FOCUS Missionaries Continue to Contribute to Campus Ministry

A common aid to Catholic campus ministry is the presence of Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

A FOCUS Bible study is underway.
A FOCUS Bible study is underway. (photo: Courtesy of FOCUS)

A common aid to Catholic campus ministry is the presence of Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). 

“A strong Catholic campus-ministry program can make all the difference in helping students who grew up practicing the faith with their family at home to continue practicing it while in college, among a community of fellow students like them,” said Craig Miller, president of Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). “It’s also a place where students can discover the faith for the first time and find a supportive community where it’s safe to ask questions.” 

FOCUS was founded in 1998 and invites college students into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church, inspiring and equipping them for a lifetime of Christ-centered evangelization, discipleship and friendships. 

FOCUS started with two missionaries on one campus, and, today, 981 missionaries serve at 234 locations: 211 campus locations (including nine international campuses and nine “Digital Outreach” campuses) and 23 parish locations. By 2026, FOCUS expects to have 1,300 missionaries serving on more than 250 campuses and dozens of parishes. Since 1998, more than 1,000 people have entered the seminary or a religious house of formation after involvement with FOCUS on college campuses.

“For more than two decades, FOCUS missionaries have been such a gift to the Church by modeling what it means to be a missionary disciple in real life and raising others to share the Gospel,” said Brian Miller, senior director of evangelization and discipleship for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. “My time as a missionary with FOCUS developed in me an evangelical zeal that has driven not only my career, but my entire life.” 

FOCUS works closely with the campus-ministry organization on campus. “It’s a beneficial collaboration for the campus ministry, in that FOCUS missionaries are the hands and feet of the chaplain and campus ministers, reaching out to students to invite them to Bible studies, Mass, adoration and campus-ministry events,” he added. 

Miller, who served as a FOCUS missionary from 2006 to 2010, is one of more than 70,000 FOCUS alumni across the U.S., both those who serve as missionaries and those who are participants and student leaders. By 2026, there are expected to be more than 100,000 FOCUS alumni. 

Among their ministries is outreach to college athletes and Greek life, according to a past press release.

Most “Varsity Catholic” missionaries are former student-athletes. Pat Towles is a former University of Kentucky and Boston College quarterback. He joined FOCUS in 2018 and most recently served at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, working “with student-athletes because I know the struggles with identity firsthand. My identity doesn’t come from the number of ‘likes’ I get on Instagram or the number of endorsement deals that I sign, but from the love of the Father and being his son,” according to the release. He now works at Christ the King parish at LSU.

Annika Albrecht, a former University of Nebraska-Lincoln Husker and professional volleyball player and coach, recently served as a Varsity Catholic missionary at Carroll College in Montana. She said, according to the release, she enjoyed “working with student-athletes pursuing excellence in their sport who are focused on improving themselves daily” and was “thankful to get to walk alongside student-athletes, assisting in their spiritual journey as they pursue a life to fullest for Christ.”

Zach Fielder was involved with the Sigma Chi fraternity in college and served as a FOCUS Greek missionary at the University of Southern California. One student, Charlie, accepted the invitation to go surfing with others in Fiedler’s Greek Bible study. Afterward, Charlie started coming to the study, inviting his Zeta Beta Tau brothers and started a group chat for the men to share Bible verses and find out when people were going to Mass. 

“Charlie went on a FOCUS mission trip to Peru and told me afterward how he reflected on how fleeting pleasures like TV, ice cream and cars bring temporary-but surface-level happiness,” recalled Fielder, who now works for the Napa Institute, in the release. “He said the joy he found in this community ran much deeper than material goods or even basic needs, but was present without any sort of transaction. Getting to walk with fraternity men like Charlie is a great joy that comes with learning to trust Our Lord in patience, docility and constant prayer and fasting. All I can do is stay faithful and docile to the Holy Spirit when I meet guys like Charlie, bringing them to the foot of the cross and help them joyfully witness their faith in their chapter houses.”

Mary Sarife was a student involved in Kappa Kappa Gamma at the University of Texas at Austin. After encouragement from a FOCUS missionary, she started a Bible study and observed, “Before starting the Bible study, I did not have a close friend in my sorority, and, suddenly, I had some amazing girls to walk with in life and faith.” 

“Our parish missionaries are transforming our parish culture into a culture of mission,” said Father Matt Foley, a pastor in the Archdiocese of Chicago, where FOCUS missionaries have served, including at his former parish, St. James Catholic Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

“Their work has helped so many of our parishioners, staff and clergy live as true missionary disciples in our daily lives. People are more confident and equipped to share the faith and are bringing their evangelistic passion into all areas of parish life — over coffee, in their families, in conversations with parents after school, in various ministries and small groups. And most of all, these ordinary lay leaders aren’t just evangelizers; they are training others to go out and share the Gospel themselves.” 

FOCUS missionary Anjelo Rocero has served since 2018. “It is so exciting to work with the campus ministry to plan outreach activities that will reawaken zeal among our students. There is a real hunger for connection among college students right now, and I can’t wait to see how God uses us this year.”

Editor’s Note: This series highlights a variety of campus ministries. Read the other parts: the introduction, Ivy League, Great Lakes, Midwest and South and Southwest and West. To learn more about Catholic life at college, also see our annual guide and our “Education” section.

This story was updated Sept. 28 to reflect current and future FOCUS alumni numbers.

Sean P. Dolan is a Catholic communications professional and founder of Dolan Communications.