The Heart of FOCUS
This upcoming Fall 2023 semester, nearly one thousand FOCUS missionaries will go forth across the country to share the Gospel and invite others into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. In the 25 years since FOCUS’ inception, tens of thousands of young people have chosen to make Christ the center of their lives thanks to a FOCUS missionary’s friendship, faithful witness and genuine investment.
When someone joins FOCUS as a missionary, they dedicate a minimum of two years of serve on campus — though many choose to serve beyond the two-year minimum. A handful of these missionaries have served the mission of evangelization for more than a decade. In some instances, two decades.
We invite you to get to know seven of these veteran FOCUS staff members whose dedication, unique gifts and zeal for evangelization have helped shape FOCUS from almost the beginning!
“It’s truly inspiring to see our energetic and faithful missionaries authentically living out the faith in a contagious way and inviting others to do the same.”
When Sarah was in college, FOCUS wasn’t on her campus—but she did attend a faithful Catholic school and knew she wanted to serve the Church in some way after graduation. She first encountered FOCUS through a FOCUS board member who also happened to be her professor. “When I first heard he mission and vision of FOCUS at a Recruitment Weekend, my heart came alive knowing that this is where the Lord was calling me to serve,” says Sarah. “It’s been an incredible place to serve in the Church, and it’s a decision I haven’t regretted for a minute.”
Sarah joined staff in 2001 and has been serving with FOCUS for 22 years. She has served as a missionary and Team Director at Benedictine College (2001 – 2004) and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (2004 – 2005). Following her time on campus, Sarah served as a Regional Director for the East for four years before adopting her current role in Human Resources. As Sarah says, “It’s a joy and honor to serve in the mission as ‘a missionary to our missionaries’ in a support role.”
In the next 25 years, Sarah is excited to see how the Lord will continue to bless FOCUS’ missionary efforts. “It has been a tremendous honor and joy for me to see the many incredible people the Lord has placed in our lives through our efforts, and I can’t wait to see what the next 25 years will bring!”
“When someone begins to listen to God’s voice, transformation follows—not only for them, but for those they care about as well. When a young person is set on fire for the faith, they could live a mission-oriented life for the next 60, 70 or even 80 years!”
Mark first encountered FOCUS in 2000 during the apostolate’s first year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. As Mark describes it, he was a lost student who was raised Catholic but had abandoned his faith. When looking for answers about Church teaching from the Lincoln Newman Center, he was directed to the missionaries and from there was invited into “a life-changing Bible study.”
Mark has served FOCUS for 17 years. In his experience, FOCUS is necessary today because “missionaries are praying for so many people, and at the same time encouraging and teaching thousands to hear God’s voice. It has been amazing to watch so many thousands of missionaries, students and supporters grow in their faith just by engaging with FOCUS’ mission! Only God knows how much amazing impact a life lived on mission will have.”
“All it takes is walking across a college campus to see the immense hunger in the lives of students. They’re desperately searching for something: a purpose, a greater meaning. As missionaries, we have found a treasure that we cannot help but share.”
Early in 2008, Tom attended FOCUS’ National Student Leadership Conference (what would later become SEEK) in Grapevine, Texas. He remembers adoration in particular. That was his first exposure to FOCUS.
As a missionary, he served at Belmont Abbey College, Georgia Southern University and Bradley University. Later he served as a Regional Director for seven years before becoming the director of FOCUS Missions for two years. Today, as he embarks on his sixteenth year with FOCUS, he continues to serve in his current role as senior director of Formative Enterprises.
“No matter what challenges we see in the world around us today, I keep coming back to the source of our hope: Jesus Christ. He changes the world, one soul at a time.”
Hilary became involved with FOCUS in 2002 as a freshman at the University of Colorado Boulder. “The missionaries hosted a large group ‘seeker study,’” explains Hilary. “When I attended and heard the Prodigal Son parable unpacked, I could not believe how rich Scripture could be. I joined a weekly small group Bible study and spent the next few years growing in friendship with those women and with Christ.”
Over the past 18 years, Hilary has served as a missionary at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of North Dakota and CU Boulder. She has also served leading roles overseeing the East Region and the Quality, Growth and Innovation (QGI) department at FOCUS’ headquarters. She currently serves as the director of the West Area.
“Sharing the Good News of God’s saving love with others, walking with them as disciples of Christ, and sending them out to keep making disciples—this gives me hope for the people I love and for the whole world!” says Hilary.
“People are always looking for the truth. The world needs real examples of the truth being lived out. And FOCUS presents the fullness of truth in such a dynamic way.”
When she was a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Shannon met another student who was already involved with FOCUS on campus. That girl invited Shannon into her Bible study, and the rest is history.
Since 2009, Shannon has served as a missionary at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, the University of Illinois-Chicago and the University of Connecticut. She also took on the role of Regional Director over the South and East regions for eight years. As she approaches her fifteenth year with FOCUS, Shannon currently helps oversee Team Director and Regional Director formation.
“The world needs real live examples of the truth being lived out—and that’s what people encounter when they meet those who are involved in FOCUS,” says Shannon. “I think this is why FOCUS is so effective.”
“A mission partner told me, ‘The work you are doing is the most important work in the country!’ It’s a privilege to live and share the Gospel so that we may reclaim the culture for Christ.”
Matt has been a part of FOCUS since 2004, nearly 20 years — but his first encounter with the apostolate was in 2001, when he was a student at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Since joining staff, Matt has served numerous roles across the apostolate: as a campus missionary at George Mason University; in regional leadership for the North Area; as a parish missionary at St. James in Arlington Heights, Illinois; and as a Parish Regional Director. Today, as FOCUS continues to accompany others beyond the university campus, Matt continues to serve in his present role as FOCUS’ director of Parish Outreach.
“Our culture has experienced a dramatic shift in recent decades — a shift from a Christian culture to a much more secular one,” says Matt. “This requires the Church to rethink strategies for spreading the Gospel. FOCUS equips people to carry out the Church’s vision for missionary discipleship by walking alongside others as they encounter Jesus Christ, empowering them to bring the Gospel to their local communities.”
“I am excited to see how FOCUS can participate in the conversation of transforming parishes and really extending our influence to see lifelong mission become a reality.”
Thomas encountered FOCUS through his brother, who participated in FOCUS right from the start in the spring of 1998. Thomas then had personal encounters and experiences of his own when he transferred to Benedictine College in the fall of that same year.
Thomas began in 2001 and served as a missionary and team director while on campus at Illinois State University and Seton Hall University. He adopted the role of Men’s Formation Coordinator and served as the lead men’s formator at FOCUS’ Staff Training. During this time, he also received a fellowship to be in the first graduating class of the Augustine Institute.
In 2007, Thomas founded Varsity Catholic, a division of FOCUS which addresses the unique strengths and needs of student-athletes. Thomas spent five years at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln developing Varsity Catholic before transferring to the Denver Support Center in 2012, where he continued to oversee Varsity Catholic and likewise launched efforts such as the Purity Initiative (now called the Freedom Project) and Staff Marriage Mentorship for missionaries. Presently, Thomas oversees Affinity Outreach (which includes Varsity Catholic and FOCUS Greek) and Marriage and Family Support.
Despite the various roles and experiences of these FOCUS leaders, they all have one thing in common: their personal encounter with FOCUS led to lifelong dedication to helping others share the Gospel. As these veteran missionaries have experienced firsthand through their time with FOCUS, inviting someone to hear the kerygma and place Christ at the center of everything can change the course of their entire life—for eternity.
With the warmest gratitude, we honor these heroic individuals and the many ways they have led FOCUS’ mission and helped us grow into the apostolate we are today. We also wish to recognize the thousands of other FOCUS missionaries, including those currently serving and those missionary alumni who are continuing to evangelize in their homes, parishes, workplaces and communities.
If you would like to support a missionary who is right now helping to reignite the faith of young people, we invite you to visit our missionary directory today to help pass on the legacy of faith to future generations.