March 16, 2018

FOCUS missionaries help spur growth of campus ministry at IU

Five missionaries from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students serving at Indiana University in Bloomington pose in the summer of 2017 outside Ave Maria Church on the campus of Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Fla., where they received training for their ministry. They are, from left, front, Gabe McHaffie and Briana Koon, and, in back, Branson Schroeder, Teresa Henderson and Kelsey McCann. (Submitted photo)

Five missionaries from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students serving at Indiana University in Bloomington pose in the summer of 2017 outside Ave Maria Church on the campus of Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Fla., where they received training for their ministry. They are, from left, front, Gabe McHaffie and Briana Koon, and, in back, Branson Schroeder, Teresa Henderson and Kelsey McCann. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Last fall, Gabe McHaffie led four other missionaries from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) for the first time onto the campus of Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington to help bring its 49,000 students closer to Christ and the Church.

It was a mission that was years in the making for 25-year-old McHaffie.

In 2010, McHaffie was a high school senior in Carmel, Ind., who felt that God was calling him to be a student at IU.

He was confused by this call, though, because his other siblings had attended a Catholic school—Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio.

“I was a little nervous, because I knew some friends who had lost their faith [at IU],” McHaffie said. “But I was a dedicated follower of Christ, and I knew that this was where he wanted me to go.”

That call was confirmed for him when he attended the fifth annual Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference in Indianapolis in 2010.

One of the speakers at the conference was Curtis Martin, FOCUS’ founder and chief executive officer. Martin spoke about FOCUS during a presentation.

“I was just set on fire,” McHaffie said. “I knew that’s what we needed at IU.”

The high school senior spoke to Martin during a break at the conference.

“I basically told him, ‘You come to IU, and I’ll work for you,’ ” McHaffie recalled. “And he said, ‘OK.’ ”

McHaffie paused and said, “Now we’ve both fulfilled our ends of the bargain.”

Martin founded FOCUS 20 years ago, sending two missionaries to one college campus. Today, the Genesee, Colo.‑based organization has 660 missionaries on 137 campuses across the U.S. and in Austria and England.

In addition to IU, there are FOCUS missionaries serving in the archdiocese at DePauw University in Greencastle and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Although FOCUS wasn’t on campus while McHaffie was an undergraduate, he was involved in the St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington, where campus ministry efforts at IU are centered. He said he and other students tried “mimicking what the missionaries do,” especially leading small group Bible studies.

In 2013, St. Paul received a three‑year grant that allowed it to work with The Evangelical Catholic, based in Madison, Wis., which helped it form Bible study groups and one-on-one discipleship training that helps students grow in their faith and apply it to their daily lives.

It was up to St. Paul staff members to oversee this effort, though, and Dominican Father John Meany, its pastor, said that responsibility limited the growth of the outreach to IU students.

“You can only do so much of that, and run a parish, and do all the rest of the stuff that happens,” Father John said. “There was an upper limit on how many small faith groups you could have, because you had a limited number of leadership people in the parish.”

There has been a marked growth in this academic year in the efforts begun under The Evangelical Catholic. Last year, there were 12 student-led small group Bible studies. This year, there are 43. Last year, there were 10 students in discipleship training. This year, there are 52.

The Bible study groups and discipleship training happening at IU is overseen by the FOCUS missionaries. Although McHaffie, the missionaries’ team leader, had dreamed of FOCUS coming to IU, he said that “it wasn’t in my plan to come back.”

After graduating from IU in 2015, he served as a FOCUS missionary for a year at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., and for a year at the University of Miami in Miami.

As the possibility of FOCUS coming to IU emerged, however, McHaffie was approached about coming back to Bloomington.

“It was such a blessing,” he said. “I tell people that if you want to see how God’s plans are better than your own, let me share this story.”

Although the growth of those involved in campus ministry at IU has been significant, the overall numbers are still small compared to IU’s overall enrollment.

That reality doesn’t bother McHaffie and the other missionaries. That’s because FOCUS’ methodology emphasizes what he calls “spiritual multiplication.”

If one person embraces the faith and is brought closer to the Church through the efforts of missionaries, that person can then reach out and do the same with three other people. Each of those three could have the same effect on three more, and so on.

“I have to trust in the spiritual multiplication model,” McHaffie said. “If I invest in three, four or five guys very particularly, and then they do the same, we can get this campus.”

At the same time, he recognizes that “realistically, people can say ‘no.’ We allow them to. God allows them to.”

The hope of McHaffie and his fellow missionaries, though, remains undimmed.

“Eventually, generationally, we’ll see this develop,” he said. “We’ll see disciples made, Catholics living an authentic Catholic life for the rest of their lives.”

(For more information about the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, visit focus.org.)

 

(Related story: Growing IU campus ministry initiatives help to strengthen the faith of Millennials)

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