Alumni on Mission in the Parish: Paola Peña
Starting in the impressionable collegiate years, you form students who become leaders in the faith, like FOCUS alumna, Paola Peña. Here is her story:
In 2015, the Lord called me to work at St. Pius X parish in Fairfield, Connecticut. I started as a youth minister and spent six years working with teens. It was awesome! In the third year of this role, I realized that I needed to try to meet adults and invest in them as a way to bring in more teens.
So, I led a women’s study for two years. Suddenly, I was ministering to women much older [than me], and I saw their lives change. I used all the formation and tools that I gained in my time with FOCUS to minister to people of various ages.
There was nothing for young adults, single people, seniors or for adults in their 40s and 50s. I knew then that small groups would be the best way to reach as many people as possible. They can be tailored to people’s needs and address the struggles of everyday life. If we can create many spaces of belonging and formation, many pools of different depths, we can show people that there is something for everyone.
This past summer, we announced our parish effort to create a culture of small groups to take place in Fall 2022 and Spring 2023. I am so grateful for FOCUS, the FOCUS Alumni team and for the formation I received to be able to execute the desire God placed on my heart for organic, small group communities that would lead to revival. After seven years of being at St. Pius — building many relationships, tilling the soil, planting seeds (literally every farmer analogy you can think of) — it’s finally happening!
Right now, there are 20 adults in formation who are going through “Foundations for Discipleship” by Curtis Martin and Dr. Edward Sri to prepare them to lead their own small group in just a few months. This team is also helping me launch and create opportunities for encounter and accompaniment during the in-between months when small groups are not happening, such as holy hours, a speaker series and service opportunities.
Because folks are so busy, we are going to work with them and meet them where they are. Here’s how our small group model will work:
- Leaders can facilitate a group at the parish, at home or at a coffee shop at a time that is most convenient for them. We hope to provide parishioners plenty of opportunities during the week to plug into one of these groups.
- Fall small groups run for seven weeks and the spring one runs for eight weeks. The fall groups begin after the start of school year activities and end before the Christmas holidays. Spring small groups begin the week after the SEEK conference in January.
Our plan is to eventually have small groups for high schoolers, young adults (ages 18 – 23), young adults (ages 24 – 39) and adults. There’s a harvest, and now we have laborers who are bought in to the vision and want to play a part!
Paola Peña served as a FOCUS missionary from 2012 to 2015 at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Her first encounter with FOCUS was during her freshman year at the University of Vermont. During her time as a college student from 2008 to 2012, she met Jesus for the first time, found meaning and purpose in her sufferings and slowly came to learn and experience the eternal love of the Father.
Following her time in FOCUS, she worked as a youth minister for six years from 2015 to 2021 and is now director of evangelization at St. Pius X parish in Fairfield, Connecticut. She also serves as a spiritual director and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in catechetics and evangelization from Franciscan University in order build up the Body of Christ in her community through a small group model approach. A native of Stamford, Connecticut, she now lives in Bridgeport and spends a lot of her time trying to figure out how many brunches she can host in a month for friends and family.