December 14, 2018

SEEK conference changes the lives of young adults

Young adults raise their hands in prayer during the Fellowship of Catholic University Students’ SEEK conference held on Jan. 3-7, 2017, in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Fellowship of Catholic University Students)

Young adults raise their hands in prayer during the Fellowship of Catholic University Students’ SEEK conference held on Jan. 3-7, 2017, in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Fellowship of Catholic University Students)

By Sean Gallagher

A “turning point.”

That’s how Bobby Vogel described his experience of a national conference of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) in 2016.

“It was like, ‘Oh my God, this is so real. … I want to give my life to the Lord. This is the most important thing,’ ” Vogel recalled. “That was the turning point where I said, ‘I’ll consider it, Lord.’ And then everything happened really quickly. That was a crazy journey.”

Vogel is now looking forward to the archdiocese hosting FOCUS’ biennial SEEK conference on Jan. 3-7, 2019, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. It is expected to draw more than 16,000 college students, young adults and Catholics of other ages from across the nation. (See more information)

Founded in 1998, FOCUS invites college students into a growing relationship with Christ and the Church, inspiring and equipping them for a lifetime of Christ-centered evangelization, discipleship and friendships in which they lead others to do the same.

In the current academic year, FOCUS has nearly 700 missionaries serving full time on 153 college campuses in 42 states and five international locations. In the archdiocese, FOCUS has missionaries at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana University in Bloomington and Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis in Indianapolis.

Five young adults who have previously served as FOCUS missionaries and are now living in the archdiocese spoke recently with The Criterion about the effect that FOCUS and its conferences has had on their lives and the excitement they share for the conference coming to Indianapolis.

‘It was there that I encountered Christ’

Vogel, 25, grew up as a member of St. Joseph Parish in Jennings County. But by the time he was an undergraduate student four years ago at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), he wasn’t practicing his faith.

Then he befriended a FOCUS missionary serving on the campus and later accepted an invitation to attend a FOCUS conference in 2016 in Dallas.

“It was there that I encountered Christ,” Vogel said. “Everything changed right after that.”

That would be an understatement.

In a period of months, Vogel dove headfirst back into his faith, applied to become and was accepted as a FOCUS missionary and began serving on the campus of Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Mich.

Now he is an archdiocesan seminarian in his first year of priestly formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad.

All of that was the “crazy journey” that began for him at the FOCUS conference in 2016.

A ‘crazy’ little ‘yes’ to God

“Crazy” is also the word that Matt Faley, director of the archdiocesan Office of Young Adult and College Campus Ministry, uses to describe the journey he’s been on since attending a FOCUS conference in 2007.

At the time, he was just beginning to practice his faith again after being away from the Church as a young adult.

“It’s just crazy when I step back and think about what God has done in my life through that little ‘yes’ back then 10 years ago, to think then that I was called to ministry and this is my avenue to get started,” said Faley.

He has served young adults and Catholic college students in the archdiocese since 2010 after serving as a FOCUS missionary at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Faley serves in the Young Adult and College Campus Ministry Office with two other former FOCUS missionaries: Madison Kinast and Rebecca Kovert.

Kinast was not practicing the Catholic faith when she was a freshman at Ball State University in Muncie in 2009. But, like Vogel, she met a FOCUS missionary, had her faith re-enlivened and attended a FOCUS conference in 2010.

“I would literally not be sitting here without that conference,” said Kinast, associate director of the office. “I hadn’t had any catechesis, and didn’t really know any of the teachings of the Church.

“Going to a Mass in a giant ballroom with 4,000 people and everyone is singing and responding—it was very powerful. Then everyone would get down on their knees and were silent and reverent.”

‘It’s a great Catholic city’

A native of suburban Chicago, Dana Padilla served for a year as a FOCUS missionary at IUPUI. After serving another year at Columbia University in New York and working in the New York Archdiocese, she returned to Indianapolis for graduate studies in psychology at the University of Indianapolis.

But it wasn’t just her education that drew her back to the city. It was also the strong young adult Catholic community that she had found here earlier.

“There are so many awesome Catholic resources here,” said Padilla, who works as a mental health clinician at St. Vincent Stress Center in Indianapolis. “The young adult ministry has really taken off. And there are so many good Catholic parishes to get involved in. It’s a great Catholic city, in a way. It has a very vibrant faith.”

That’s why she thinks FOCUS hosting its SEEK conference here is such a good match.

Faley is excited about the opportunity, seeing the conference as a way to deepen the faith of the growing Catholic young adult and college campus communities in the archdiocese in ways that might take months or years otherwise.

“We’re able to expose them to the fullness of that in a four-day period,” said Faley. “It’s a great gift to us to have it here.”

Kinast agrees.

“It’s a huge opportunity for people to encounter Christ in a new way,” she said. “The Holy Spirit will be alive and active at this conference. I want people to enter into that and see the young Church alive. That will feed what is happening on campuses or in parishes so that they’re alive and thriving.”

Kovert, event and volunteer coordinator for the archdiocesan Young Adult and College Campus Ministry Office, views SEEK as way to help young adult Catholics in central and southern Indiana to bring the Gospel to their peers.

“We can use this conference to truly make leaders that can go out and share that relationship with Christ with others and transform our community from within to make it a community of discipleship instead of just a social community,” said Kovert, who served as a FOCUS missionary from 2013-15 at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., and at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

Embracing the Church’s mission

Faley, Kinast, Kovert and Vogel took the formation they received through FOCUS and its conferences to be leaders in the Church.

“I grew in greater understanding of my mission as a Christian, it showed me the importance of vibrant team and staff life and most of all rooted all of my ministry work in daily prayer,” said Faley of his time as a missionary. “I have the gift of bringing all of those things to my ministry with the archdiocese.”

Vogel thinks the approach to ministry taken by FOCUS can help him if he is ordained a priest. FOCUS missionaries work on the organization’s principle of “spiritual multiplication” in which they build up relationships and share the faith with a few students at a time, and then have those students go out and do the same with a few more students and so on.

“Building community and forming intentional disciples are two of the most important things a pastor can do,” said Vogel. “Just do it as Jesus did it. Invest in a few and have them go out and invest in a few. Soon you’ll reach the whole world.”

Padilla says the same formation has helped her be a leader in the secular world and in her life as a wife and mother.

“No matter what you’re being called to—married life, single life, parenthood, working for the Church, working outside the Church, being a student—FOCUS gives you the skills and the tools to have a stronger faith and to live out the life that Jesus is truly calling you to live,” she said. “The mission of FOCUS is the mission of the Church.”
 

(For more information about FOCUS, visit www.focus.org. For information about SEEK2019, including how to register for the Jan. 3-7 conference, visit www.SEEK2019.com.)

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