ALLOUEZ — Discipleship formation is not just a challenge for Catholic parishes. Imitating Christ’s command — “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35) — is part of the ministry of young adults involved in the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).
FOCUS is a Catholic collegiate outreach founded in 1998 and based in Denver. Its mission is to “share the hope and joy of the Gospel with college and university students.” Through peer-to-peer ministry, FOCUS sends its young missionaries to college campuses to encounter students “in friendship, where they are, inviting them into a personal relationship with Jesus.”
According to FOCUS, as a new school year begins, more than 730 missionaries will serve full time on 164 college campuses and eight parishes, across the United States and Europe. This includes several young adults from the Diocese of Green Bay who are being sent on mission to introduce Jesus to college students.
Joelle Tremblay learned about FOCUS while attending Belmont Abbey College in Charlotte, N.C. This fall, she will begin serving two years as a FOCUS missioner at George Washington University in Washington D.C.
Tremblay, the daughter of Joe and Elisa Tremblay, members of St. Pius X Parish in Appleton, said she joined FOCUS to help college students navigate their way through “toxic behaviors on the college campus, including hard drugs, binge drinking and a devastating hookup culture.”
“This norm is unacceptable and will lead to crippled families,” she said. “In many ways, the party culture defines women. Loneliness and anxiety are a large symptom of this.”
Tremblay said FOCUS is one way to connect with students who “are not placing their identities in Christ.”
“Because of this, many students put their worth in relationships, grades or social media affirmation,” she said. “Authentic relationships are seriously lacking on the university level today. Sometimes, you just can’t share your heart easily with close friends or family, and FOCUS is a great opportunity to not only be a role model of experiencing God’s love, but also another support system to lean on.”
Standing up for Christ on a college campus can be intimidating, and students need support, Tremblay added.
“Sharing the faith is difficult because of the unpopular aspects of our beliefs and the way that being Catholic makes you stand out,” she said. It was through her experience with FOCUS that she gained skills and confidence.
“Throughout many months of discipleship, all of us went through a journey to try and grasp God’s infinite love for us,” said Tremblay. “We talked a lot about how God is enough for us and we are enough for God. I believe this helped many girls in reclaiming their identities. I know for sure that this experience helped me.”
Evan Beranek became involved with FOCUS as a freshman at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, from where he graduated last May. He who attended St. Mary Parish in Peshtigo with his parents, Joe and Beth Beranek.
“I met weekly with a FOCUS missionary and he really challenged me to grow in my faith and certainly in ways I did not want to grow at the time,” he said. “I was complacent in my faith and knew that, if I did what he was asking, it would force me to grow a lot and I did not really want to do that at the time.”
Attending one of the FOCUS annual gatherings, SEEK2017, led him to a “profound encounter with Christ in the Eucharist,” he said. “I came to believe and feel that God truly loves me and wants an intimate relationship with me.”
Last December, he requested to join FOCUS and is assigned to the University of Utah this fall.
“I will particularly be focusing on and trying to work with students in the Greek community, students who are future leaders in society and the church (who) need to come to know the love, mercy and compassion of God,” said Beranek.
He cited statistics showing that 80% of Catholics who abandon the church do so by age 24. “The need for missionaries and evangelization on college campuses has never been greater,” said Beranek.
“People do not know about the love of Christ and they are desperately yearning to be loved and to know what true love actually is. This is our mission in FOCUS and this is why I feel so passionately about FOCUS,” added Beranek.
According to Leslie Prevish, who is a media relations specialist for FOCUS, many young adults who serve in FOCUS go on to pursue careers in parish ministry. Many also decide to pursue religious vocations. “Among FOCUS alumni, 867 have made decisions to pursue Catholic religious vocations,” she said.
“By 2022, FOCUS expects — God willing — to have 75,000 students transitioned into many of America’s 17,000-plus Catholic parishes,” added Prevish.