Faith-filled beginning to 2010 for Catholic college students

Photo Caption: More than 300 students, seminarians, and chaplains from the diocese were among those greeting 2010 at the Fellowship of Catholic University Students national conference in Orlando.

By: By Tom Dermody

The midnight balloon drop was more than a week ago, but the joy it symbolized will be lasting for hundreds of Catholic college students from the Diocese of Peoria who rang in 2010 at a national celebration of faith in Orlando, Fla.

Perhaps the biggest smiles of those who’ve just returned from a Fellowship of Catholic University Students conference that spanned the New Year’s holiday belonged to the contingent of more than 100 from the St. Joseph Newman Center at Bradley University in Peoria.

Two Bradley seniors — Ben Getz of Morton and Sara Barton of Orland Park — were honored on the conference’s final day with the organization’s major awards for male and female student leaders. They received glass plaques and the applause of 4,000 fellow students and leaders who were completing four days at the Marriott World Resort Center exploring the conference theme “Made for More.”

Getz received the St. Francis Collegiate Outreach Award for the nation’s eastern half while Barton earned the St. Clare Collegiate Outreach Award for the same region. The awards are given to students who best live out the FOCUS vision on their campus by their effort and desire to bring Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church to their peers.

“I had no idea I was up for it,” said Getz, a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton who will graduate in May with a master’s degree in accounting. “It’s a big honor.”

MEANWHILE, the award was a confirmation for Barton, who is president of the St. Joseph’s Newman Center Service Team at Bradley and will become a full-time FOCUS missionary after graduating with a health science degree in May.

“It’s exciting to see young students excited about their faith,” she told The Catholic Post on Tuesday. “I feel I have a lot I can share with them.”

Among the many who would agree is the chaplain of Bradley’s Newman Center, Father Brian Brownsey.

“It’s an honor for our Newman Center,” said Father Brownsey of the Bradley sweep. “Ben and Sara got the top awards, but every one of our leaders got a boost.”

The Fellowship of Catholic University Students is a national campus outreach that uses a personal approach to introduce college students to Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith. Founded by Curtis Martin, the organization is very active on college campuses in the Diocese of Peoria, which was well represented at the national conference.

In addition to the Bradley group, nearly 150 students from St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois attended the event, as did 35 from the St. Robert Bellarmine Newman Center at Illinois State University. Also represented were students and staff from Western Illinois University, Monmouth College, Parkland College, Eureka College, and Illinois Central College.

IN ADDITION, 10 diocesan seminarians took part in the Orlando gathering, which featured keynote presentations by national Catholic figures such as Father Benedict Groeschel, CFR, Matthew Kelly, and Jeff Cavins.

Father Brownsey, who also serves as diocesan director of priestly vocations, pointed out that two years ago at the national FOCUS conference in Dallas, Texas, the dozen seminarians from the Peoria diocese were the only seminarians there. The idea caught on, and this year there were more than 100 seminarians from around the country in attendance, all of whom took part in a procession at the closing Mass along with 100 priests and concelebrants including Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston.

Father Brownsey, who served as master of ceremonies for the conference liturgies, called the prayerful attitude of the conference attendees “incredible.” The fast-growing outreach of FOCUS has become an important part of campus ministry.

In addition to five full-time missionaries assigned to Bradley, there are now 31 student leaders engaging in “one-on-one, face-to-face ministry.” The conversation among peers, he said, is different than if a student is “with me, Father, age 46, with a collar.”

Young Catholics such as Getz and Barton draw people into the campus Catholic faith community naturally because of the witness of their lives, he said, including their leadership of Bible studies.

FATHER BROWNSEY described Getz as “a regular guy, a sports guy” who is also “the best guitar player we have.” His faith is evidenced by his presence at daily Mass and adoration chapel but also during his interactions on campus, including the intramural sports fields.

“Freshman guys look up to Ben,” said Father Brownsey. “If you’re a freshman in college, Ben Getz is who you want to be like.”

“College is a time when people are making changes, figuring things out,” said Getz. “It’s a great pleasure to find people ready to find Christ in their lives, to live for Him, and to live to a higher standard.”

Barton, meanwhile, has obviously “discovered the fullness of Gospel life, and the joy of living the Gospel,” said Father Brownsey. “She has grown a lot in the last two years.”

Both Barton and Father Brownsey pointed to the same experience when asked to name a highlight of the FOCUS conference.

Following conference Masses, the Blessed Sacrament was carried in procession through the resort complex to an adoration room set up on the other side of the Marriott hotel.

“I got to take part, walking in front of Father (Brownsey) through the main, long hallway,” said Barton. As a bell rang to notify guests of the presence of Jesus, “you’d see hundreds of people clear an aisle and fall on their knees in silence.”

Father Brownsey added that there were never fewer than 20 students in the adoration chapel throughout the four-day conference, including at the midnight hour on New Year’s Eve.

GETZ said he won’t forget the balloon drop and ringing in 2010 with 4,000 faithful peers as a band featuring one of his favorite musicians, Matt Maher, performed on stage.

“A lot of people make resolutions for the new year to change for the better,” he said. The FOCUS conference’s emphasis on being “made for more” was a great way to enter the new year with a fresh start and positive, faith-based resolutions, he added.

Editor’s note — In addition to our news story, we are pleased to offer the reflections of two students from the diocese who attended the 2010 FOCUS conference.

‘Experience of a lifetime’
By Kristin DeSutter, University of Illinois sophomore

Traveling more than 1,000 miles from the snowy banks of Illinois to the dazzling warm pools of the Marriott in Orlando, Fla., I had the opportunity to attend the 2010 FOCUS Conference from Dec. 30 to Jan. 3. As a sophomore at the University of Illinois, I cannot imagine a better way to spend winter break than deepening my faith with the amazing friends the Lord has blessed me with.

Since I graduated from high school with 40 students (five were Catholic), I loved attending Mass every day with 4,000 dynamic Catholic college students who share the same love for Christ. One of my favorite addresses was given by Msgr. Stuart Swetland (a priest of the Diocese of Peoria now teaching at Mount St. Mary University in Emmitsburg, Md.) who made me realize how one individual can truly make a difference by doing the ordinary in an extraordinary way.

As emphasized by several speakers, each of us is linked by a bond, and I understood this powerful message as I ran into an old friend once again. In June, I studied abroad in Costa Rica, and as I arrived in Orlando, I discovered one of my friends from the trip, a sophomore at South Dakota State, standing behind me!

As a result of my adventure, it is my New Year’s resolution to make a difference in the Catholic community as I attend March for Life in Washington, D.C., and lector at Mass. The FOCUS Conference has been the experience of a lifetime, and it is an event every Catholic college student should attend!

‘Hope for the future’
By Lindsey Weishar, Parkland College freshman

Like some of my fellow students, I was not certain whether I should attend the FOCUS National Catholic Conference when the missionaries first spoke about it at the University of Illinois. But God, in his love, created the desire to go in my heart and removed the obstacles would have prevented me from going.

When we finally reached the Marriott Hotel in Orlando, I think many of us were awestruck at its enormous size, but what we came to realize was that there was something even bigger within this hotel: the Church.
For me, it was the enormous amount of people: the many orders of Sisters and Brothers, the number of priests, and the flood of FOCUS missionaries and college students that made the conference so wonderful to me. Though we came from different places, we are one in Him.

This conference has given me hope for the future. We have the ability to bring God to so many others. Our goal is not to convert others, but to be a witness to (Jesus), as speaker Kevin Cotter mentioned.

Because of this conference, one of my resolutions is to spend one hour each week reading a book that will improve my spiritual life. (This idea came from Matthew Kelly, who encouraged us to read good spiritual books.)

Throughout this conference, we heard over and over that God has a plan for each of us. It is truly amazing that how, in his intricacy, he uses us not only to encourage one another, but to be examples of Himself for each other.

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