13,000 college students open new year by growing in their faith at SEEK 2017

St. Joseph Catholic Newman Center at Bradley University in Peoria sponsored a bus trip to SEEK 2017 in San Antoino that drew 50 students. (Provided photo)

In need of reigniting the fire for her Catholic faith, Liz Schultz found the spark she needed during SEEK 2017.

“I was kind of struggling in my faith, especially in my prayer life,” acknowledged Schultz, a Bradley University senior nursing student from Groveland. She was among 13,000 people — nearly all college students — who began the new year by traveling to San Antonio, Texas, for a five-day conference sponsored by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).

“The experience definitely changed me,” said Schultz, who was part of a sizable contingent from the Diocese of Peoria at SEEK. “I learned that no matter how broken I might be, Jesus will always be there to guide me back,” she added.

Schultz journeyed to San Antonio with 50 others on a bus chartered by St. Joseph Catholic Newman Center at Bradley. Meanwhile, a group of 70 students and four FOCUS missionaries from St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois also took part in SEEK 2017, as did area Catholics attending other colleges in and out of the diocese.

Caroline Cramsey of Warsaw, a student at Missoui Western State University, makes a friend at the booth of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary booth at SEEK 2017. (Provided photo)

Caroline Cramsey of Warsaw, a student at Missoui Western State University, makes a friend at the booth of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary booth at SEEK 2017. (Provided photo)

“God spoke to me this week,” said Caroline Cramsey, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Warsaw who is a junior elementary education major at Missouri Western State University. Like Schultz, she decided to go because she had lost the “fire” of her faith.

Consider it found.

“I’m now ready to be a soldier for God and to go to war for him for the rest of my life,” she told The Catholic Post.

“WHAT MOVES YOU” EXPLORED

The Jan. 3-7 conference explored the theme “What Moves You.” Speakers included Father Mike Schmitz, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota; theologian Edward Sri; Sister Bethany Madonna, a member of the Sisters of Life; Sarah Swafford, founder of Emotional Virtue Ministries, and many others.

Jacob Martini, a junior at Bradley University and a member of St. Patrick Parish in Ottawa, found much to ponder in a daily series of talks directed to young men. Presenters ranged from Catholic author and chastity speaker Jason Evert to former University of Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz.

“Every night something new stuck out,” said Martini, who is active with the Knights of Columbus Council at Bradley. Finding one’s identity as a son or daughter of God and the need for Catholics to stand together were among the lessons that hit home for Martini.

15 SEEK FaleyMartini witnessed an example of Catholics standing together even before attending SEEK 2017. He and other members of the Knights of Columbus Council at Bradley spoke at Masses at St. Jude Parish Dec. 10-11 seeking help with funding for the trip. They are now writing thank-you cards for the generosity shown.

ADORATION A LASTING MEMORY

A conference highlight cited by SEEK 2017 attendees from the Diocese of Peoria was a Thursday night experience of the sacrament of reconciliation and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the packed convention center that brought many to tears.

“Witnessing and taking part in 13,000 college students walking around with clean souls adoring Jesus was incredible,” said Katie Faley, a senior at Illinois State University in Normal. “It was an amazing experience which united me with 13,000 of my brothers and sisters in Christ.”

“I’ll always remember it,” added Caroline Friedmann, a sophomore at the University of Illinois. “Christ was so present,” she added, recalling the sight of students falling to their knees and singing “O come let us adore him” as the procession made its way through the crowd. “It was a really beautiful moment.”

Father Timothy Hepner, diocesan vocations director for recruitment, accompanied the University of Illinois group and was kept busy hearing “profound, deep confessions.”

“It was renewing and refreshing to see college students so attracted to their faith,” said Father Hepner.

SONS, DAUGHTERS OF GOD

Asked to share his most memorable moment from SEEK 2017, Sam Mangieri, a campus minister at Bradley, said it came on the way home Saturday after the event.

“I will always remember a two-hour sharing of graces, deep conversion stories” said Mangieri. With SEEK 2017 coming at the start of the new year, many spoke of their resolutions to pray more and evangelize.

Craig Miller, FOCUS president, said he hoped that the most important thing participants take from the conference is “the knowledge that Jesus Christ loves them and that they all have a father who loves them and will be with them through everything.”

“Knowing what you are made for gives you purpose and knowing that you are born as son or daughter of God brings you in relationship with your creator,” he said.

Portions of this story were provided by Catholic News Service reports.

St. John's Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois sent a contingent of 70, including four FOCUS missionaries, to SEEK 2017. (Provided photo)

St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois sent a contingent of 70, including four FOCUS missionaries, to SEEK 2017. (Provided photo)

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