SEEK and You Will Find Faith-Filled Catholic College Students

Posted: 1/12/2013

Pat McEntee, Glenmary associate vocation directorBy Pat McEntee,
Associate Vocation Director

In 2009, I was scouring the Internet searching for good venues to meet young Catholics who might at least be considering religious vocations. I thought I had struck gold when I found a Web site touting the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) conference to be held in Orlando, Fla.—a gathering of college students from various campuses around the country.

I attended this 2010 conference and was astounded by the incredible energy among the roughly 4,000 students, all related to the faith they shared. Then in 2011, Glenmary took part in each of the regional conferences held in Minneapolis, Denver, Baltimore and Nashville. This year, the national conference returned to Orlando, with over 6,000 students attending. That's a 50 percent increase in just three years. What's more, the number of campuses represented at FOCUS jumped from about 50 in 2010 to 74 in 2013. Considering this group was founded in 1998, it seems on track to become a full-fledged movement. Perhaps it already is.

It's hard to imagine that a conference with so many college-age students, who likely grew up watching Disney movies, could be held in the midst of Walt Disney World in Orlando without many attendees skipping out on some sessions to visit the parks. However, it did not seem that many did so. Between sessions, the hallways—where exhibitors had booths—were packed. During sessions, there was virtually no one to be seen in those halls.

The daily morning Masses were concelebrated by dozens of priests and attended by thousands of students. Each day, at the end of Mass, the Eucharist was processed through the exhibit area to a tabernacle. All talking ceased and people showed their reverence for the Blessed Sacrament by kneeling in silence as it passed by. Throughout the day, many of those same priests made themselves available to students for reconciliation. At times, the line of people waiting to receive this sacrament was as long as a football field.

Glenmary vocation director Brother David Henley and I attended to share the message of the home missions and the need for more men to serve in them as priests and brothers. We were joined by Julian Smith, a Glenmary Farm manager. Because of the age group, many students with whom we have visited at FOCUS conferences have shown great interest in participating in the Glenmary Farm experience as either short-term or long-term volunteers. For this reason, Julian was asked to come along to talk with people about his experiences working at the Farm as a volunteer.

On the first full day of the conference, we met a man who not only was interested in finding out more about Glenmary but was already set to become the next Glenmary Farm manager. In January, he will pack his belongings and head to Lewis County, Ky., to spend a year leading volunteer groups at the Farm.

As luck would have it, we met other people who already have connections to Glenmary. One young man we encountered is a member of Holy Family mission in Lafayette, Tenn. His college is not a FOCUS school, but he attended with a few friends from another school. Finally, we met with a student from the University of Kentucky who has been in discernment with Glenmary about a possible priesthood vocation for about three or four years.

Throughout the weekend, Brother David and I were "tweeting" our experiences with the hashtag #seek2013. It was clear many others were using that hashtag. I am not sure if it ever got to the point of trending, but many attendees were giving their personal witnesses to the experience of Christ at the conference. Even now, many days after the meeting ended, people are still posting their memories.

According to the latest statistics on the FOCUS Web site, 336 religious vocations have been fostered by the group in its 15 years of existence. That is certainly good news for those of us seeking to find people who are called to serve with Glenmary. Hopefully, we met some individuals who will be part of the next wave of religious vocations.

If you saw us at a FOCUS conference—or if you didn't—and would like more information about Glenmary vocations, please contact us soon at 513-881-7410. Plans are underway for future Come & See retreats and a Come & See Mission Tour this month.