A look at FOCUS: The New Evangelization and the Fellowship of Catholic University Students: Part 1


“I love Jesus Christ and that is why I am on fire with the desire to give Him souls, first of all my own, and then an incalculable number of others.”   —Saint Alphonsus Liguori



 Maura Donnelly, a 2009 graduate of the John Carroll School, now serves as a college campus missionary with FOCUS at the University of Rhode Island in the Diocese of Providence. What is FOCUS? And why missionary work?

Maura, now 22, is home in Forest Hill visiting family and friends during the break between semesters. She joined us this past week at her Alma Mater to share with our juniors the faith journey that has taken her to Rhode Island. Previously her high school Campus Minister, I was delighted to spend some quality time with Maura as I learned more about the mission of FOCUS and its potential impact on the future of our Church.



Let’s look back:

A sweet and quiet teenager from a practicing-Catholic family, Maura was involved in the John Carroll Chorus and in theatre productions, serving as the set crew chief for three years. Maura also did lots of service at Anna’s House, a Bel Air-based transitional residence for women and children sponsored by Catholic Charities.

She shared with our students about her high school experience and her desire to make friends, be liked and accepted, and how she eventually found an “amazing” group of friends who made her senior year one of her best. A lifelong member of St. Margaret Parish in Bel Air, Maura spoke about regular church attendance with her family on weekends, often musing about how there was a disconnect between weekend Mass and her daily life.

Off to University of Maryland College Park:

After graduating from John Carroll, Maura moved on to the University of Maryland College Park. Early on, she attended Sunday Mass at the Catholic Student Center on campus. This would become the first step in the amazing faith journey which was to continue throughout her college years. Maura explains that she “experienced community” there at the Catholic Student Center as she met people who were full of joy and life, who radiated love, and led purpose-filled lives. She explained that they knew the depths of God’s love, and thus lived out their faith and loved those they encountered in an inspiring way.


Maura wanted to experience this same joy and peace.  After some hesitation, she joined a Bible Study and met regularly with this small group exploring the relevance of Scripture to her life, developing good friendships, and seeking to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.


UMD Catholic Terps tailgating before a football game (Photo: Maura Donnelly)



This Bible Study was led by a FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) student leader. As a group, they explored how to pray more deeply and how to develop a growing relationship with Christ through their prayer and sacramental lives. Through attendance at daily Mass and participation in the small group Bible Study, Maura and her friends were learning how to become better Catholics.

After a powerful experience at the 2010 FOCUS National Conference attended by over 4000 students in Orlando, Maura shared how she “took a plunge into discipleship with Jesus Christ” during her junior year as she was less afraid to share with others about faith and the source of her profound joy. Her daily prayer of “Use me as You wish” led to profound new friendships at College Park as she witnessed to God’s love, joy, and peace in her life. 

The Catholic Terps at FOCUS “Made for More” National Conference 2010 with over 4000 participants in Orlando: This was Maura’s first FOCUS conference where she first encountered in a profound way Christ present in the Eucharist. (Photo: Maura Donnelly)

 As her involvement with FOCUS increased, Maura found herself serving as a student leader in a new Bible Study group. God started using her in the lives of others to give hope and healing which led to the realization of God’s call to work as a full-time missionary for FOCUS. She was hired to be part of their missionary staff in November of her senior year at College Park, and started training during the summer following graduation.


Catholic Terps at 2011 FOCUS Regional Conference “Answering the Call” in Baltimore during Maura’s sophomore year: She was then leading a Bible Study and soon would start mentoring another student in a “discipleship relationship.”   (Photo: Maura Donnelly)


“If you’re looking for hope, look to FOCUS. If you’re looking for the future of the Church, you’ve found it in FOCUS.”                —Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York


FOCUS founder:

Called one of the fastest growing movements in the Catholic Church, FOCUS was founded in 1998 by Curtis Martin, with the support and encouragement of then-Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput. He is author of best-selling book “Made for More,” along with several other books including “Faith Matters: A Bible Study on Marriage and Family,” co-authored with his wife Michaelann. Curtis Martin also co-hosts “Crossing the Goal” for the EWTN Global Catholic Network. The Martins live in Greeley, Colorado along with their eight children.


“No one does a more dynamic job of reaching college students for Christ than FOCUS.”  —Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Philadelphia



The Mission of FOCUS:

The chief mission is reaching out to college and university students “at perhaps the most critical and formative stage of their lives.” Maura explained that everything they do is mission-oriented to lead each person they meet into a deeper encounter with Christ.

Today there are over 350 full-time missionaries serving on 83 campuses throughout the United States, working for and witnessing to the New Evangelization. Last year there were over 1800 student leaders assisting these missionaries with evangelization, especially with the Bible Studies where profound encounters with Christ are experienced. Something powerful is happening as over 6500 college students were reported active across the nation in FOCUS Bible Studies on their campuses last year, with numbers anticipated to double in the current academic year.


Mostly in state-run colleges and universities at the present time, FOCUS missionaries are also stationed on some Catholic campuses, including Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Seton Hall University (NJ), Benedictine College (KS), and Ave Maria University (FL).

Besides College Park and Mount St. Mary’s, FOCUS is also on the campus of the United States Naval Academy, and serves students involved with the digital campus at Towson University. Maura’s sister Kayla, a Towson junior and graduate of C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air, is the student leader for their women’s Bible Study.  Kayla became involved with Digital Campus after attending the FOCUS “Seek” Conference last year.


Maura and Kayla during a visit to Rhode Island   (Photo: Maura Donnelly)


“FOCUS is one of the best examples of the New Evangelization today, letting loose the power of the Gospel for the transformation of the world.”   —Father Robert E. Barron, S.T.D., founder of Word on Fire


Check out Part 2 on Wednesday:

In Part 2 we will take a look at what is involved in the day-to-day experience of FOCUS missionary work and learn how Maura is making a difference in the lives of students at the University of Rhode Island.   

For More Information:


Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.