DENVER, Sept. 22, 2022 — Mary Gillett remembers how difficult it was to be a student-athlete at Stanford University, where she ran track while earning her biology degree. “Collegiate athletes have a lot of responsibilities that most students don’t face: the spotlight, the intense pressure to perform, the schedule. During my time in athletics, this pressure was very isolating, and I needed people in my corner to share with me the truth of the Gospel.”
After graduating, Gillet decided to give back, and now she serves as a Varsity Catholic missionary at the University of Southern California, helping student-athletes find their calling and value as beloved sons and daughters of God.
As outreach divisions of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), Varsity Catholic and FOCUS Greek have discipled thousands of students, inspiring them to grow deeper in faith through Bible studies, FOCUS mission trips, local service work, national events and other opportunities.
This fall, Varsity Catholic and FOCUS Greek missionaries will encounter tens of thousands of students on campus, encouraging them to embody the servant leadership of Christ. By 2027, FOCUS expects that around 45,000 students will have been involved with Varsity Catholic and FOCUS Greek. Many of these students will be leaders in business, politics and the Church; encountering them during their pivotal college years has far-reaching effects for communities, families, parishes and companies.
Vatican “Sport for All” International Summit
Thomas Wurtz, founder and director of Varsity Catholic, is one of about 200 delegates invited to the Vatican Sept. 29 – 30 to attend the International Summit “Sport for All: Cohesive, Accessibleand Tailored to each Person.” The event is hosted by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, in collaboration with the Dicastery for Culture and Education and the John Paul II Foundation for Sport.
The summit will involve major sports and intergovernmental institutions and organizations and build on the October 2016 event, “Sport at the Service of Humanity” (which Wurtz also attended) and the June 2018 document, “Giving the Best of Yourself.” The aim is to promote the social and inclusive dimension of sport in society, especially when it encapsulates an authentically Christian spirit. It is a response to the Holy Father’s encouragement of a sport that is socially responsible and his appeals to foster sport as a means of human, educational and spiritual growth.
Wurtz is co-host of the Man CatholicPodcast, which speaks to men about living as a Christian man in our current day and age. Their interviews include men from all walks of life, including Fr. Mike Schmitz, Dr. Andrew Swafford and several episodes with MLB pitcher Trevor Williams discussing faith, sport and family life.
Since 2007, Varsity Catholic missionaries have encouraged student-athletes to grow their faith by offering Christian fellowship through Bible studies and discipleship. Most Varsity Catholic missionaries are former student-athletes, so they understand the rigorous schedules and high pressure to perform on the field and in the classroom.
For the 2022 – 2023 academic year, FOCUS has more than 160 trained Varsity Catholic missionaries on nearly 90 campuses, including Texas A&M University and the University of Kansas. Varsity Catholic will host mission camps in Costa Rica and Honduras this academic year. These experiences provide a unique opportunity for student-athletes to facilitate a sports camp while sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Gillett shared, “Varsity Catholic missionaries are important because often we are the only people telling the student-athlete that who she is does not depend on her athletic performance. Discovering the truth of her identity as a daughter of God is the first step to integrating faith and sport. When we have men and women in college athletics who are on fire for the Catholic faith and rooted in their true identity, we will see a ripple effect across campuses and throughout our culture.”
In 2009, FOCUS Greek was founded to serve the needs of students involved with the Greek system, which is rooted in the values of community, academics, philanthropy, integrity and friendship. Most FOCUS Greek missionaries were involved in the Greek system themselves while in college. Fraternity and sorority members on campus frequently take on leadership roles within their chapter, in student government and other campus organizations.
More than 180 FOCUS Greek missionaries are serving on 121 campuses for the 2022 – 2023 academic year, including the University of Arkansas, the University of Miami, and the University of Georgia. Many Greek students host Bible studies within their sororities and fraternities. FOCUS Greek mission trips this year will take students to serve and share their faith in locations such as the Dominican Republic and Rome.
“During my senior year at the University of Florida, my life took a dramatic turn for the better when I encountered the Lord after meeting FOCUS missionaries,” said Jackson Parisey, a FOCUS Greek missionary. “My story has truly taught me that the Lord is reaching out to every man at every moment. There are no exceptions. Being in the Kappa Alpha fraternity as a student, I saw the desperate need for men to have a relationship with Jesus. I also saw the great desire for it which was simply misguided. They are searching for Him in worldly things and need someone to help them redirect their gaze.”
Parisey continued, “In Romans 10:14, St. Paul stressed, ‘And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach?’. St. Martin of Tours said, ‘Lord, if your people need me, I will not refuse the work.’ I said a similar thing to the Lord, which is why I am grateful to be with FOCUS Greek serving fraternity men for my third year at the University of Missouri."
FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) is a Catholic apostolate whose mission is to share the hope and joy of the Gospel. FOCUS missionaries encounter people in friendship, inviting them into a personal relationship with Christ and accompanying them as they pursue lives of virtue and excellence. Through Bible studies, outreach events, mission trips and discipleship, missionaries inspire and build up others in the faith, sending them out to live out lifelong Catholic mission wherever they are.
For the 2022 – 2023 academic year, 861 missionaries are serving at 216 locations: 193 campus locations (including eight international campuses and 10 Digital Outreach campuses) and 23 parish locations. By 2027, FOCUS expects to have more than 1,000 missionaries serving in more than 250 locations around the world. FOCUS alumni, now more than 50,000 strong, are living and serving in parishes and communities across the country, including more than 10,000 trained for post-graduate evangelization. An important blessing of a fruitful partnership between the local campus ministry and FOCUS has been the pursuit of religious vocations. Since 1998, more than 1,000 people have entered the seminary or a religious house of formation after involvement with FOCUS on college campuses. Based on past experience, FOCUS expects that number to nearly double in the next five years. FOCUS missionaries are typically recent college graduates who devote two or more years of their post-collegiate lives to reach out to peers on campus. focus.org