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Focus hits College Campuses

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by Bonnie Van

When fall semester classes begin, Catholic students on several college campuses will find there is a new friend ready to help them navigate their way on a path of faith and prayer thanks to FOCUS missionaries. “We meet students where they’re at” is a phrase the missionaries often say, who, like disciples of Jesus, go where the Lord calls them to go – as long as it involves a college campus, where young people often struggle with two important tools needed to take on the adult world: their identity and their faith.

“We totally meet students where they’re at, so if they’re at a place where their spiritual life is not even on the radar, well, we’re just going to make friends with them, get to know them, share our life with them and ideally, by the witness of our own life, we can awaken an interest in them,” said Joseph Zuccaro, team director for FOCUS at Miami University in Oxford.

FOCUS, or Fellowship of Catholic University Students, was founded by Curtis Martin and began with two missionaries at Benedictine College in Atchison, KS, in 1998, according to the organization’s website.

Today, FOCUS is on many college campuses throughout the U.S., as well England, Ireland, Germany and Austria.

And instead of two missionaries, a FOCUS team includes four missionaries, two men and two women, who minister to young men and women respectively; serving as an extension of Catholic campus ministry, like spiritual “boots on the ground.”

“FOCUS is such a powerhouse of relational ministry with four people who are well formed, super passionate about Jesus, on fire with the Holy Spirit,” said Father Ethan Moore, pastor of St. Monica-St. George Parish Newman Center at the University of Cincinnati and director of Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. “They live a life that is utterly attractive by way of who they are and have a daily prayer life and have a team dynamic that is inviting.”

“They just are an incredible ground swell of glory on a campus that shines that light on a hill, that draws others to them because it is the light of Christ, so just their presence on campus makes a huge impact,” he added.

Father Moore noted it is not only their strong relationship with Jesus the helps engage students, but the individual lifestyles of the missionaries themselves that draws others in. He mentioned one missionary who was a vegetarian and loved to rock climb and how he was able to incorporate that into “how he follows Jesus.”

“So it’s like people [missionaries] being who they are, the clothes they wear, their accents, their own little quirks, but all that seen in the light of Christ lets other people be who they are, and that freedom begets freedom and, I would say, love begets love,” said Father Moore.

Zuccaro had a similar experience of bringing Christ to young men via an unconventional route. The former investment banker and commercial real estate broker from Chicago was in his first year as a FOCUS missionary at the University of Virginia when the conversation lead to Zuccaro’s high school days as a boxer. Next came a trip to the gym and the rest, as they say, was God.

“All of a sudden students are coming up to us and asking, ‘Hey, is this a boxing club? I didn’t know we had one.’ And I’m like, ‘No, but feel free to join us.’ And so we had guys join our fellowship just through boxing and actually one of the guys who joined now supports me financially as a missionary and also with his prayers. So it’s really amazing to see the Lord work through
these interactions,” said Zuccaro.

FOCUS missionary Becca Rodeheffer is going into her third year with campus ministry at Wright State University in Dayton. Rodeheffer, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, felt isolated and alone when she left home to attend the University of Denver. She said she missed her youth group and other activities that were centered around her Catholic faith.

“I really hit a low my freshman year, being lonely and realizing that I needed help, I needed a savior,” Rodeheffer said. “I couldn’t make myself happy. I couldn’t make myself thrive. I needed God, really, and it was because of that my faith took off in college. It grew exponentially.”

Rodeheffer said as she became more involved in campus ministry, she found an even stronger relationship with Jesus and a desire to continue to work for the Catholic Church. Living in Denver, the headquarters for FOCUS, Rodeheffer knew of the organization and realized her calling during her senior year when a group of young women asked her to teach them how to pray.

“I just realized that my desire really lined up with this need that I saw and this opportunity that I wanted to introduce young women to the one who knows and loves them perfectly, to the one who created them and who can love them far beyond anything I can do myself,” said Rodeheffer, who graduated with a degree in hospitality. “I wanted them to experience the kind of life and joy that I had in getting to know Jesus and the way that He had transformed my heart.”

FOCUS missionaries are college graduates who go through a rigorous five-week course on human formation, spiritual formation, intellectual formation and apostolic formation. Summers are spent training and fundraising for financial support for the next school year. The commitment to FOCUS is two years, but many missionaries go beyond that time frame and, since its inception, more than 500 alumni have discerned religious vocations as priests, deacons, brothers and sisters.

FOCUS missionaries and students will once again converge on college campuses this fall. Missionaries will lead Bible studies, meet students and start conversations, regardless of whether it’s physically or virtually, they will meet the students “where they’re at.”

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