Maintaining Lasting Faith – FOCUS
In just two decades, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) – begun by Denver Legate Curtis Martin – spread to 137 college campuses worldwide. Post-graduation impact spans a lifetime.
Nineteen years after the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) began as a Catholic ministry serving students on a single college campus – Benedictine College – the organization has grown to more than 660 full-time missionaries serving on 137 college campuses in the U.S. and abroad. Known for its Christ-centered evangelization, discipleship and friendships, the work of the apostolate has an impact long after students graduate. It goes with them wherever they go.
Catholic envoys to students, young adults everywhere
FOCUS operates using recent college graduates who devote two or more years of their post-collegiate life to serve as missionaries on campuses in 38 U.S. states, two campuses in Austria and one in England. FOCUS estimates that by 2022, some 75,000 students who have been through FOCUS programs will have transitioned into their own Catholic parishes and communities.
Former FOCUS missionaries, Kevin and Lisa Cotter, of Denver, CO, described their experience with the organization as pivotal in their own faith formation.
“Within a few days of being on campus, I met my FOCUS missionaries,” said Lisa. Originally from Overland Park, KS, she attended Benedictine College in Atchison, KS. There, she participated in FOCUSled Bible studies, as well as FOCUS’ mentorship program, Discipleship. During her sophomore year, she led a FOCUS Bible study. Lisa so enjoyed her experiences with FOCUS that she attended a FOCUS National Conference during her freshman year.
Attending that event with approximately 500 fellow students in Omaha, NE, Lisa remembers thinking, “I had no idea there were this many college students who are interested in their faith!”
“It was really encouraging to know that I was not alone in my Catholic faith,” said Lisa. “It gave me a lot of hope.”
She said attending the conference again during her junior year solidified her faith.
“Who do you say that I am?”
“I realized that living for Jesus wasn’t just a ‘club’ I was in during college, but that I had to commit my entire faith to Him, even when I was no longer surrounded by my FOCUS community,” said Lisa.
Her husband, Kevin, agreed.
“These conferences helped me to see the impact of FOCUS across the country,” said Kevin. “This helped me see how I could contribute to the Church in a similar way and prepared me to have the role that I’m currently in.”
Kevin currently serves as senior director of curriculum at FOCUS’ Denver support center. He’s authored three daily devotional books, and he and Lisa have published Dating Detox through Ignatius Press/Augustine Institute.
Following graduation, Kevin pursued his master’s degree through the Augustine Institute, and then he and Lisa returned to Benedictine to serve as FOCUS missionaries for two years.
Lisa and Kevin have three children. Lisa operates her own apostolate, Made to Magnify, and is a Catholic author, speaker and podcaster. She’s attended 13 FOCUS conferences. The couple hosts weekly Bible studies in their home for 10-12 young adults from their parish, Our Lady of Lourdes.
Expanding parish involvement
FOCUS alumni find myriad ways to take ownership of their faith. Many continue to evangelize in their own spheres, families, and contribute to local parish life.
Audrey LaVoy, of Tracy, MN, got involved with a FOCUS Bible study during the spring of her freshman year at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD. She discovered it through an announcement in a Newman Center bulletin. That involvement led her to FOCUS’ Discipleship program and to attend the 2013 SEEK Conference in Orlando with her two older brothers.
“I used to think that I was already very Catholic, because I believed in God and we went to Mass and CCD regularly, but I didn’t incorporate it into the rest of my life,” said LaVoy. “I thought that friends who attended daily Mass in high school, that that was just for them. Only they wanted to be that involved. I was good enough where I was at.”
“FOCUS taught me how to continuously learn and go deeper,” she added. “There’s always more that you can gain in a deeper relationship with Christ.”
LaVoy graduated in 2015. She and her husband Mark have financially sponsored three different FOCUS missionaries, helping them to pay for their living expenses.
“By doing that, we’re helping them to reach others,” said LaVoy.
In addition, she’s also a song leader and helps teach CCD at her parish, St. Mary’s.
Effecting religious vocations
Other alumni have embraced religious vocations as a result of their involvement in FOCUS. In fact, more than 600 alumni have pursued the priesthood or religious life. One of them is Father Brian Lager, pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Plainville, KS and St. Thomas Catholic Church in Stockton, KS.
Originally from Angelus, KS, Fr. Lager attended Benedictine College on a football scholarship. He was first introduced to FOCUS as a freshman.
“I saw they were offering Bible study on Wednesday nights,” said Fr. Lager. “I had attended CCD on Wednesday nights, so I thought I might as well keep it going.”
“I was one of seven kids and we went to Mass every Sunday, but it wasn’t a living faith,” explained Fr. Lager. “It was passed on to me. I didn’t know how I was going to do that in my own life. FOCUS made it come alive.”
After graduation, Lager served as a FOCUS missionary at the University of Nebraska and Troy University in Troy, AL.
“He who has ears, let him hear…”
While serving as a missionary, he heard the call to the priesthood.
“I was praying an hour of adoration every day,” he said. “When the Lord knocks long enough, you just can’t say no anymore.”
Lager entered St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver in 2006, and was ordained in 2012 for the Diocese of Salina, KS.
“FOCUS gave me a worldview in which we go out and evangelize and share our faith,” said Fr. Lager. “In everything I do as a pastor, and every decision I make, the goal is how do we evangelize? Is it something attractive or is it something ugly? How are we presenting ourselves in our community?”
He explained how that plays out in his parishes.
“When I look for employees, teachers, or those who do ministry, I want people who can win others over, even if it’s just answering the telephone,” said Fr. Lager. “Even in our meetings or finance council, it’s not just about how we are using our money, but how are we bringing about the growth of God’s kingdom here on earth? I never would have had that mentality if I had not been a part of FOCUS for so long.”
“FOCUS is the most effective organization I know in evangelizing students and launching them on a path of life-long mission, said Margot Kyd, a retired executive from Sempra Energy, who serves on FOCUS’ board of directors. “It has given me much hope for the future of our Church.”
Recovering awareness for Christ
“FOCUS is reclaiming our college campuses for Christ and reigniting a fire of love for Christ among tens of thousands of college students across the country,” said Kyd. “This growing army of young people are sharing their faith in authentic, relevant ways that are attracting our youth in droves and changing the direction of their lives toward virtuous lives rooted in love for Christ.”
That, she said, will have a lasting impact.
“Church leaders are recognizing the growing number of dynamic leaders among FOCUS’ alumni and increasingly exploring ways to leverage this potential for the Church,” Kyd concluded.
TIM DRAKE is a Legatus magazine staff writer