Tag Archives: Fellowship of Catholic University Students

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

FOCUSed on the faith

Legate’s ministry leads young people to friendship with Christ and His Church . . .

cover-aug13April Collar came across FOCUS — the Fellowship of Catholic University Students — while studying at Colorado State University. It could not have come at a better time.

“I was at a low point in my life,” she said. “I hadn’t been to church in a while. Someone referred me to a local parish and there I met a friend who was involved in FOCUS. I ended up meeting the FOCUS missionaries, and they were so welcoming to me. I felt I was in a safe place.”

Collar eventually went to a FOCUS conference for college students. It was there that she decided to go to Confession for the first time since her Confirmation.

“It was a slow process, but what FOCUS did for me was guide me to a better place,” she explained. “They were very patient with me and very focused on living a life in Christ.”

Conversion of heart


FOCUS founder Curtis Martin, a member of Legatus’ Denver Chapter, shares a moment with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican last October

Founded in 1998 by Curtis Martin and his wife Michaelann — members of Legatus’ Denver Chapter — FOCUS is a national outreach that meets college students where they are and invites them into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith.

FOCUS sends missionaries to live at colleges — both Catholic and secular campuses — where they engage in “personal discipleship” or evangelism with students. Missionaries commit to working for FOCUS for two years.

“At the heart of our work is the belief that the most authoritative person to live on this earth was Jesus Christ,” said Curtis Martin. “His command was to go out and make disciples.”

Martin himself was a fallen away Catholic during his youth. While attending Louisiana State University, he grew unhappy with the man he had become. One day, out of desperation, he began to read the Bible his mother had given him.

“I came across Luke 6:46 where Jesus says, ‘Why do you call me Lord, Lord, but not do as I command?’” he said.

This passage shook Martin to the core, and he spent several weeks wrestling with it. He soon met a group of evangelical Christians from Campus Crusade for Christ and joined them. Campus Crusade has a systematic way of evangelizing young students, but the Catholic parish on campus did not.

After 18 months with Campus Crusade, Martin began noticing inconsistencies with their doctrine. Despite the inconsistencies, Martin decided to write a paper during his senior year about the early Church to disprove that Peter was the first pope. He started reading the Church Fathers and was shocked to learn that they were all Catholic, all believed in the Eucharist, and all believed that Peter was their first leader and pope. Martin realized that he would have to return to the Catholic Church, which he did one year after graduating from LSU.

Spiritual multiplication

focus-mugFOCUS’ strategy isn’t only to bring students into right relationship with Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. Its mission is ultimately to teach students how to evangelize others — or as Jesus commanded “make disciples of all nations.” Missionaries begin the process through authentic friendships.

“We have a ‘win, build and send’ model,” said Christine Westerlin, FOCUS’ manager of events. “In the ‘win’ stage, we meet people where they are. In the ‘build’ stage, we build up their faith. In the ‘send’ stage, we send them back out and teach them how to evangelize.”

In 1998, FOCUS sent four missionaries to Benedictine College in Kansas. Fast forward to 2013 and FOCUS will be sending 355 missionaries to 83 college campuses in 34 states. Each FOCUS team includes four to six missionaries.

For the first time, FOCUS expands its mission this fall to California. Missionaries are now at three Ivy League schools as well MIT, University of California-Berkeley and New York University. Only 10% of FOCUS schools are Catholic.

As of May 2013, more than 11,000 students were involved in FOCUS-led student groups. The ministry’s growth rate has been 20-25% annually since 1998. Because of FOCUS’ success, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Martin as as a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization in 2011.

For his part, Martin says evangelization must be intentional. He teaches his missionaries to think about “spiritual multiplication — the idea that if one person makes disciples of two people, and these two people make disciples of four people and so on, by the end of 25 years, 33 million people will have been converted,” he explained. “By the end of the 33 years, 8 billion people will have been converted — which is more people than we have on earth.”

Authentic friendships

focus-mug3FOCUS missionaries receive their training during an intensive five-week summer course.

“We take formation very seriously,” said Jeremy Rivera, FOCUS’ senior director of marketing and communications. “We teach cultural apologetics, which is: How would God our Father respond to issues we face today — like same-sex ‘marriage’? For theology, we bring in some of the best speakers in the nation. The summer training can be described as being part retreat, part boot camp, and part theology graduate school.”

During their training, held over the summer at Ave Maria University, missionaries also learned how to engage in “incarnational evangelization.”

“Jesus shared our humanity, so we have to meet people where they are,” Rivera explained. “We need to meet people who are in crisis. This calls for heroic generosity.”

Sam Mazzarelli, a FOCUS regional director, says evangelization starts with intercessory prayer. “We pray for affinity groups like sports groups or fraternities,” he said. “We pray for God to provide an opportunity for an encounter.”

FOCUS missionaries receive further training at the invitation-only Student Leadership Summit, which typically hosts 2,500 students. The largest annual FOCUS event, however, is the SEEK conference for Catholic college students, featuring some of the top Catholic speakers in the country.

“The first SEEK conference was held in 2000 with 30 people,” Westerlin explained. “Even during the recession, when most hospitality events were closing, SEEK conferences kept growing. This year’s SEEK had 5,200 students and 700 were from non-FOCUS student campuses.”

In terms of evangelization, FOCUS missionaries are on the cutting edge. Catholics may have ceded active evangelization to Protestants or Mormons in the 20th century, but today’s Catholic youth are serious about changing the culture for Christ.

“We push missionaries to get out of their comfort zone,” said Westerlin. “When I was a FOCUS missionary, every Thursday we would set aside a few hours to walk around campus and actively evangelize. We had to learn to be bolder.”

Westerlin learned that many times when students had “issues” with Catholicism, their real issues had nothing to do with religion. For example, when students rail against a paternalistic God, they often admit to having absent or distant fathers. FOCUS missionaries try to fill that gap by building authentic friendship — and by being radically available to others.

“It’s through authentic friendship that lives are changed,” Westerlin said. She points to the 355 men and women who have entered the religious life since 1998 after their involvement with FOCUS.

“I went to the Napa Institute conference in 2012, and many of the speakers spoke about the problems we have in the Church,” said Westerlin. “When my FOCUS colleague, Grace DelNero, got up and spoke, it was amazing to see how the mood in the room changed and brightened. Here at FOCUS, we are young and fresh. We show that there is hope in the Church.”

SABRINA ARENA FERRISI is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.

Learn more: focus.org

Explosion of faith

Legatus members in Nebraska have teamed up to aid in campus’ Catholic revival . . .

In a state blessed with rich farmland, Nebraska Legates are among its most prodigious “farmers” — laboring in the Lord’s fields. One “field” they are cultivating with special care is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) by helping to renew the campus’ culture through its Newman Center.

Six Legate couples have been involved on the Center’s Leadership Council — all of them members of the Lincoln Chapter except for Omaha’s Paul and Bernadette Esposito. And so far their efforts are paying off, yielding bumper crops of young Catholics well-formed and passionate about the faith.

“My involvement and love for the Newman Center stems from the fact that I converted to Catholicism there some 41 years ago,” said John Miller, a real-life farmer who serves on the Leadership Council with his wife Pat. They are members of Legatus’ Lincoln Chapter.

A great problem

Some 2,500 students are actively involved in the Newman Center’s ministries, including receiving the sacraments (daily Mass and Confession), forming Bible studies, engaging in pro-life work, and joining two organizations launched on the Newman Center’s explosion of faith — a national Catholic fraternity and sorority.

Although only half of UNL students who identify themselves as Catholics go to the Newman Center, the level of participation has grown exponentially over the past 20 years. This poses a big problem: The Newman Center’s church and facilities have become too small to accommodate its burgeoning apostolate. The church, St. Thomas Aquinas, seats just 325, and all four Sunday Masses are standing-room only.

To meet this growing challenge, the Newman Center is conducting its “A Great Problem to Have” capital campaign to build new facilities, including houses for the fraternity and sorority. Legates on the Newman Center’s Leadership Council are spearheading the campaign — $10 million of its $25 million goal raised to date — as well as serving on the committees guiding the regular operations of the apostolate, which is forming a new generation of Catholics.

This new generation includes converts (about 25-30 are received into the Church annually through the Newman Center) and alumni who have graduated to the priesthood and religious life.

Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz

Lincoln Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, who sits on the Leadership Council, said he applauds its evangelization efforts. Because the well-formed Catholics coming out of the Newman Center are “a leaven” for the whole state, his fellow Nebraskan prelates — Grand Island Bishop William J. Dendinger and Omaha Archbishop George L. Lucas — also support it in word and deed. The three men also serve as the capital campaign’s spiritual chairs.

“I think many of these young people have seriousness about the ultimate goals of life,” Bishop Bruskewitz told Legatus magazine. “Many students who casually join the Newman Center find themselves enthused and driven by a strong sense of defending the faith and spreading it to others.”

Catholic revival

Since being appointed bishop 20 years ago, Bishop Bruskewitz said he has seen a greater receptivity to the Catholic presence on campus.

“They’ve become more welcoming toward the good things the Center is doing,” he said, whereas previous administrations “just weren’t as accepting. But now we have a climate where we can have a Eucharistic procession through campus each year, something hard to imagine happening in the past.”

The bishop also credits the revival to the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), founded by Denver Legate Curtis Martin. Active on 74 campuses nationwide, the ministry’s biggest “team” of Catholic missionaries (13 last year) serves at UNL.

Working out of the Newman Center, FOCUS missionaries present students with the fullness of the faith through one-on-one evangelization, forming small Bible studies (last year the Center had over 100, with 550 students involved) and being a visible presence at campus events.

All this has helped Catholics break out of their “ghetto mentality,” according to the Newman Center’s director of development, Jude Werner.

“When I was a student 20 years ago, maybe 150 students were involved with the Newman Center,” explained Werner, 37. “It was a small, isolated group.”

Major credit for the Center’s revival also goes to Fr. Robert Mata, Werner said. When he was appointed the Newman Center’s pastor and chaplain 15 years ago, the priest “brought in a whole new evangelistic mentality — bringing in FOCUS, growing the Center’s programs, establishing a student Knights of Columbus council, then later the fraternity and sorority.”


Despite its successes, however, the Newman Center still has mountains to climb.

“Students today have more challenges than ever before,” said Werner, noting the draw of a popular culture antithetical to Christianity. “So every day we’re out in the trenches helping students see the beauty of Christ’s love and the sacraments versus the empty promises of our culture. People are drawn to where they see happiness and joy.”

And it’s not just the Newman Center staff, Werner said, but the student members who are evangelizing UNL. “Having other students seeing peers who are happy, joyfilled Catholics is the best marketing we could ask for.”

Regarding the Center’s cramped quarters: “If you’re a Catholic who is not firm in the faith and you’re coming here week after week and being forced to stand, you might just stop coming. It’s inconsistent with an open, evangelistic community to stand in a corner at Mass.

“You never can be content with too many students involved,” Werner explained. Yet overall “we’ve got too many people coming to Mass, too many great things going on that we just need room and resources to do better. It’s an embarrassment of riches we need to capitalize upon.”

Legates have been instrumental in that capitalization process, he said.

“Both the Newman Center, an essential ministry of the Church’s new evangelization, and I personally, as a lay professional, have benefited significantly through the involvement of Legatus members,” Werner said. “The professional guidance, moral leadership, and personal mentoring of these men and women have been instrumental in our ongoing success — and our ability to impact thousands of students with the message of Christ’s love each year.”

Lincoln Legates Keith and Pat May, both on the Leadership Council, hope their grandchildren will be among the future beneficiaries.

“We’ve got 17 grandchildren,” said Pat May, who was married to Keith at the Newman Center chapel in 1969. The couple prays that at least some of them will go to UNL and benefit from the Newman Center.

“What really drives me is seeing these amazing young people, so alive with the faith,” said Keith May. “There are many 30-somethings active here in the Church in Lincoln who went to the Newman Center. It’s edifying to see, and we hope to do our bit to serve the current and future generations.”

Matthew A. Rarey is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.

For more, visit huskercatholic.org

The crisis of fatherhood

Why men must step up and change the culture soon or we will all pay the price . . .

Last summer, Anders Breivik shocked the world when he killed 77 people in Norway. Abandoned by his father when he was one year old, the self-confessed terrorist and mass murderer has something in common with some of the most famous killers in human history: Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Billy the Kid, and Charles Manson, to name a few. They all grew up in fatherless homes.

Fatherless homes not only breed killers, but addiction and drug abuse, poor academic and job performance, low self-esteem, and a myriad of other social and physical problems. Unfortunately, children who live with their father and mother in the United States today are a minority (48%) compared to 1950 when 78% of all Americans had both parents in the home.

Responding to the crisis

Denver Legate Curtis Martin — who founded the Fellowship of Catholic University Students — has a unique perspective on fatherlessness. His missionaries live on 60 U.S. college campuses and hear firsthand about the effects of missing dads.

“It’s pandemic,” he said. “The woundedness of men and women from fatherlessness is probably one of the unique stories of our generation. They’ve grown up without dads or had little attention from them. When this happens, they fail to see the complimentarity of the genders, and [they are more likely to] engage in a self-indulgent lifestyle.”

In April, Martin spoke at a southern college. After his talk, he strolled across campus and saw hundreds of drunk college kids wandering about — and women who were “dressed to kill.”

“Three generations ago — in our grandparents’ era — people may have drunk too much at college, but there was not much promiscuity,” he said. “The next generation, people who are parents now, went to college and also saw drinking and a little bit more promiscuity. Today’s kids have sex without being in relationships. The average college campus is a death spiral.”

Jason Free

Author and speaker Jason Free knows that predicament firsthand. He grew up with a distant father, but by God’s grace found healing by embracing his Catholic faith in college. The problem, he contends, is that most men don’t know how to be good fathers.

“They haven’t been properly taught,” Free explained. “How do men grow up to be great businessmen or baseball players? They are mentored and coached. As with anything, you can have natural gifts — but you need mentoring and coaching.”

The author of Parenting on Purpose: 7 Ways to Raise Terrific Christian Kids, Free says fathers who grew up without a role model should seek out a mentor. But unfortunately, he said, most men don’t make fatherhood a priority but get caught up in their own interests or career.

“The only purpose of having a job is to fund your vocation — which is to be a husband and father,” Free said. “That’s your primary purpose in life. Some people think that being a husband and father gets in the way of their work life. But they’ve got to flip that around. You need to find ways to prevent your work from being all-consuming so the cycle can be stopped.”

Changing hearts

Pope Benedict XVI recognized the crisis of fatherhood 12 years ago when he said, “The crisis of fatherhood we are living today is an element, perhaps the most important, threatening man in his humanity. When human fatherhood has dissolved, all statements about God the Father are empty.”

As a result, dozens of Catholic men’s groups have sprung up over the past two decades, while older organizations have refocused on helping men become better dads and husbands.

Daniel Argue took the St. Joseph Covenant Keepers’ model in 1999 and began a men’s group at his parish in Rochester, Mich. The group of 20-25 men gathers twice a month to read and discuss books like Steve Wood’s Fatherhood or Curtis Martin’s Boys to Men.

“We ask the question: What can I do as a father, husband and worker to bring Christ to others? Most importantly: How do I bring Christ to my wife and children? The idea is not to preach, but to live as Christ wanted us to live,” Argue said.

And it’s working. Argue says one man was a lukewarm Catholic who said out loud at his first meeting, “I don’t even know why I’m here.” Today he is a faithful Catholic. Another had problems with drinking and driving. Today he’s a daily communicant. An OBGYN was challenged by the group to look into Church teaching; he eventually stopped prescribing contraception and became an NFP-only physician.

Curtis Martin

Legate Curtis Martin has also stepped up his game to help men. In 2008, he teamed up with former NFL coach and wide receiver Danny Abramowicz to produce a series on EWTN called Crossing the Goal. The show engages men by tying together sports and the spiritual life.

“The last of the great prophets of the Old Testament was Malachi,” Martin said. “In the last sentence of his last prophecy, he said that God would send a prophet to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Jesus is not only a prophet, He is our Savior who leads us to his Father. God is the perfect model for restoring order in the home.”

Protestants have also been forming men to embrace fatherhood. One of the most notable efforts was the 2011 movie Courageous. Actor Ken Bevel, who played Nathan Hayes in the film, notes how difficult it is to form a relationship with God the Father when you don’t have a good earthly father.

“When you look at kids today in fatherless homes, they have a failure to identify with physical fathers. How can they identify with our heavenly Father?” said Bevel. “I pray that God uses this movie as a way for men to reconnect to Him as a father.”

Actor Ken Bevel in a scene from the 2011 film ‘Courageous’

Courageous also makes the point that fatherhood isn’t just a matter of going through the motions, but rather modeling oneself after God the Father.

“We have to be very intentional about being fathers — planning out special moments, taking time to spend one-on-one time with our children,” Bevel said. “Those things are important and those are the times you can pour out your heart to them — and see the impact.”

Argue agrees, adding that selflessness is key to loving as God the Father loves. “Whenever I am looking at a relationship for what’s in it for me, then I am headed for trouble,” he said. “I have to look at how

I can give. If going to the bar or watching my football game is more important than spending time with my kids, then I’m being selfcentered. The same happens when you expect things from God.”

Sabrina Arena Ferrisi is Legatus magazine’s senior staff writer.


By the numbers

Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school.

Half of all children with highly involved fathers in two-parent families reported getting mostly A’s through 12th grade, compared to 35.2% of children of non-resident father families.

Children in father-absent homes are five times more likely to be poor. In 2002, 7.8% of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 38.4% of children in female-householder families.

Even after controlling for income, youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds.

Source: fathersforgood.org