Team of missionaries will lead Bible studies, fellowship events and outreach to show students ‘the love of Jesus Christ’ on public campus

DETROIT  As colleges and universities prepare for an uncertain fall semester of social distancing, no one knows for sure what campus life will look like come September.

At Wayne State University in Detroit, however, as long as classes are in session, one thing is for certain: the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) will be there. 

At the invitation of the Archdiocese of Detroit, the nationwide young adult and campus ministry will send its first missionaries to southeast Michigan this fall, augmenting a growing Catholic presence at the Midtown-based public university.

“What we do with FOCUS is connect with the campus ministries and grow out from there,” said Ryan Noll, who will serve as team director for the Wayne State FOCUS missionary team. 

Originally founded in 1998, FOCUS has grown to include 800 missionaries serving on 171 campuses and nine parishes across the world. FOCUS will be on 17 new campuses for the 2020-21 academic year, including Wayne State.

The rapidly growing ministry, whose mission is “to share the hope and joy of the Gospel with college and university students, inspiring and equipping them for a lifetime of Christ-centered evangelization, discipleship and friendships in which they lead others to do the same,” is working in collaboration with the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Department of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship to bring a new level of support and Catholic outreach at the secular campus.

Students from Detroit Cristo Rey High School attend a seminar in a lecture hall at Wayne State University last year. This fall, FOCUS will join a growing Catholic presence at Wayne State, including an already-robust Newman Center. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

Fr. Stephen Pullis, the department’s director, said he has been working for years to bring FOCUS to Wayne State, which already boasts an active Newman Center offering regular confessions, Eucharistic adoration and daily Mass.

“Pope Francis has reminded us that evangelization is mostly about relationships and the importance of accompaniment and walking with people on their journey to grow closer to Christ,” Fr. Pullis told Detroit Catholic. “FOCUS’s model of accompanying young people wherever they are in order to grow in a relationship with Christ and his Church has proven successful in universities around the country.”

Along with the other members of his team, Noll said FOCUS’s goal is to create a presence on campus through Bible studies, outreach and ministry events, building friendships and trust with the campus community.

“We want to show them the love of Jesus Christ,” Noll said. The FOCUS missionaries will also live near campus, making them all the more accessible to students. 

Noll is entering his seventh year as a missionary with FOCUS, after having originally met the group as a college student. 

“I joined FOCUS because I was a college student who was searching for friendship, for love, for what our hearts truly desire, and I feel like I found that through one of the missionaries on campus,” Noll said. “I was going through a crisis of friendship, and this missionary took me under his wing and offered me the kind of friendship that was fun, but he was also willing to challenge me and show me the love of Jesus Christ. I wanted to do that for other people.”

Fr. Pullis is confident the same model of encounter and accompaniment will be successful with the students at Wayne State. 

College students attend at the SLS18 evangelization training conference hosted by FOCUS in Chicago in 2018. Where social distancing remains a concern, FOCUS will provide digital resources to reach out and support students, chaplains and staff. (CNA photo)

While the plan is for FOCUS missionaries to move in this fall, no one knows yet just what campus life will look like in light of COVID-19. 

On July 15, Wayne State’s president, M. Roy Wilson, announced 46% of classes for the fall term will be remote or online, with 20% on campus and 2% hybrid online and in-person classes. The remainder will be subject to individual arrangement. 

Whatever the case may be, Fr. Pullis and Noll are committed to making it work. Noll said FOCUS, much like the rest of the world, is taking the planning and preparations one step at a time, as they recognize plans are subject to change.

Even if students return to campus in the fall, Fr. Pullis said the hope is to offer programming that respects social distance, including digital Bible studies, electronic means of communication and ways to practice “digital discipleship.”

In mid-March, FOCUS as an organization made the transition from in-person Bible studies and discipleship to digital outreach through online platforms.

The FOCUS Digital Campus includes a team of missionaries who typically provide Bible study resources, discipleship and mentoring to students on non-FOCUS campuses. The “campus” recently hosted multiple live online training sessions to guide on-campus missionaries through its resources and equip them on how to continue conducting Bible studies, discipleship and meetings with students through video chats and other virtual venues.

“These are uncharted waters, but we do know that the mission of the Church has to go own; it has to continue,” Fr. Pullis said. “We know, whether there are in-person or online classes, we still need to be looking for ways to reach out to young people to share the gospel with them and to invite them and accompany them on the path to discipleship.”

Learn more

To learn more about the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, visit focus.org.