In 2007, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) launched Varsity Catholic as a division of FOCUS to address the unique desires and challenges of student-athletes. Since then, thousands of student-athletes have participated in Varsity Catholic Bible studies, including more than 1,500 this past academic year.
For the 2019-2020 academic year, FOCUS has 197 trained Varsity Catholic missionaries serving on 146 campuses, who will return to campuses such as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the University of Texas at Austin and Louisiana State University and will serve student-athletes on new Varsity Catholic outreach campuses including the University of Pittsburgh, George Mason University and East Carolina University.
Varsity Catholic missionaries challenge and inspire student-athletes to grow their faith, integrating it with sport to become both better athletes and individuals. Most Varsity Catholic missionaries, including first-year missionary Annika Albrecht, are former student-athletes. Albrecht played volleyball at UN-Lincoln and then spent a year playing in France on the Nantes professional team before becoming a FOCUS missionary.
“Athletes are in a unique situation and struggle with challenging academic and training schedules,” said Albrecht, who will serve at the University of Southern California. “Varsity Catholic missionaries can relate to student-athletes since we have had similar challenges. The highs are really high, and the lows are really low. When I was a student-athlete, it was refreshing to go to Bible study after a difficult practice and be reminded that my sport was not my true identity. As a missionary this fall, I look forward to encouraging athletes to know their identity as a daughter or son of God.”
Varsity Catholic missionaries inspire students to develop virtuous characteristics and deepen their faith through campus events, Bible studies, mentoring and active participation in the sacraments. They also encourage student-athletes to evangelize and share the joy of the Gospel with peers through daily interactions and by hosting Bible studies with teammates. Megan Landry played softball at Nicholls State University and was recently nominated for the NCAA Women of the Year award. She started leading Bible studies with the team her sophomore year after becoming involved with Varsity Catholic on campus.
“Student-athletes are constantly being presented with a lie that their worth is determined by their performance on the field,” said Landry. “Their identity is so rooted in what they do rather than who they are; their sport becomes their everything. If we allow sports to become the be-all and end-all, then when the sport ends, we have no more meaning left in life. I’ve seen so many athletes live out of their identity as an athlete rather than a daughter of God, and it causes so much fear and anxiety.”
Landry, who graduated this year with a B.A. in secondary English education, added, “Varsity Catholic missionaries build authentic friendships with athletes and walk with them through their college years, reminding them that no matter their performance on the field, God the Father loves them and desires a relationship with them. A FOCUS missionary at Nicholls made a huge impact on my life, so I have made the decision to turn down numerous other job offers to serve as a FOCUS missionary because I want every student-athlete to be presented with the opportunity to encounter Jesus, who gives us the peace and joy our hearts long for. I desire for everyone to see the truth, beauty and goodness of God.”
In addition to building relationships with students on campus, Varsity Catholic also hosts mission camps to provide a unique opportunity to bring faith together with sports to serve impoverished youth around the globe and share the Gospel. More than 400 student-athletes have served on these camps, including 15 who attended the Trinidad and Tobago camp in May.
In Trinidad, participants worked with the local parish, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, to serve four primary and secondary schools by hosting sport camps and sharing their faith. They also helped those working with the parish ministry and spent time in prayer with the community. Lacrosse player Jacob Burns is a Varsity Catholic missionary who will graduate from Ball State University in December with a double major in business administration and professional selling.
“I deeply encountered Christ in the disabled school we served during the trip, especially in one young man who had the most contagious laugh and smile I have ever seen,” said Burns. “His joy was from Christ himself. The people of Trinidad and Tobago taught me how to love in a way I may never have experienced otherwise, and I am eternally grateful for that.”
Copyright 2019 Leslie Prevish for FOCUS
The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) was founded in 1998 and invites college students into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church, inspiring and equipping them for a lifetime of Christ-centered evangelization, discipleship and friendships in which they lead others to do the same. FOCUS has more than 730 missionaries in the field, serving 164 campuses and 8 parishes across the U.S. and Europe. Tens of thousands of students have been involved with FOCUS, who after graduation have the opportunity to move into parish life to continue their missionary work. Among these FOCUS alumni, 867 have made decisions to pursue Catholic religious vocations. By 2022, FOCUS expects — God willing — to have 75,000 students transitioned into many of America’s 17,000+ Catholic parishes. FOCUS missionaries are typically recent college graduates who devote two or more years of their post-collegiate lives to reach out to peers on campus. focus.org