The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) is a nationwide ministry to students at mostly secular colleges. But seeds for the project were planted while founder and president Curtis Martin studied theology at a faithful Catholic college, and the first FOCUS chapter was launched at another Catholic college. Both colleges today are recommended in The Newman Guide for their strong Catholic identity.
“My wife, Michaelann, and I were blessed to come to Franciscan University of Steubenville and study under Dr. Scott Hahn, to learn how to teach the faith and reach the world,” says Martin.
“The teachers I studied under and the students I studied with became the friends and partners who helped us launch FOCUS.”
Today, FOCUS is instrumental in bringing about the New Evangelization in the Catholic Church. There are more than 730 FOCUS missionaries on 170 college campuses, sharing the Gospel with college students and inviting them into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
“There is a Catholic Center within walking distance of almost every campus in the country, but most students don’t walk to the Center, so we needed to create an outreach that would walk to them,” Martin explains.
He found fertile ground for the first chapter of FOCUS at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan. In 1997, Benedictine Father Meinrad Miller watched Martin and Dr. Hahn discuss the idea of FOCUS on EWTN, according to the College. Fr. Meinrad worked with Dr. Ted Sri, who was teaching at Benedictine at that time, to bring Martin to campus.
Benedictine was the “perfect place to launch FOCUS,” says Martin, who explains that the “students were so very open.” The chapter was opened in 1998 with two missionaries.
“Great things begin at Benedictine College,” Martin said last year, as Benedictine’s commencement speaker.
“They’ve developed a reputation here for launching leaders into every area of the culture,” he continued. “Something unique is going on here that is not going on at very many other places.”
Indeed, Martin recognizes that Catholic colleges are not all the same. “Too many Catholic universities have chosen earthly success at the expense of the Lordship of Jesus Christ,” says Martin.
“Many Catholic schools have lost their Catholic identity,” Martin laments. “Until they return to Jesus Christ, and the Church that He founded, they will fail to be the agents of renewal and transformation that they were created, and exist, to be. The renewal of Catholic colleges is critical to authentic renewal.”
When asked about what message he thinks college students today need to hear most urgently, Martin reflects on how our “earthly life is brief,” and “this generation of Catholics is responsible for this generation of people.”
The greatest poverty is to not know God, and Catholics need to respond to “His amazing invitation.”
“I believe that Catholics, even faithful Catholics, lack a sense of urgency,” he says. “Only grace will equip us for the work of rescuing our brothers and sisters. Now is the time, and we need to beg our Lord, through the intercession of our Lady, that we are given the grace to cooperate with Him to rescue them.”