Curtis Martin saw the disturbing trend of cradle Catholics leaving the Church in their college years back in 1998 and founded the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, also known as FOCUS. His goal was to reach out to college students and, at a time in their lives that would have such a meaningful impact on their future, reconnect them with Jesus Christ’s joyful message of love and salvation.
Martin’s fledgling organization had just two missionaries at Benedictine College when, in that same year of 1998, he had an opportunity to meet Pope St. John Paul II and share his vision for FOCUS. After listening intently, the Holy Father gave Martin a powerful two-word reply, “Be soldiers.”
By 2015 FOCUS had almost 500 missionaries serving on 113 college campuses in 36 states and the District of Columbia. During that year, FOCUS reached an organizational milestone and it occurred here in Orange County. FOCUS established a missionary team on its 100th campus, the University of California at Irvine.
Typical FOCUS missionaries are recent college graduates who devote two or more years of their post-collegiate lives to reach out to their peers on campus. These missionaries meet the students where they are, on the quads or in the dorms, and through outreach events and one-on-one conversations share with them the joyous gift of the Gospel. Two local examples are Andrew Furphy, a campus missionary at Cal State Fullerton, and Philadelphia native Jule Coppa, who has spent the last two years reaching out to the students at U.C. Irvine.
As Coppa looks back on the time she has spent sharing her faith with college students, she recognizes how her time with FOCUS has changed her, too. “When I was in college, my life was all about me,” she says. “I was trying to figure out how I could use my gifts to benefit my life and bring about my glory. Now I know that my gifts are best put to use in the service of Christ and his Church, and by making a sincere gift of myself.”
Furphy’s life-changing encounter with FOCUS came during his freshman year at Northern Arizona University when he met a campus missionary named Brian. Though he had a hectic schedule as an accounting student, he learned to set aside some time for God each day. To any of his peers who may feel drawn to the work of FOCUS, he says, “One of the best things about being a FOCUS missionary is to see the Holy Spirit moving in others and using you in a way that you didn’t think was possible.”
More than 20,000 FOCUS alumni are involved with parishes throughout the United States, but the work of FOCUS is not limited to the domestic front. Since 2004, nearly 3,500 college students and FOCUS staff have traveled the world on FOCUS mission trips.
A young person who wants to be part of FOCUS can learn more at focus.org. The website also provides information for anyone might want to make an individual or corporate contribution to the organization or sponsor an individual campus missionary.
Of these “soldiers” FOCUS Founder and CEO Curtis Martin has said, “The place our missionaries work isn’t just a mission field; it’s a battlefield. They are the ones to walk courageously into the darkness of the culture to share the light of Christ with the whole world.”