by The Leaven
Across the nation, thousands of student athletes are competing in college sports. Many are role models for their peers, who watch their behaviors and actions on — and off — the playing field.
With the rigorous training and academic pressure, it can be difficult for student athletes to keep their identity rooted in their faith and not their performance.
In the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, many of these college athletes have the opportunity to develop their faith formation as well as their athleticism.
At Benedictine College in Atchison, for example, nearly 150 athletes were involved in Bible studies last year, hosted by Varsity Catholic, a division of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students serving the needs of student athletes.
Benedictine, which hosted the first FOCUS missionaries in 1998, has boasted a Varsity Catholic presence on the campus since 2008.
For the 2019-20 academic year, FOCUS has 197 trained Varsity Catholic missionaries serving on 146 of the 164 total campuses that FOCUS serves.
“We are excited and blessed to have Varsity Catholic on our campus to serve our student athletes,” said Joe Wurtz, dean of students at Benedictine College. “Last year alone, we had 17 Bible studies on 14 teams, along with a weekly athlete Holy Hour that the missionaries hosted. Varsity Catholic is transforming lives in Christ on our campus.”
With nearly 20 of these athletes being mentored as leaders and evangelists, Benedictine College has some of the highest Varsity Catholic involvement in the nation.
“Our hope is to bring the fullness of the Gospel to college athletes. They are typically a more difficult group of students to reach due to their time restraints, pressures and overall college experience,” said Thomas Wurtz, founder and director of Varsity Catholic.
Launched in 2007, Varsity Catholic has impacted thousands of student athletes, serving about 1,500 last year.
“Recognizing that many of today’s college athletes will become tomorrow’s coaches, who will serve the millions of young people involved in sports in our country, Varsity Catholic seeks to not only transform the culture of athletes but also the entire culture,” said Wurtz.
The archdiocese is also putting missionaries into the field.
Justin Broyles, a member of St. Joseph Church in Waverly, participated in track and field at Emporia State University. He is now on the front lines, serving as a Varsity Catholic missionary in FOCUS at the University of Wisconsin- Platteville.
“I am excited to serve student athletes, helping them find their true identity as sons and daughters of God to become the best version of themselves,” said Broyles. “It is always exhilarating when looking at the prospect of sharing the love of Christ with athletes who share the same love of sport with me.
“I can offer the unique experience of being a student-athlete and a disciple of Jesus back to him for the good of those in similar situations on campus. At the beginning of the semester, I had the opportunity to speak to the baseball team, and seven guys signed up for Bible study!”
With billions of dollars being spent each year on sports in the nation, countless hours devoted to practice and games each day, and millions of young people impacted each year, the Holy Spirit is working through Varsity Catholic to provide the church a great service and avenue to incarnate John Paul II’s call to a new evangelization.
More information on Varsity Catholic can be found online.