Four years ago, St. Isidore’s, the Catholic center off campus, integrated the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) missionary program. FOCUS allows graduates to live on a college campus and work to build students’ relationship with their faith and the church, as well as provide mission trips, retreats and other group programs. The program serves 171 campuses and employs 800 missionaries across the United States and Europe, and signs members for two and one year long contracts.
FOCUS missionary Jackson Fox’s life transformed after joining the program in 2019. Prior to becoming a K-State missionary, Fox graduated from the University of Mississippi with a degree in sports and recreation management.
During his time at Ole Miss, Fox knew he was missing something. He spent his time at parties, trying to build popularity, and for the first two years of college he did not attend mass. Fox was raised in the Catholic religion, and each time he visited his family back home he went to mass with them.
“When I came back, I recognized that I really wanted it [spirituality]” Fox said. “That I missed it and I needed it.”
He decided to change his behavior after meeting the Ole Miss missionaries, who showed him that their lives were joyful without parties or the “typical college” experience.
“I wanted to be a FOCUS missionary because throughout my time in college, I spent a lot of time trying to fill myself up,” Fox said. “Basically make myself happy with everything the world tells you is going to make you happy, like parties, living your typical Greek lifestyle, and being super popular and trying to fill myself up with all these worldly pleasures, and it just wasn’t making me happy.”
Because of the people he met through FOCUS missionaries, he realized he craved authenticity, and he became motivated to help others achieve it in their lives. Fox saw the FOCUS program as a great way to find the fulfillment he wanted.
Spiritual multiplication, divine intimacy and authentic friendships are the main purposes of the program. It also aims to help and encourage students to participate in chastity, sobriety and excellence.
The missionaries host events to bring students together, which have adapted to suit smaller group settings due to COVID-19. All K-State students and Manhattan community members can participate in formation groups like bible studies and men’s and women’s groups. “Prayer Walks” are held every Thursday on campus to meet strangers and encourage them to build their faith.
“Watching students grow and develop is probably my favorite part,” Fox said. “Seeing my own heart transform in this last year is a blessing; but to meet a student, walk with them, and see them take initiative with their own life and own heart and give it to Jesus is incredible.”
Being a FOCUS missionary has taught Fox to set boundaries for himself and understand his emotions better. By doing things he never did in college, like eating healthy food, exercising and getting enough sleep, Fox is better able to recognize what his body and mind are feeling.
In Fox’s second year as a FOCUS missionary, he started to notice a change in the attitude of his peers on campus because they were more excited to participate in religious activities.
Fox said many of the returners are like hot coals who give their energy to others to light them on fire and spread the message of Jesus Christ. Curtis Martin, founder of the FOCUS program emphasizes this analogy and its ability to spread faith.
“Curtis Martin talks a lot about the hot coal analogy and [members of St. Isidore’s] a hot coal going out to light others on fire about the Holy Spirit,” he said.
Stephanie Teffeteller, a fellow FOCUS missionary, enjoys the freedom of her schedule to meet with different individuals on a daily basis.
“There is a great, free joy I get to experience daily,” Teffeteller said. “For example, this week I went with a group of my grad students to the pumpkin patch. Two of the students are vet students, and taught us how to pet a goat. And then we just got to be childlike.”
Teffeteller graduated from the University of Texas and applied to be a FOCUS missionary because she wanted to teach women how their relationships and families should work before they establish themselves after college.
“Family is the first foundation of any human and affects someone for the rest of their life,” Teffeteller said.
As a nurse at a Catholic hospital, Teffeteller witnessed several fathers act indifferent toward their wives during labor, they ignored their wives and didn’t engage in the delivery process. Teffeteller knew as a missionary, she wanted to address this apathy she was unable to advocate for as a nurse.
One way Teffeteller tackles this issue is by teaching students to have intentional relationships. Teffeteller conducted a “Chopped” competition in her house with a few women from St. Isidore’s in order to exemplify this. She said this activity showed the students how to provide hospitality, engage in real conversation and create a space for others to join.
Each day, the missionaries have a few tasks they must complete. For the St. Isidore’s missionaries, these include an hour of prayer, a rosary and daily mass attendance. The missionaries also meet with chaplains at the Student Center for Involvement at K-State to share their vision for missionary work and formation.
The missionaries also participate in formation, which is the act of helping others build their relationship with Jesus Christ, learn to live it out and teach others to do so practically. Formation can take the form of bible study, group study and more.
The FOCUS missionaries fundraise their own salaries; many do so by asking individuals and families to sign up for monthly support teams. The fundraising takes place during the missionaries’ five-week training sessions in the summer, and is run by the missionaries themselves.
“We are open and eager for any type of support,” Teffeteller said. “Sometimes that’s prayers, which are non-negotiable, and sometimes it’s financial support as well.”
Although Teffeteller and other missionaries are incapable of knowing and personally serving each student on campus, by leading other students, their efforts are multiplied. Overall, Teffeteller directly and indirectly leads roughly 200 women on campus.
The priests at St. Isidore’s, Father Gale Hammerschmidt and Father Drew Hoffman, participate in formation meetings with the missionaries and other members of the church.
“The priests are light-hearted and fatherly, and have a ridiculous depth of wisdom…” Teffeteller said. “They’re awesome, they’re the best that I could ever want. They care with everything in them.”
The 2020-2021 school year is the final year of both Fox and Teffeteller’s two-year contract. Fox hopes to return to K-State as a FOCUS missionary for another year, while Teffeteller remains unsure if she will continue the program in the future.
“Being a missionary has changed my life, it has transformed the way I see other people, myself, and my faith,” Fox said. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do at this point in my life.”