Franciscan Influences: Community, Generosity and Prudence on a Small Campus

Dan Patton Features

This essay is part of a series about aspects of the Franciscan message that partners-in-ministry find compelling. The previous essay was written by the departing director of the Franciscan Action Network in Washington. Here, an alumnus of St. Bonaventure University describes what the community spirit and caring attitude of the friars on the rural campus in Western New York meant to him as a college student, and what they mean to him now. An article in the summer 2019 issue of Bonaventure magazine described the reason that the author and his wife created a scholarship to honor a friar.

It was a bitterly cold night in the winter of 1990 when I embarked on what turned out to be my final recruiting trip — to a small Franciscan university outside Olean, New York. As we approached a two-lane overpass on the way to St. Bonaventure University, my diving coach told me that when we get to the top, we would be able to see the entire university. At that moment, I think I blacked out from the thought of attending a university so small. Actually, it almost did not matter to me because, at the time, I was set on going to Villanova University. Little did I know that a few Franciscan friars who I’d met that weekend would change the course of my life forever.

Dan Patton and his wife Gayle and children. (Photo courtesy of the author)

During the weekend, I attended several events, with the swimming and diving team members telling how great it is to go to St. Bonaventure. However, I wanted to take some personal time to walk around the campus to get a real feel for university life.

As I walked around campus, I was shocked by how many Franciscan friars came up to me, introduced themselves, asked how I was doing and wanted to know if I needed any help or if they could answer any questions. It made me feel a real sense of community on the campus. Prior to visiting St. Bonaventure, I had already taken four recruiting trips to much larger universities. During those trips, I do not have a single memory of someone outside of the swimming and diving team coming up to me and wanting to have a real conversation.

Experiencing Community
One memory from that day that sticks out from the rest was when the late Ed Coughlin, OFM, said to me during our conversation, “Do you want to be a name or a number? If you come to St. Bonaventure, you will be part of a community. This will be your extended family.” Looking back, I now realize that was the moment where I was introduced to the Franciscan value of community. I went home on Sunday and called the diving coach that night and said, “I want to commit to St. Bonaventure right now.”

Later, as I made the journey from my home near Buffalo down to St. Bonaventure in the summer of 1991,  my anxiety level was at an all-time high. On top of having the freshman jitters, I was questioning whether I wanted to continue diving in college. To make matters worse, upon my arrival I learned that I, along with two other teammates, were the only freshmen living in a dormitory with juniors and seniors, on the other side of campus away from all other freshmen. At this point, I wanted to go home. I was done before classes even began.

Richard Flaherty and the author during a conversation on the SBU campus. (Photo courtesy of Dan Patton)

Then, out of nowhere, Richard Flaherty, OFM, walked into our dorm room and introduced himself. At that time, Richard was living in Francis Hall, where I was, on the third floor. He took it upon himself to become a surrogate father to us for that entire freshman year. It did not matter what time of day or how difficult the issue was, Fr. Richard was there for us, without question and without judgment. He exemplified the Franciscan value of compassion to these three young freshmen. Without Richard’s stewardship that year, I am not sure any of us would have made it past our first semester.

Throughout my freshman year, I continued to struggle with whether I wanted to continue diving in college. Heading into the spring semester, I knew I was finished mentally. I was burnt out with diving. However, I had one problem, I could not afford St. Bonaventure without my athletic scholarship.

Richard was very aware of my struggles that year with diving as he counseled me on several occasions. He knew in his heart of hearts I could not continue diving. Without my knowledge, Fr. Richard went to the financial aid director, Mary Piccioli, to see what she could do to allow me to stay at St. Bonaventure without my scholarship. At the end of the semester, I met with Ms. Piccioli, who informed me that St. Bonaventure was able to offer me an academic scholarship that was set up by some friars. To this day, I do not know which friars provided the funds for that scholarship. This display of the Franciscan value of poverty by these unknown friars allowed me the opportunity to get my degree from St. Bonaventure.

Incorporating Values into a Speech
During my senior year, I tried out to be the student speaker for our commencement ceremony. However, before doing so, I solicited Regis Armstrong, OFM Cap., to assist me in this process. I wanted to make sure that I incorporated the values of St. Francis and St. Clare in my speech, so I decided to go to a dear friend and expert. Regis was more than delighted to help me. The countless hours that he spent with me on our journey to get this speech perfect went above and beyond what anyone would expect. At that time, Regis was writing a book and his time was very limited. His virtues of helpfulness and patience to assist me in properly representing the Franciscan values in my speech were on full display.

Painting of Prudence in Franciscan Allegories: Allegory of Obedience by Giotto (di Bondone, 1267 – 1337) in the lower church of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy.

In the speech, we wrote about a portrait located in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi of a woman who represented prudence. Prudence was just one of the many virtues of which the Franciscan friars taught me during my time at St. Bonaventure. As the ancient Greek philosopher, Epicures said: “Prudence is the greatest goods from which all other virtues flow.” The virtues that were demonstrated by the Franciscan friars during my four years was the catalyst that led to my decision to join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps to work for a year with those in need to build a more just and hopeful world.

Had Richard not gone out of his way to assist me in getting additional financial aid from these unknown Franciscan friars, I would never have been given the opportunity to experience important Franciscan values. I would not be the husband, father, or person that I am today.

Thank you to Richard, Regis, and all the Franciscan friars who are — and who have been — at St. Bonaventure. You are the lifeblood of that campus and the ones who made St. Bonaventure University a special place.

Dan Patton, a native of Hamburg, N.Y., is a 1995 graduate of St. Bonaventure University and a former Jesuit volunteer. He and his wife, Gayle, have three children and live in Houston, Texas. Dan is the founding partner of the law firm Scott Patton PC.