Curtis Martin is the president for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, a 3-year-old outreach program to Catholic students on college campuses. He spent six years as president of Catholics United for the Faith. He spoke recently with Register features correspondent Tim Drake.

Drake: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Martin: I was raised Catholic and fell away from my faith in high school. I recommitted myself to Christ as an evangelical Protestant while in college and eventually came back to the Catholic faith three-and-a-half years later. I studied under Dr. Scott Hahn at Franciscan University of Steubenville and received my master's degree in theology in 1993. FOCUS was launched three years ago. I am married to a wonderful woman, and we are expecting our sixth child.

Why was FOCUS created?

FOCUS stems from my own experience, as well as the experience of my friends who were taught biblical Christianity with clarity and confidence. College students find this attractive. FOCUS was launched to let college students know they do not have to leave the Church to find Christ. In fact, to follow all that he commanded, they need to join the Church. FOCUS is a national Catholic program that allows Catholic students to go out and share their faith with fellow students. It teaches leadership from a Christ-centered perspective. Its goal is to reclaim college campuses and our culture for Jesus Christ and the Church he founded.

Why do you feel that college students need something like FOCUS?

My own personal experience, as well as that of nearly every Catholic I knew, was that we fell away from the Catholic Church during our college years. It is rare to find a college campus in the country where even half of the Catholic students are practicing their faith.

College is a critical period in young people's lives. It is during college that students begin to make adult decisions. What will they do careerwise? Will they get married? Catholicism ought to be the foundation stone for those decisions. If students make those decisions with Christ at the center of their lives, they will make better decisions.

How is FOCUS similar or different from other campus outreach groups?

While we are very encouraged by the heroic work of groups such as Campus Crusade for Christ and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, frequently when those groups work with Catholics, those students are led out of the Catholic Church. FOCUS shows that the fullness of the Catholic faith can be presented in an equally, if not more, compelling manner. [The Fellowship of Christian Athletes] is effective at reaching student athletic leaders on campus. FOCUS believes that all college students are called to leadership using whatever God-given talents and gifts they have.

FOCUS is a leadership program that stands beside the programs that are already there. Everyone understands that even in the best programs across the country there is still more that can be done. In order to be successful, we need to build up both truth and unity.

How did you choose the college campuses where FOCUS was launched?

Currently we have full-time staff at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., the University of Northern Colorado, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the University of Kansas, and part-time staff at Columbia University, Seton Hall University, Belmont Abbey College in Charlotte, N.C., and the University of Colorado-Boulder. We are working with about 750 students on those campuses. Friendships with a professor at Benedictine College and with Archbishop [Charles] Chaput of Denver led us to be at two of our locations. Beyond that, we are spread by our relationships with bishops, priests, Newman Centers or students. The entire framework of FOCUS is working within friendships. We are doing more than running a program; we are trying to strengthen the unity within the Church.

How do FOCUS student leaders reach their peers?

We teach relational evangelization. First, we need to know our faith. We need to be following Christ and the Church he founded. Then we need to equip them with answers to the common questions.

We encourage students to develop and live the virtues of Christian friendship. It is within that framework that we share what is going on in our lives. Through that we provide various means where students are able to share Catholic experiences, as well as inviting their friends to make a commitment to follow Christ.

What kinds of activities are FOCUS members involved in?

Student leaders meet weekly to cover topics of the faith and their application to personal life. Leaders also conduct a small-group weekly Bible study, as well as large group activities we call Prime Time. Prime Time is an evening of prayer, worship, singing, skits, testimonies and a 30-minute presentation on a key teaching of the Catholic faith.

Have you had any success stories so far?

The great thing about this ministry is that there is a wonderful story every day. Last year when we were only on two campuses we had six men enter the seminary from our program.

Two years ago, a young woman shared with her FOCUS group that she was embarrassed by her faith and would lie to her roommates about where she was going when she attended Sunday Mass. Today she is excited about her faith and has brought some of her friends along. One young man whom she brought was a fallen-away Catholic. He is now getting ready to enter the seminary this fall.

Another young man from Benedictine College had converted to the faith and was working in a pharmacy. He told his boss that he could no longer fulfill contraceptive prescriptions. Not only did his boss agree to the young man's conscientious objection, but he was challenged in his own faith as a Catholic.

What is the procedure for getting FOCUS started on new campuses?

We have some basic criteria. First, we have to have the blessing of the local bishop. Second, we raise a portion of our financial support from local benefactors and, third, there needs to be a pastor who is receptive to us being there. If those three things are in place, it is matter of scheduling.

My greatest frustration is not being able to be at more locations full time. Yet, training our staff well takes time. That slows us down. Increasing our size by 50% per year is all we can do.

What are FOCUS’ plans for the future?

Next fall we will be expanding to the University of Denver, the University of Illinois, Eastern Michigan University and Ave Maria Institute of Law. We are currently in campus selection mode for fall 2001. Campus Crusade for Christ has 18,000 missionaries. God willing, we would eventually like to be on every college campus in America. We are also talking with bishops in Australia and look forward to having an international presence. We're eager to grow the FOCUS family and are looking for campuses and those who want to lend their prayerful and financial support.

Tim Drake writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.