Regional SEEK22 Conference helps create unbelievable experience for UW-Oshkosh students

By Matt Riebe | The Compass | February 8, 2022

Titan Catholic joins five other schools in Rochester, Minn. to take in the FOCUS conference

A eucharistic procession takes place at the SEEK22 conference in Denver Feb. 5. Regional SEEK conferences were held the same weekend, including one in Rochester, Minn., which was attended by UW-Oshkosh students. (Courtesy of FOCUS | Special to The Compass)

ROCHESTER, Minn. — The SEEK conference is a large-scale gathering of college students from across the nation organized by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) and is usually centered in one location. SEEK19, held in Indianapolis in Jan. 2019, drew the conference’s then-largest crowd of over 17,000 students.

College students who attend “just feel something other than yourself, otherworldly almost,” said Tommy Truty, a fifth-year student at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh who has attended each of FOCUS’ annual national conferences since 2018.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SEEK21 had to transition to a completely virtual platform, which bumped a lot of campuses off their usual routine of assembling a group to travel across the country to the national conference. UW-Oshkosh was able to host its own local SEEK21 event, but missed the connection with students from other campuses.

“We knew from the beginning that we wanted to gather with other campuses,” said Jackie Parkes, the FOCUS team director at UW-Oshkosh. “So, the question was, ‘Who else was interested in that?’”

That question was the first step towards building a SEEK22 regional event where students from UW-Oshkosh and five other universities could convene to take in all that makes SEEK conferences so memorable.

Over 350 students and missionaries traveled to the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, Minn., on Friday, Feb. 4, for the three-day event. The livestreamed keynote speakers and prerecorded breakout sessions, produced by FOCUS from Denver, provided the structure for the weekend. From there, the regional in-person event was planned to include daily Mass, adoration, meals, and small-group sessions.

MaryAnn Reindl, a UW-Oshkosh sophomore, said it was good to meet students from other campuses at the Rochester event and see “how on fire their love for God is in their hearts,” as well as witness other students who “also want to grow in their Catholic faith.”

Connor Flanagan, a Twin Cities-based Catholic rap artist, performed a concert for the group on Friday night. In-person meet-and-greets with missionary organizations, professional audio/visual work from the convention center, and live praise and worship music from one missionary all went into creating a powerful SEEK regional conference.

“We tried to make it match the in-person SEEK experience that we’ve all experienced in our nationwide gatherings before,” said Parkes. “So we tried to mimic that as much as possible for our students so that they can experience an in-person conference to the greatest capacity right now.”

The slate of keynote addresses paralleled past conferences, featuring nationally-renowned Catholic speakers such as Curtis Martin, the founder of FOCUS; Sister of Life Bethany Madonna, Jason Evert, Dr. Edward Sri, and Fr. Mike Schmitz.

There were also  “impact sessions” which students could attend. Reindl said she was inspired during a talk by Mari Pablo titled “How to Be Real in a Fake World.”

“I thought that was really beautiful to grow in a relationship (with the Holy Spirit)” and ask, “‘How (am I) going to break down the walls in my life in order to help myself and hopefully inspire other people to become vulnerable and grow in their relationship with God?’” said Reindl.

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh students representing the Titan Catholic community are pictured with Fr. Zach Weber, right, campus ministry director at the UW-Oshkosh Newman Center, for a photo during the regional SEEK conference held Feb. 4-6 in Rochester, Minn. (Courtesy of Sarah Mockler | Special to The Compass)

The regional gathering allowed for a greater ability to create small group experiences. Several times during the weekend, the conference broke off into small groups, intentionally made up of students from the same school in order to create greater community within each campus group.

“When you have some questions from some people, or even if people are able to process information (and) then talk about it, it really helps them to understand deeper and really solidify what the Lord is trying to tell them through the talks,” said Truty.

Parkes said it was a blessing to have eight priests, including Fr. Zach Weber, the campus ministry director at the UW-Oshkosh Newman Center, from the campuses and local diocese to provide the sacraments at the event. Not only did they offer daily Mass, but they also led adoration and confession opportunities. Twenty seminarians from the Diocese of Winona-Rochester were also present over the weekend to help with the liturgy.

Bishop John M. Quinn of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester celebrated Mass on Sunday for the college students before sending them home. He expressed his thankfulness to the students, that they are “fighting for the church and making the young church alive.” 

In his homily, he said that following Christ is “like walking up a down escalator.” It requires effort and it may seem like we are not getting anywhere, he explained, but we can find those other missionaries to walk up the escalator with us; we just need to keep striving.

In addition to the regional conference, about 10 Titan student-athletes, who were not able to travel to Rochester due to athletic competitions, met Sunday evening to have their own “mini SEEK” experience and to grow in community through FOCUS’ Varsity Catholic athlete initiative.

Parkes said she hopes that the conference inspired a “greater prioritization” of the Lord in the lives of the UW-Oshkosh students. As FOCUS prepares to be in-person once again for the SEEK23 conference, to be held in St. Louis next year, she said she hopes to incorporate the intentional, small groups that helped make the 2022 regional gathering powerful for students.

Titan Catholic, the UW-Oshkosh campus ministry group, hopes to use this SEEK experience to help cultivate the Catholic community on campus through Bible studies, Tuesday night meals, daily Mass, and adoration, but also through off-campus retreats and pilgrimages to sites like the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion. “We are trying to create communities, not just on campus, but being able to live life with each other off-campus too,” said Parkes.

“(Titan Catholic) has brought me a lot of fellowship and joy in my life,” said Reindl. “As semesters change, I know I can always go there and just be strengthened by the other people around me and be able to grow in my faith, and then also help others grow in their faith.”

Other upcoming SEEK events:

Feb. 18-20: Holy Rosary Church in New Holstein
Contact: Kim Driscoll, [email protected]

Feb. 25-27: Antigo Catholic Churches
Contact: Jen Oelke, [email protected]

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