As the Catholic Church in the United States is facing both an unprecedented decline in young men entering the priesthood and an increasingly aging priest population, a national campus ministry is inspiring a growing number of young men to enter the seminary.
Founded in 1998, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), is a national outreach to college campuses, both secular and Catholic. The growing campus ministry has proven to be an effective instrument to foster religious vocations, with at least 67 men having entered seminaries and 25 women having entered religious life, in part because of their involvement with FOCUS.
When Deacon Peter Mussett joined a FOCUS small group Bible study at the University of Northern Colorado, he admits he was suspicious about his Catholic Faith. "The truth about my faith life at that time was it was hanging on by a much thinner thread than I knew." Six years later, Deacon Mussett looks forward to his ordination to the priesthood in May. "Without the environment of FOCUS, I seriously doubt that I would have been able to perceive or discern my call to become a priest."
Renewed interest among college students to consider the religious life comes at a time when the Church in America is facing a priest shortage crisis. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) project:
• 27 percent of U.S. parishes do not have a resident priest, an increase of 17 percent since 1996;
• Between 1950 and 2000 the Catholic population increased by 107 percent, while the total number of priests increased by only 6 percent;
• At the same time the average age of priests increased so that there are now more priests over 90 (433) than there are under 30 (298).
"FOCUS gave me an outlet to learn more about my Catholic Faith and to be around others who cared about their faith", said Benjamin Barron, a second year student at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Minneapolis, MN. "My FOCUS Bible study was a good fraternity of men, and we held each other accountable to lead a good life. I made some good friends and discovered I didn’t have to be a ‘dork’ to be a good Catholic."
While fostering an increased interest in religious life among college students is one positive outcome of FOCUS, the organization’s primary goal is to form communities on college campuses nationwide where students can follow Jesus Christ and live out their Catholic Faith —even in an environment that is often hostile to that very faith. Through small group Bible studies, large group leadership training and one-on- one discipleship, FOCUS brings the fullness of Christianity in the Catholic Church to college students and provides the tools to help them share the Church’s teachings with their friends.
ABOUT FOCUS: Founded in Atchison, KS in 1998 by Curtis Martin, Catholic theologian and author, FOCUS is a national outreach to college campus. Through small group Bible studies, large group leadership training and one-on-one discipleship, FOCUS brings the fullness of life and truth in the Catholic Church to college students. With 100 staff members FOCUS has extended its reach to 27 campuses in 15 states. FOCUS is headquartered in Greeley, CO.