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Giving Stories

Serving the Great Commission

Father Michael Drea

Father Michael Drea first felt called to the priesthood in third grade at St. Bridget's in Abington, Massachusetts. His teacher, Sister Pauline, asked the boys in his class if "any of them ever thought about doing what Father does."

Flash-forward to April 2018: Father Drea was appointed national chaplain for the FOCUS Mission Development team, serving as pastor to all benefactors and staff who support FOCUS' missionaries and programs.

Father Drea's path to this service has prepared him well. He graduated from Boston College and worked several years in development at Cardinal Spellman High School and St. Sebastian's School, both in the greater Boston area. During that time, he earned a master's degree in higher education administration from Boston College.

Father Drea was called to seminary, and upon ordination he served as an assistant pastor at St. Ann's Parish in Quincy, Massachusetts. At St. Ann's he was active with young adult outreach. He was then asked to serve as senior chaplain of the Harvard Catholic Center as well as pastor of St. Paul's Parish and Choir School in Harvard Square.

While at Harvard, Father Drea invited FOCUS to assist him with the spiritual needs of students. This collaboration inspired a number of Harvard graduates to go on to serve as missionaries. Father Drea also served on the board of directors of FOCUS, learning more about the important support FOCUS provides its campus missionaries.

"We are all called to the work of the New Evangelization to proclaim Christ and invite others to his gifts of life and love," Father Drea says. He is eager to work with all supporters and benefactors of FOCUS missionaries and programs. "We all need to be engaged in the service of his Great Commission!"

What Can You Do?

Father Drea would love your help as FOCUS reaches out to bring college students closer to Christ and the Church. A gift in your estate plan ensures his work continues. Contact Phil Purcell, J.D. at philip.purcell@focus.org or 765-730-4321 to learn about giving options.

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Creatively Supporting FOCUS and the Faith

The Kaisersatts with Grace Dill

John described their gift planning as “a little bit of creativity” to support a cause they loved.

John and Barbara Kaisersatt first learned of FOCUS in its early years and have been supporters ever since. They knew from the start: “This is what our Church needs.”

At that time, John and Barbara’s personal faith journey had been flourishing through their participation in a local Bible study. This experience led them to wonder what the Church could do to reach young people, especially through the small-group Bible study setting they had come to love.

Indeed, each of their sons attended college, searching for something as so many young adults do. “Both of our boys were seekers,” John says. Still, “being only preached to was long out of favor. Young adults want to see and share with their peers to believe and understand truth.”

Barbara and John sensed that FOCUS would be impactful for the Catholic Church, particularly on college campuses and in parishes. In Barbara’s eyes, FOCUS was desperately needed. “We wanted it to succeed,” she says.

The Kaisersatts started looking for creative ways to support FOCUS. They decided to donate a business property, giving a portion of the property as an outright gift and another portion to a charitable remainder trust. Doing so provided an income tax charitable deduction, escape from capital gains tax and extra retirement income from the trust. John describes their gift planning as “a little bit of creativity” to support a cause they loved.

Over the years, John and Barbara have enjoyed attending the FOCUS national conferences, where they are consistently amazed at the reverence and passion they witness in the young people there. They hope FOCUS can continue to grow and reach additional campuses while also expanding into more parishes. “Parishioners are also looking for something—something stimulating from the faith,” John says.

The Kaisersatts have witnessed the acceptance and growth of FOCUS over the last two decades. Just like any organization, “FOCUS will change over time,” John says, “but I am equally excited with FOCUS alumni and the future that FOCUS will have on the faith. It is truly phenomenal.”

John and Barbara Kaisersatt are members of the Lisieux Legacy Society. They funded a charitable remainder trust through sale of a property in 2011. If you’d like to have a conversation about a gift, contact Phil Purcell, J.D. at 765-730-4321 or philip.purcell@focus.org.

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Believing and Belonging

Josh Paiement

Although Josh Paiement grew up attending Catholic schools, his faith was just another subject he studied. “I understood the ‘what’ of the faith, but not the ‘why,’” he says. “I believed in Jesus, but I didn’t belong to Him.”

Later, in college, he played football and joined the Sigma Chi fraternity. He was fully immersed in the modern college culture. Then, during his junior year, Josh attended a retreat and experienced for the first time the truth, beauty and goodness of the Catholic faith. He also encountered FOCUS missionaries.

“What attracted me most to the missionaries was the authentic joy that they possessed,” Josh says. “They lived with the confidence of their identity as a beloved son or daughter of God.” After the retreat, Josh became much more involved in his faith.

When Josh was ready to graduate with his master’s in teaching, he took a bold step. “I felt God was calling me to something greater—that He needed me for something greater. I responded to the call of Jesus in the Great Commission by saying ‘yes’ to becoming a FOCUS missionary.”

Josh has encountered many students through Bible studies, discipleship and events. Through it all, he remembers the most important thing for evangelization: intimacy with Christ. “Jesus tells us that apart from Him we can do nothing; if I am not rooted to Jesus as the True Vine by living my own personal discipleship, my work will truly be for nothing.”

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'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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