Steubenville enters partnership with Iraq university

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John Burger | Dec 15, 2019
Catholic University of Erbil finds “big brother” in Franciscan.
The Catholic University of Erbil in northern Iraq is only four years old. It has only 143 students. And it operates in an atmosphere of continued uncertainty after a traumatic period of persecution by the Islamic State group. 

So as the infant institution takes its first steps, it would be helpful if it had a big brother to help it along. And it has found one, in Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.

Last week, the founder of the Catholic University of Erbil, Archbishop Bashar Matti Warda, and Franciscan Fr. Dave Pivonka, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville, signed a memorandum of understanding to enter a mutually beneficial partnership.

Warda, who is the Chaldean archbishop of Erbil, called the agreement “a blessing, because during the time of persecution when everyone is thinking that’s the end of the world, now some doors have opened to help the Church in Iraq not just survive but thrive.”

The memorandum of understanding includes cultural exchanges between the two schools, such as the visit this past September by eight Iraqi high school students to Steubenville. The agreement also paves the way to develop language courses in Arabic and Aramaic to be offered to Franciscan University students, the pursuit of scholarship funding for Iraqi students to study at Franciscan, both on campus and online, and Skype sessions between students at Franciscan and the Catholic University of Erbil.

Warda, who was one of many to provide shelters, healthcare clinics, counseling, and other services for Christian internally displaced persons in Erbil in the wake of ISIS’ invasion in 2014, founded the Catholic University in 2015. He told the Herald-Star that its students come from various faiths and are enrolled in 10 programs, including accounting and other business programs, law and international relations, pharmacy technology and other sciences.


“The Christian Church has been decimated in Iraq,” said Fr. Pivonka. “But the men and women of Iraq are people of great faith who have the desire to learn more about their faith and a desire to be educated, and we are excited to help in any way we can.”

Archbishop Warda, who was born in Baghdad, spoke to Franciscan

students during his December 13 visit to the Ohio campus. He described the most recent persecutions of Christians in his country and invited them to be missionaries for St. Thomas the Apostle Mission, which seeks college graduates from the U.S. to serve at Maryamana Catholic Hospital and at the Christian college and secondary school in Erbil, teaching a variety of subjects.

Franciscan University of Steubenville  partnered with Aid to the Church in Need USA to establish the St. Ignatius of Antioch Scholarship for students native to the Middle East to study at Franciscan. With the support and guidance of Archbishop Warda, the goal of this scholarship is to form and educate students from these persecuted regions, students who will then return to their homeland to become leaders dedicated to the renewal of Christian life in this region.

“Out of this, we received Hala Warda to our MBA program,” Tiffany Bourey, director of Franciscan’s Master of Catholic Leadership program, told Aleteia. Hala Warda is not related to Archbishop Warda. “From there, she was introduced to me, and our new Master of Catholic Leadership program was a match to serve his University and school administrators.”

Bourey said that some Franciscan students have also expressed an interest in teaching in Erbil. In addition, the university is discussing the possibility of faculty exchange and mission trips for the future as well, she said.