FOCUS missionaries keep students engaged in their faith

Monday, October 07, 2019 - Updated: 3:02 pm

By Bob De Witt Correspondent

Maura Trabold, 19, always had a desire to grow in her relationship with Jesus but needed a supportive faith community. With the help of young missionaries, she found one at Slippery Rock University.

Now in their third year on campus, missionaries from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, or FOCUS, have helped start 11 Bible studies that draw more than 60 students. They also provide one-on-one mentoring, helping young people grow in virtue and encouraging them to evangelize others.

“They make everyone feel so comfortable, approaching you as a friend,” said Trabold, a sophomore from Johnstown who is studying early childhood and special education. “Everyone is so welcoming and inviting.”

FOCUS encourages college students to pursue truth and meaning in their lives by participating in the sacraments, going deeper in prayer, and building relationships with Jesus and their fellow students through Bible studies, mission trips, national conferences and further outreach.

Tyler Green, a sophomore from McCandless Township studying safety management, went to a FOCUS conference in Indianapolis last January.

“It was so powerful,” he said. “I started by going to Bible study every Thursday night. The FOCUS missionaries inspired me to grow closer in my relationship with Christ.”

The evangelization effort, partnering with Slippery Rock’s active campus ministry program, is funded through sacrificial gifts to Our Campaign for The Church Alive!

“The first two years have been key, building the foundation,” said Peter Longoria, 26, who leads a team of four other FOCUS missionaries at Slippery Rock. “We’re meeting more students and investing in them, forming authentic friendships and helping them encounter Christ in a new way.”

Already this school year the missionaries and students have gone hiking at McConnells Mill State Park, enjoyed an evening bonfire, and are planning mission trips to Colorado, New Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago.

“We have a balance of new and returning students,” said Diane Magliocca, longtime campus minister at Slippery Rock. “The missionaries’ emphasis now is to challenge those they’ve been forming as disciples, to build them up and send them out.”

Trabold said she is ready to disciple others.

“I continue to grow closer in my relationship with God so I can lead others in that direction,” she said.

Despite being a member of a large parish in Johnstown, Trabold said there were few opportunities for young people to be involved in parish life beyond religious education programs.

“I do think that community is so important, especially for youth,” she said.

Father Adam Verona, director of Slippery Rock’s Newman Center, said the missionaries put students at ease.

“This is their spiritual home on campus,” he said. “The students can relate to them as peers, both in their ages and in their spiritual journeys.”

“The FOCUS missionaries are wonderful,” Green said. “If it wasn’t for them, my faith life would be more secondary.”

Founded in 1998, FOCUS now serves 164 university and college campuses nationwide, including the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Edinboro University, which is one of 14 new colleges to welcome the FOCUS missionaries.

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