Towson University students among thousands inspired at FOCUS conference

A group of representatives from Towson University participated in the Fellowship of Catholic University Students’ annual Student Leadership Summit, held in Phoenix Dec. 30 to Jan. 3. (Courtesy Tony Persichitti)

Like many young adults, Tony Persichitti drifted away from his Catholic faith during his college years, opting to live what he called “a life the world deemed right.”

It wasn’t until he connected with other Catholics on fire for their faith at the Newman Center at Towson University that his own faith was renewed and he had a deep-felt conversion.

What remained, however, was a sense of regret for past failures.

The 25-year-old junior, a history major, said his “state of irritation, aggravation and shame” was alleviated during the Fellowship of Catholic University Students’ annual Student Leadership Summit, held at the Phoenix Convention Center in Arizona Dec. 30 to Jan. 3.

The parishioner of St. Clement Mary Hofbauer in Rosedale was among 19 students from his university and five FOCUS missionaries stationed at Towson’s Newman Center who joined nearly 9,000 others for an event centered on the power of prayer and missionary discipleship.

“Soon after I arrived, I was asked by a missionary (to express) in one word what graces do you want from God, and I chose the word ‘healing,’” Persichitti said in a written reflection. “Over the period of a few days, I experienced that healing – healing I didn’t even really truly know I needed. I realized that I was having a deep change of heart. God finally found his way through all the scars I had from over the years and pierced my heart with pure love.”

Cardinal Gerhard Muller arrives for Mass at the annual Student Leadership Summit of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students at the Phoenix Convention Center Jan. 1, 2020. (CNS photo/Jesus Valencia, Catholic Sun)

Persichitti said Christ spoke to him, letting him know his identity as “a son of God.”

Father Matthew Buening, director of Catholic campus ministry at Towson University, accompanied his group to the conference. He described the large-scale Masses as “the best I have ever been part of.”

In a Dec. 31 homily, Archbishop Christoph Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, told participants that their peers are looking for the fulfillment of their desires.

“Often, they seek them in the things of the world, but these never satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart,” Archbishop Pierre said. “It is your task as disciples and missionaries to show them the way, mediating the encounter with Jesus – the way, truth and life. It is not easy, particularly as the world becomes more hostile to the life of Christian faith. Do not lose courage: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome the light.”

German Cardinal Gerhard Müller said God cannot be changed by the whims of society.

“In the concrete human being Jesus of Nazareth, God’s universal truth is concretely present here and now – in historical time and space,” Cardinal Müller said. “Jesus Christ is not the representation of some supratemporal truth: He is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ in person.”

A priest leads eucharistic adoration Jan. 3 at the Fellowship of Catholic University Students’ annual Student Leadership Summit, held in Phoenix. (Courtesy FOCUS)

According to FOCUS, priests heard approximately 4,000 confessions during the five-day conference, with more than 1,800 of those heard in just two hours during a single night of eucharistic adoration.

One of FOCUS’s first missionaries, John Zimmer, told the students Dec. 31 that evangelization is like watching a good movie that we can’t wait to tell people about.

“Nobody is going to coach you on how to share a good movie with your friends. It comes naturally, and what we have in the Gospel message is far better than any movie,” said Zimmer.

Zimmer said evangelization is sharing life with people and coming into the messiness of their lives like Jesus did with the Apostles. We aren’t called to be “Jacuzzi Christians” who stay comfortable in our group of Christian friends. We’re called to get out of the Jacuzzi where it’s cold and uncomfortable.

“Every single one of you knows how to be a friend,” Zimmer said. “That’s what it takes to share the Gospel.”

Jonathan Reyes and Helen Alvare, Jan. 2 keynote speakers, noted that humans were created by God and not created by themselves, which runs contrary to some modern notions.

Reyes, who leads evangelization and faith formation for the Knights of Columbus, suggested prayer, study and God forming one’s mind. Among his reading recommendations were “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis, “Theology and Sanity” by Frank Sheed, and “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton.

Alvare, professor of law at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, also pointed toward prayer, emphasizing that holding a Catholic worldview and participating in the sacraments are critical elements of a Catholic life.

Her fast-paced talk prompted widespread laughter after she asked the audience to identify and remove three obstacles or distracting factors in their lives, and then that they would have only two left after they put their phones away.

Catholic News Service contributed to this story.

Email George Matysek at

Also see:

Missionaries share faith from Annapolis to Emmitsburg to Towson



George P. Matysek Jr.

George P. Matysek Jr.

George Matysek was named digital editor of the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 2017 following two decades at the Catholic Review, where he began as a writer and then served as senior correspondent, assistant managing editor and web editor.

In his current role, he manages and and is a host of the Catholic Baltimore radio program.

George has won more than 70 national and regional journalism and broadcasting awards from the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association, the Catholic Press Association, the Associated Church Press and National Right to Life. He has reported from Guyana, Guatemala, Italy, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

A native Baltimorean, George is a proud graduate of Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School in Essex. He holds a bachelor's degree from Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore and a master's degree from UMBC.

George, his wife and five children live in Rodgers Forge, where they are parishioners of St. Pius X, Rodgers Forge/St. Mary of the Assumption, Govans.