president of Walsh.

“Harassment and antisemitism in this country, and particularly on college campuses, is unacceptable and in stark contrast to Walsh University’s Catholic mission and Judeo-Christian values,” he added. “We believe that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Our Jewish brothers and sisters seeking a safe haven have a place here on our campus.”

Robert Nicholson, president of the Philos Project, told JNS that rising antisemitism on college campuses across the county is “disgusting.”

“Not only do we condemn it as Christians, who believe in universal human dignity, we condemn it as Americans committed to civil discourse and pluralism,” Nicholson said. “Through the ‘safe-haven’ policy, Franciscan is showing all of American higher education that there’s a better way to show our support for Jewish students. It is a call to conscience—if Franciscan can do this, why can’t Notre Dame or Yale?”

Entry sign to Walsh University. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

‘Tradition of enrolling those in need continues’

Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and a former president of DePaul University in Chicago, told JNS that many Catholic universities “were founded during waves of immigration that included both Catholics and Jews.”

“When other universities were putting enrollment caps on Jewish admission, our Catholic universities were welcoming them,” said Holtschneider, a Catholic priest. “Today, our universities are about 50% Catholics nationwide, and the tradition of enrolling those in need continues.”

Franciscan, which has an undergraduate enrollment of 2,785 and a 67% acceptance rate, is tied for 26th place in the most recent U.S. News & World Report Midwest regional universities ranking. The more than 75-year-old school ranks 21st for best value schools, 11th best for veterans and 37th in top social mobility performers.

Walsh, per U.S. News, has 1,558 undergraduates and a 72% acceptance rate. It ranked 352nd among national universities and is tied for 164th in top social mobility performers.

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