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Giving Stories

Evangelizing With His Words and His Will

Steve Petullo

Steve Petullo felt alone during his faith journey in college. Then, as an adult, he discovered FOCUS and began guiding graduate students in Bible study. Now he’s giving back.

For Steve Petullo, it all began in 1999 with a flyer in the mail.

The flyer featured words from young missionaries explaining the concept and goal behind FOCUS, along with a photo of and an endorsement from Archbishop Charles Chaput. Steve was intrigued.

“FOCUS just seemed like a good idea,” he says.

Steve grew up in a devout Catholic family and was particularly influenced by his mother, who was outspoken in her faith. When Steve went to study mechanical engineering at Purdue University and then aerospace engineering at the University of Texas, he held onto his Catholic roots. But he didn’t have a community of other Catholic students around him with whom he could share that faith.

“I remember feeling very much alone in my faith journey,” Steve says. “I wish FOCUS had been around at that time.”

Steve appreciated the idea of FOCUS after receiving that flyer, but it wasn’t until he met FOCUS missionaries in person that his heart became more invested in the mission. Five years ago, Nick Lee, the team director at George Mason University, asked Steve to lead a Bible study for graduate students. Though he was initially hesitant, Steve accepted.

That led Steve to some of the best days of his life—and important steps in his spiritual life. “During those years, I had the experience of knowing for certain that Jesus asked me to give him my heart. After one of the Bible studies, I went to the chapel to pray, and I felt such tremendous peace and joy. I believe this was a consolation that God gave me.”

While leading a Bible study gave Steve a personal taste of FOCUS’ mission in action, he also encountered the full breadth of the apostolate when he attended his first FOCUS conference, SEEK, in San Antonio in 2017.

“I was very impressed with that conference—especially seeing all of us at Mass and experiencing all the joy that was around,” he says. “I have often told people that one of those conferences is the closest thing to heaven you will experience in this life, because everyone’s happy and you feel surrounded by your family and friends who are in love with God.” Steve has attended every FOCUS national conference since, including SLS20 in January.

Those experiences prompted Steve to continue to support FOCUS in its mission of evangelization. He has also planned a gift of his house to the apostolate in his will. As Steve explains, “I purchased a house in 2014 and never quite felt comfortable as a single guy owning a house. I liked the idea of the house being used for FOCUS in some way.”

Steve, who helps with RCIA and a high school youth group as a member of Holy Trinity Parish in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, has hope for FOCUS’ future and all the ways missionaries can serve souls on college campuses.

“FOCUS trains the missionaries well, and the mission of FOCUS is very needed in the Church,” he says. “Young people need the friendship, enthusiasm and encouragement of strong peers who are in love with Christ and His Church. FOCUS is well-grounded and very faithful to the Church, and it has been consecrated to Mary.

“My greatest hope for FOCUS is that it will continue its mission to college students and never falter in this mission.”

Find out how you, like Steve Petullo, can make a planned gift to FOCUS by contacting Joseph Shippee at 515-490-3411 or

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Finding Her Identity in Christ

Amanda Weise

Amanda Weise attended Catholic school through eighth grade and always believed in God. But she didn't understand what it meant to have a personal relationship with God.

Then, in high school, she went to adoration at a Steubenville conference and encountered the Person of Christ in the Eucharist—a Person who wanted a relationship with her.

Cultivating that relationship with Christ gave her strength, especially when the athlete got severely injured. "When I had to have back-to-back hip surgeries my junior and senior years, I sought the Lord and trusted in His will," Amanda says. Even so, she still believed her identity was found in her physical prowess, and her body was a source of pride and attention.

Later, Amanda attended Eastern Michigan University, where she found friendships in the local nondenominational church. But during her junior year, she experienced an identity crisis when a boyfriend who was Protestant asked her questions about the Catholic faith.

"I set out on a quest for truth, determined to plant my roots wherever that may be," Amanda explains. "After months of research and asking difficult questions, I found truth where I had least expected it: in the Catholic Church. The Eucharist had my heart, and everything that I had learned about the Church was, to my surprise, rooted in Scripture."

Not sure what to do next, Amanda returned to what she knew she loved: Eucharistic adoration. During Lent of her junior year, Amanda went to an evening of adoration followed by a hot chocolate bar for the students.

"As I mixed hot chocolate powder with boiling water, a girl approached me. She introduced herself as Rachel, and I asked her what year she was. She replied that she wasn't a student; she was a FOCUS missionary."

After Rachel described her work with students on campus, Amanda had a surprising response: She wanted to be a missionary when she graduated, too.

So Amanda began discipleship with Rachel and started leading a Bible study. Rachel challenged Amanda to pray a daily holy hour, which confirmed her desire to become a missionary.

"Spending an hour each day in silence before the Blessed Sacrament tore my heart open," Amanda says. "I finally knew what it meant to be a daughter; I finally knew the freedom of my identity coming from Him. I wanted all women to know this freedom."

Amanda recently completed her second year as a FOCUS missionary at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, where she reaches out to student-athletes through Varsity Catholic. "I was a rower during my freshman year of college, which fueled my desire for athlete outreach. As soon as I got on campus, my passion for athletes to know the Lord and know their identity in Him was fully ignited."

Since then, Amanda has witnessed beautiful examples of the Lord working in the lives of student-athletes at UW-La Crosse and has begun to see the culture of sport changing for the better on her campus.

"Varsity Catholic hadn't been at La Crosse's campus before I got there, and my teammate Nick and I worked hard to build up a VC program. I was expecting to labor and not see fruit, but the harvest has been plentiful!"

Find out how you can help missionaries like Amanda through a planned gift to FOCUS by contacting Joseph Shippee at 515-490-3411 or

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A Gift in Line With My Faith

J Paul and Frances Breitbach

J. Paul Breitbach and his wife, Frances, first encountered FOCUS in 2007 and have been supporting FOCUS missionaries since 2009. Currently, Paul and Frances live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

I grew up in a working-class Catholic family with 15 kids. My dad worked at the packing house, and my mom took in laundry. Every month, though, I remember my mom managed to send a couple of dollars to the foreign missions. Her giving always stuck with me—that there was a need to give back.

Right out of college, I went into public accounting with Price-Waterhouse and then went to work at Krispy Kreme. I was fortunate enough to accumulate some equity, so when the company went public, I had an increase in financial resources. I began thinking about how these resources were a gift from God; He was telling me to use that gift for His greater honor and glory.

I struggled with deciding how much to leave my family and how much my wife and I would need in our older years. I prayed a lot, asking for the Holy Spirit to guide me in these decisions. I wanted my giving to be meaningful, to go somewhere that's truly in line with my faith and where it can truly make a difference.

The future of the Church is dependent on young people understanding what it means to be Christian and how their Catholic faith can help sustain them in a very secular world. FOCUS provides this foundation for college students who desperately need to be educated not only in their faith, but in how they can live out that faith in a way that will influence other people.

Society concentrates on educating people to get the right kind of job, not on forming them into the right kind of person. For this reason, I'm very impressed with the FOCUS missionaries. The enthusiasm they have for what they're doing is contagious, and I believe they inspire a lot of college kids who are searching for more than what the secular world has to offer.

The more I learn about FOCUS and think about the vision behind it, the more I am convinced this is an organization that is going to do a lot of good—not only now, but for years to come. After I'm gone, I'd like to believe I'll make an impact through what I leave behind in my will. Making a commitment to FOCUS is in line with everything else I believe.

What Can You Do?
Learn how you, too, can make an impact through a gift in your will by visiting If you'd like to have a conversation about a gift, contact Joseph Shippee at or 515-490-3411.

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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 Joseph Shippee at or 515-490-3411 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 Joseph Shippee at 515-490-3411 or

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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 Joseph Shippee at 515-490-3411 or

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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 Joseph Shippee at 515-490-3411 or 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 Joseph Shippee at 515-490-3411 or

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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 Joseph Shippee at 515-490-3411 or to learn how.

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