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Giving Stories

'Spark' Lights The Fire of Faith

Mike Kremske

Mike Kremske found the joy of Christ as a student. Now he shares it as a missionary.

When his older brother came home from a FOCUS conference, Mike Kremske saw "a spark in his eye" that he'd never seen before. Though he didn't realize it at the time, that instance was Mike's first encounter with the living Christ in another person.

Years passed, and Mike wouldn't see that spark again until he encountered a missionary at Drake University where he played football. "There, I got into partying and that didn't change until I met a FOCUS missionary, Mike Selenski. I was looking for true happiness like everyone else who is living that life of dissipation," Mike says.

"In him, I saw the same spark I had seen in my brother: that joy. It's a joy that can't be found in any touchdown or win. He took me to confession and Mass—but most importantly, he taught me how to pray. That was the first time I gave everything to God—all the things I was hiding, keeping in the dark; the lies the evil one was telling me.

"It was the first time I had an encounter with Christ through the sacraments. At that time, I even struggled to believe in the true presence of the Eucharist. And as I continued to grow in my relationship with God through prayer, Bible study and on mission trips, I started to experience Christ in different ways and see his presence in all things," Mike says.

Mike's life was gradually transformed, and by the end of the year, he was leading his own Bible study with his peers and some members of the football team. He was able to witness the drastic conversion of many men, including one who initially turned down his invitations to Bible study and hadn't been to Mass for eight years. Today, that man is on his parish's council, is a Knight of Columbus and is happily married.

Seeing the impact his Bible study made on the lives of his peers, Mike decided to become a FOCUS missionary upon graduation. He served at Wright State University and the University of Illinois.

"Being a missionary with FOCUS has changed everything for me," Mike says. "[It has changed] how I relate to others and helps me see the living Christ in those relationships because Jesus is a living relationship."

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Giving Back the Blessings

Patricia and Pasquale Girolamo

Parents of a new college student witnessed the success of FOCUS firsthand.

Sending a child to college can make any parent worry. For Pasquale and Patricia Girolamo, watching their daughter Cesca head off to school brought fears of the negative things she might be exposed to—and how those things might affect her faith.

"She was ready to take on the world—but I knew she didn't know what was going on out there yet. I was nervous about that," Patricia says. "FOCUS was like a breath of fresh air and gave us hope."

When they heard about the ways Cesca was serving with FOCUS, they were very excited. Pasquale and Patricia began supporting Miko Sy, a missionary on Cesca's campus. Each time they saw a new photo of Miko's group of students in his newsletters, they noticed the number of students was growing and recognized just how deep his impact was on campus.

"I was proud to be part of that," Patricia says. "I'd say, 'Wow, this guy rocks. Look at what he's doing!'"

Whether by watching Cesca's own discipleship group meeting in their living room or seeing thousands of faithful Catholics at SEEK2017, Pasquale and Patricia have witnessed how FOCUS has changed lives. And to them, the role they play on behalf of the apostolate is very clear.

"The missionaries—they're the tip of the spear, and we're the shaft," Patricia says. "The tip can't go anywhere without the shaft, but the shaft's no good without the tip. The tip's doing the work. We're just helping it go forward."

"With what we've been given, it's giving back some of the blessings," Pasquale adds. "We were blessed because of our faith, and it was easy to give back."

Their hope and vision for FOCUS is to see graduates in parishes and in industries all across the country with the foundation that's taught them how to pray, how to live virtuously and how to evangelize, too.

"The FOCUS experience shows that faith can be the foundation of your everyday life, and it really affects people around you in such a positive way," Pasquale says. "You can't help but want to be part of something like that."

Pasquale and Patricia Girolamo are members of FOCUS' Lisieux Legacy Society. They made FOCUS the owner and beneficiary of a life insurance policy in 2018. Learn more about how you can give a planned gift to FOCUS by contacting Phil Purcell, J.D. at 765-730-4321 or philip.purcell@focus.org.

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Deeply United with Christ

Angel Rodriguez

Entering his senior year at Texas A&M University, Angel Rodriguez discovered firsthand the beauty of authentic friendship. He had been living the typical college lifestyle: joining a fraternity, pursuing a career and occasionally attending Mass. Underneath, however, Angel recalls a desire for truth. "When I got to college, I noticed in myself that I was searching for something more, searching to be known."

He first found that "something more" through a friend at St. Mary's Church, who invested in him in a way he had never experienced. Through the process of leading a retreat, Angel met Evan and began to share life in a deeper way. "I knew Evan for three weeks, and I felt like he knew me better than these friends that I had had for three years."

That was a turning point for Angel, who began to participate more at the Catholic center on campus. Providentially, that was the year FOCUS missionaries first came to Texas A&M. Angel was immediately inspired by the missionaries. "They were living out a lifestyle I had never seen before." He adds, "They were great men who lived out virtue while also keeping a toughness about them. It struck me that this is what it means to be a man. I wanted to pursue that."

Following the Call

Upon graduation, Angel decided to become a FOCUS missionary despite the obstacles of obtaining his family's approval and overcoming the fears he faced.

Through prayer, Angel was convicted to serve college students with FOCUS. That is, until he was placed at A&M's rival, the University of Texas. "At first, I thought it was a joke. But I was also very excited. I wanted to go somewhere that was uncomfortable, and UT faced different challenges than those I had faced at A&M."

Through conferences, mission trips and daily life, Angel is learning more and more about the unity we have as the body of Christ. "I am realizing as missionaries and Christian disciples, we are created for love. In heaven, we will become love. And love comes with sacrifice but also with joy."

He adds: "As we missionaries enter into this call with FOCUS, it is beautiful that we are able to invite mission partners and benefactors to sacrifice with us. Just as Jesus shares His mission of salvation with us, we are united—deeply united—in this mission."

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Their Journey Home

David and Laetitia Offutt

David and Laetitia (Tish) Offutt have supported FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, since its founding in 1998. As David describes, "I liked the idea of getting to the youth of our country, and Curtis Martin, founder and CEO of FOCUS, was doing so in the right way." He adds, "The most important area in evangelism is the youth."

Indeed, David and Tish each experienced the loss of faith in their young adult years, despite being raised by strong Catholic families. Their conversion back to Catholicism came through an unexpected trial. In the late '80s, David and Tish faced a devastating financial loss in their family business and were on the verge of bankruptcy. A friend invited them to dinner—a treat they could not afford at the time—and there they received an invitation to a service at an evangelical church. They attended and sat in the back pew, hoping to make a quick escape at the end. During the service that morning, however, they both felt inspired to recommit themselves to the Lord.

The couple frequently met with small groups from that church to study the Scriptures. An avid learner at heart, David began to dig deep into Church history. It was in that search that he discovered the true beauty of the Eucharist and the traditions of Catholicism. As hedescribes, "The Eucharist is such a simple yet historical teaching. It is the most fantastic thing any person could ever participate in. You, a human person, are receiving God."

A Gift For Our Mission

The couple frequently met with small groups from that church to study the Scriptures. An avid learner at heart, David began to dig deep into Church history. It was in that search that he discovered the true beauty of the Eucharist and the traditions of Catholicism. As he describes, "The Eucharist is such a simple yet historical teaching. It is the most fantastic thing any person could ever participate in. You, a human person, are receiving God."

David and Tish hope that organizations like FOCUS can continue to spread the rich tradition of the Catholic Church. "College students," Tish notes, "are especially vulnerable. They are at an age that so many young Catholics—just as we did—lose touch."

To combat loss of faith on college campuses, David and Tish wanted to continue their support of FOCUS for many years to come. This past spring, they decided to make a gift in their estate irrevocable, ensuring its permanency to help fund a cause they care deeply about.

As David jokingly notes, they didn't join the Lisieux Legacy Society to get a silver watch, a gift that all Lisieux Legacy Society members receive. Rather, they believed in the mission of FOCUS and wanted to see it last.

What Can You Do?

Many college students fall away from faith during their college years, so FOCUS reaches out to bring them closer to Christ and the Church. Your generosity ensures our work continues. Contact Phil Purcell, J.D. at 765-730-4321 or philip.purcell@focus.org to learn about giving options.

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A Belief in Discipleship

Melissa Piennett

Many years ago, Melissa Piennett was attending Mass at her parish in Omaha, Nebraska, when she heard a missionary share the vision of FOCUS. Melissa had personally experienced the loss of faith in her young adulthood—a central challenge FOCUS works tirelessly to combat—and believed FOCUS was on to something great. She began to make a modest monthly gift.

Although she was raised Presbyterian, Melissa journeyed through a stage of atheism beginning in high school. After college, she soon had a house, a horse and some savings—a point where the world says we "should" be happy—but Melissa wasn't. She decided to head to church, and, through the Scriptures, she began to realize "this is the truth."

On a visit to St. Ketari Tekakwitha's shrine, Melissa met a priest who quickly became a close friend. Father Jim answered her questions about the faith—a life-giving experience similar to the discipleship followed by FOCUS missionaries. As Melissa says, "When you are one on one in a relationship, that is when you can be Christ to another person."

Indeed, God has used several relationships in Melissa's life to demonstrate His unending love, including several priests, friends and her late husband, Craig. After attending the SLS18 conference this past January, Melissa was further convinced in the effectiveness of FOCUS' one-on-one approach.

She returned to Nebraska and immediately began to build faith-filled relationships with other women to bring them to the Lord. Not only did she start living out the model of discipleship, Melissa decided to make a gift in her estate using a will bequest to support FOCUS in the future. Because of benefactors like Melissa, FOCUS will be able to reach the hearts and minds of this generation of young people and others to come. With her gift, Melissa was welcomed into the Lisieux Legacy Society.

If you would like to consider a bequest in your estate to support FOCUS, please contact Phil Purcell, J.D. at 765-730-4321 or philip.purcell@focus.org.

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Stressing the Faith...When Students Are Stressing Out

Lisa Driscoll

Lisa Driscoll, team director at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), works closely with her FOCUS teammates to discern effective ways to reach their unique student body.

At MIT, Lisa meets students who are intrigued with deep, theological questions, as well as those ready to jump into discipleship right away. One example is Sarah, a junior who got involved with FOCUS her freshman year and now co-leads Bible study on campus. "She is a beautiful example of resilience in schoolwork and prioritizing God," Lisa says.

On the other hand, Lisa has met many students who struggle with the overwhelming pressure to excel academically and to earn top-grade career opportunities. Commitment to discipleship and Bible study during the semester can be a tough balance for students, sometimes causing them to lose focus on faith. That's when creative solutions are needed.

In the January intercession, when MIT encourages students to be involved in other activities, FOCUS offers Bible study three times a week, as well as a course on St. Thomas Aquinas. These are powerful sessions that have led to conversions—even for those not of the faith!

Missionaries also intercede with prayer for their students. Indeed, Lisa knows from personal experience the power of intercessory prayer and hopes all benefactors understand their prayers and support are vital.

"Benefactors have a particular role—like contemplatives—for our mission," Lisa says, "tilling the soil for souls to be touched and providing the financial means to do what we do."

Till the Soil for Souls

Many college students fall away from faith during their college years, so FOCUS reaches out to bring them closer to Christ and the Church. You can help us continue to till the soil for souls. Contact Phil Purcell, J.D. at 765-730-4321 or philip.purcell@focus.org to learn how.

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