Missionaries on Fredericksburg campus
The Fellowship of Catholic University Students has a new presence at the University of Mary Washington.
Not all the new faces at the University of Mary Washington this fall are freshmen. In fact, four are recent college graduates who moved to Fredericksburg this summer to launch a Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) presence at Mary Washington for the first time.
The missionaries, led by team director Anthony Christenson, will work together using FOCUS’ three-pronged approach to evangelization: to win over students by entering into friendships with them; to help these students build personal relationships with Christ; and then to send them forth to evangelize their peers. Rob Frank, 27, and first-time missionaries Maria Buchholz, 22, and Susie Maurer, 23, complete the team.
Maurer, a graduate of George Mason University in Fairfax and an undergraduate participant in the FOCUS program on that campus, said the fellowship is a “very personal ministry.” Her goal, in addition to starting two women’s Bible studies, is “to start mentoring two or three girls on a one-on-one basis every week” to help them grow in their faith, their prayer lives and as student leaders.
“We all have that call to the new evangelization,” she said.
FOCUS already has planned several fall outreach programs for new students, including a hike Sept. 8 in the Shenandoah Valley.
“Outreaching to freshmen is very important and we put a lot of time and effort into that because the first couple days or weeks freshmen are on campus can define their college career,” Christenson said.
Of course the FOCUS missionaries’ presence at Mary Washington will work together and complement the existing campus ministry program, led by Father Frederick Edlefsen. It was Father Edlefsen who petitioned FOCUS to come to the university in the first place.
“They give students a personal approach,” Father Edlefsen said. “They’re out there all the time doing what the students themselves can’t do because of their studies or things I cannot take care of because of (what) I’ve got to do here.”
FOCUS will work in conjunction with campus ministry leaders by inviting those they meet on campus back to the Catholic student center for campus ministry-led programs, events and, of course, free food.
“We tend to focus more on bringing students into the (campus ministry program),” Buchholz said. “We get to meet a lot of people and invite them to events that are already established and start to form some small group Bible studies.”
“They help students weave themselves into the community to feel comfortable here and to spark them into being interested in learning about their faith,” Father Edlefsen said. “That’s exactly what we need at campus ministry (and) so far that seems to be bearing some fruit.”
Other than Mary Washington and George Mason, FOCUS missionaries in Virginia are present at James Madison University in Harrisonburg and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Frank, who served three years as a FOCUS missionary at the University of Maryland in College Park, said establishing a FOCUS presence “from the ground up” at a new campus is challenging and exciting.
“A fresh start on a new campus really gives you a lot of experimenting and figuring out what works here on this campus,” he said. “You really get to see the beginning of it.”
“We have a lot of freedom to try new things and go around campus and see what works,” Buchholz added.
Frank said that he’s not only looking forward to making friendships and spreading the Gospel message, but also to introducing the idea of Catholic missionaries and evangelization to a population that may not have even known they existed.
“We’re coming off decades of not really understanding our role as the Catholic laity to be missionaries, to evangelize,” he said. “It’s awesome to start bringing that back.”
While much outreach is done to first-year students, Buchholz said she’s also looking forward to getting to know and support the upperclassmen.
“Being at a new campus, we have a lot of work to do,” she said. “At a returning school, you would be able to focus just on the new students … whereas (at Mary Washington) we have to go across the board and focus on everybody.”
While on campus, the missionaries “cast the net as wide as we can,” Christenson said, attending events, clubs and other student gatherings. “We basically try to use our strengths and go after those affinity groups. Eventually you’re going to get into those conversations and start praying for them and you never know what the Lord will do.”
The tangible goal for the new FOCUS group is to have 10 students committed to a personal relationship with Jesus and to reaching out and evangelizing among their peers by the end of the semester.
But, Christenson said, success doesn’t always come in the form of large numbers.
“I just need a few students to invest in and it’ll go from there,” he said. “I would rather have five students committed to knowing Christ and spreading the Gospel than 50 students who are lukewarm in their faith. It’s always the work of the Lord.”