First Place Award for General Excellence, Catholic Press Association, 2013-2016

Building Faith Through Friendship Is Goal of FOCUS Missionaries
Eileen Miller
CAMPUS SUPPORT—Cardinal Dolan talks with Katharine Peck, principal of St. Stephen of Hungary School in Manhattan, and her husband, Jim, who were guests at a fund-raising event for FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) at the New York Athletic Club Feb. 11. In the archdiocese, FOCUS missionaries serve at Columbia and New York universities.

He didn’t look like the stereotypical missionary. He looked and spoke like an ordinary young adult—he did not wear religious garb, have pamphlets to hand out, or any outward sign that he was, in fact, a missionary. He did, however, seem genuinely happy.

The reason for his happiness had nothing to do with what he owned, or where he lived, or what he had accomplished. It was simply due to his love for the Lord. His name is Elijiah Thomson and he is one of the eight FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries serving at two college campuses in New York City.

Thompon was attending a networking and fund-raising event held Feb. 11 at the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan to introduce friends and supporters to the work of FOCUS, a Catholic collegiate outreach program.

Perhaps it was providential that his first name is derived from that of the prophet Elijah, who spread the message of God in a time when to do so was not in fashion. Or, as Thomson told CNY, maybe the reason for becoming a missionary was simple: “I wanted a way to reach out to college students and share the faith that I had grown so passionately about.”

Thomson, a 2011 graduate of Texas Tech University, has been serving at New York University for two years.

“I think the most effective way to reach college students is through friendship,” he said, explaining that it is easier to walk on the path of faith with another friend.

“When you love someone and hear them talked about, you get excited and you want to talk about them very much,” he said. “Introducing someone to Christ is like sharing your love for the relationship you have with Him.”

He offered an example of one of those who have been positively affected by FOCUS, saying, “I watched a man go from being adamantly opposed to religion to growing to having a relationship with Jesus to undergoing an incredible transformation in one year.” He said that he spent a year having lunches, studying and hanging out with this young freshman, who at the time was a lapsed Catholic.

“Spending time with him, very slowly, the student came to realize that I was not only very genuine about my faith, but that it changed my life and brought me great joy,” he said.

The young man started attending Mass, praying and reading the Bible, Thomson said. “He has radically changed his life,” he said.

Curtis Martin and his wife, Michaelann, founded FOCUS in 1998 at Benedictine College in Atchinson, Kan. It has since expanded to 361 missionaries serving at 74 campuses nationwide. In New York, FOCUS missionaries serve at Columbia University and New York University. A team of two men and two women serve at each university. Through a model of relational ministry, they build relationships with students with the aim of evangelization.

At the NYAC gathering, Cardinal Dolan, the guest speaker, noted with enthusiasm that the FOCUS missionaries focus first on their spiritual health and then upon bringing that faith to others. In that manner, he said, the missionaries are “an icon of what the new evangelization is all about.”

Father Daniel O’Reilly, director of campus ministry at Columbia University and director of the archdiocese’s University Apostolate, told CNY that the missionaries at both NYU and Columbia “have been perfect.”

At each campus, the missionaries hit the pavement with nothing more than their love of Jesus. As young adults and recent graduates themselves, the missionaries share their lives with students—they invite them out for coffee, walks and to the movies. They also invite them to Masses, and events and lectures held through Catholic campus ministries. They also hold weekly Bible studies. The mission is to introduce people to Jesus and live as examples of a lively, happy and values-based Catholic life.

“They are closer to the age of the students and can relate very well,” Father O’Reilly said. He added, “They build up relationships with one another and, of course, to Christ.”


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment