by Nikki Shasserre and Steve Johnson
ATCHISON — After enduring a broiling Kansas summer and a jam-packed schedule of classes, 150 young missionaries were sent out from Benedictine College here — tanned, trained, and ready to evangelize.
The men and women, members of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), ended their six-week staff training session with a commissioning Mass on July 6.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann was the main celebrant and homilist at the Mass, held at the Guadalupe Chapel of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison. He took the opportunity to congratulate the missionaries on the 10th anniversary of the program and welcomed them back to Atchison, where it all started 10 years ago.
Curtis Martin, the founder of FOCUS, conceived of a campus outreach in 1997. He received a lot of encouragement from his good friend, Ted Sri, a professor in the religious studies department at Benedictine College. In 1998, Sri launched the first FOCUS chapter at Benedictine.
“Curtis and Dr. Sri would write Bible studies over the phone on Monday nights; Tuesday nights Dr. Sri would lead the Bible study on the Benedictine College campus; Wednesday nights some students would lead that same Bible study. Then they’d start all over the next week,” explained Sarah Allibone, program manager for FOCUS. “So it’s really fun to be in our tenth year and to come home, where we started here in Atchison.”
As for the annual training session, participants said a lot was packed into a short period of time.
“It can be a little bit overwhelming; they throw so much at you,” said FOCUS missionary Matt Muller, a native of Topeka and a 2006 graduate of Benedictine College. “But I love it and am looking forward to my second year at FOCUS.”
Muller has served as a FOCUS missionary at the University of Illinois for the past year and attended the commissioning with his seven-person campus team.
FOCUS is the country’s largest Catholic campus ministry program, with 150 missionaries working at 33 schools in 18 states. Its mission is to help college students make Jesus the focus and Lord of their lives — in their studies, social life, dating relationships, and all major life decisions.
Typically, FOCUS missionaries are sent out in teams to college campuses, where they engage students in small-group Bible studies, leadership training, large-group events, and one-on-one mentoring.
Benedictine College has sent many missionaries and national leaders into the FOCUS organization over the years and is one of the primary colleges from which missionaries are drawn, along with Christendom College, the University of Nebraska, and the University of Illinois.
FOCUS, which is headquartered in Greeley, Colo., will expand to Vanderbilt University, Temple University, and South Dakota State University this fall and has a waiting list of other colleges who have requested the ministry.
“Every year we have a great long waiting list of campuses that would love for us to come,” Allibone said. “And we would love to go, but we can only expand as we have missionaries to send.”
The organization has seen an influx of young families applying to be missionaries and looking to stay for an extended period of time. All missionaries make a two-year commitment to FOCUS, but many have stayed on as long as seven or eight years.
“It’s exciting to see people actually applying with the hopes of this being their job for a while,” said Allibone. “It’s good to have the consistency on campuses and the wisdom that is gained from experience.”
Anyone interested in learning more about the Fellowship of Catholic University Students can call the organization’s headquarters at (970) 336-9881 or visit FOCUS online at its Web site: www.focus online.org.
For more information on Benedictine College, call (800) 467- 5340 or go to the college’s Web site, at: www.benedictine.edu.