FOCUS missionaries sent forth to new careers, religious life

by Colleen Dulle

WASHINGTON (CNS) — When Drew Hines started his new job at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln June 2, he wasn’t nervous.

The Lincoln graduate had just wrapped up three years as a missionary with FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. For one year at the University of Nebraska in Omaha and two at Auburn University in Alabama, Hines had worked full time inviting college students into a relationship with God.

He found his new gig in Lincoln as associate director of development at the university’s Newman Center while he was still a missionary and hadn’t given much thought to the transition between jobs until he arrived in Golden, Colorado, in May.

There, he attended Go Forth, a four-day commissioning event for departing FOCUS missionaries held May 10-13. More than 70 young adults gathered to celebrate their service and prayerfully contemplate post-campus life.

The commissioning included talks by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver, Sister Maris Stella of the Sisters of Life, FOCUS CEO Curtis Martin and Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.

Attendees also had the chance to pray and receive the sacraments, attend Mass with the archbishop and dance at a barn party.

Hines said the speakers at the event reassured him that he and the other missionaries were well-equipped for their lifelong missions.

“We’re exactly where we’re supposed to be,” Hines told Catholic News Service.

He said the commissioning focused on looking back at the lessons the missionaries had learned and taught them to transition well into the next phase of their lives.

For some like Hines, that transition would be into careers. For 11 of the attendees, it would be into religious life.

Deborah Fowlkes, senior director of alumni relations for FOCUS, said, “It’s tremendously exciting! We are thrilled that 11 of our new departing staff are answering this call, joining the more than 500 FOCUS alumni who have decided to pursue the priesthood and religious vocations since FOCUS’ inception.”

For alumni entering the workforce, finding a Catholic community after their mission ends can be more difficult. At Go Forth, the missionaries were encouraged to enroll in parishes and get involved.

They saw firsthand proof of how to transition well in Paul DeBuff, a 2010 FOCUS alum who won the St. Francis Xavier Award for “excellence in living the new evangelization” at Go Forth’s barn party.

DeBuff works in Addison, Texas, as a budget analyst, overseeing a $121 million budget for the town. After attending the FOCUS 2016 Student Leadership Summit in Dallas in January, DeBuff started a young adult small-group program at his parish, St. Thomas Aquinas in Dallas, to combat the superficial relationships he saw among his peers.

DeBuff’s program now serves 40 young adults.

He also co-founded the Joseph House, a home for four young adult men dedicated to living virtuous lives, and is developing a men’s movement in the area with two other FOCUS alumni, Robert Muzyka and Sean Ketterick, along with Josh Schwartz, director of young adult ministry at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Dallas.

Hines said that FOCUS prepared him for this kind of lifelong evangelization.

“I really feel like I left FOCUS with a good Catholic worldview, but also an evangelistic worldview that I wouldn’t have had before,” Hines reflected.

John Zimmer, FOCUS’ vice president of apostolic development, said that FOCUS missionaries learn to evangelize through dialogue and their manner of living.

“Although college campuses can sometimes be difficult places to engage in religious dialogue, it is difficult to argue with joyful and hope-filled people,” Zimmer told CNS. “By living a joyful life, missionaries and Catholic students on campus are magnets for those who are searching for true meaning and joy in their lives, allowing for the opportunity to invite someone to consider the hopeful message of Jesus Christ.”

Fowlkes said that the Go Forth event has helped give alumni the tools to translate this lesson into their lives outside FOCUS.

“Attendees have shared that the event has made them feel honored for their past service and has provided the tools they need to transition to the next stage in their lives. They have also expressed how important it has been to have this time in which they can pray and reflect on their time with FOCUS and receive practical advice on continuing evangelization wherever God will lead them,” Fowlkes said.

She said that alumni can stay connected after Go Forth via social media, online discipleship resources, lifelong mission tracks at FOCUS conferences, a newsletter and an online job board. FOCUS also is working on developing regional groups for its 20,000 alumni.

Copyright ©2016 Catholic News Service / U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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