In early 1999, 20 students from Benedictine College in Atchinson, Kansas, gathered to learn about scripture, God, holiness, and how to witness the Gospel to others on their campus and eventually on other campuses. The guy organizing this was named Curtis Martin. He had a vision of what Catholic campus ministry on college campuses could look like. He shared it with the 20 students on a cold weekend away from campus. His vision took hold. Those first 20 students worked on campus, and then one campus became two. Over the next few years, they would add more campuses to their network. Eventually, a conference for 200 people was organized. They called it SEEK. The fledgling organization was starting to find its footing, and it gained a huge boost when Martin received a personal word of encouragement from Pope John Paul II for his new movement to “Be Soldiers”.
Since that time, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students has become one of the biggest Catholic organizations in the country. They now serve on over 100 college campuses including Maine, MIT, George Mason, USC, Alabama, Clemson, Wisconsin, and even two universities in Austria. They serve thousands of college students with Bible Studies, friendship, mentorship, authentic faith, and challenges to learn more about Jesus. In 2011, they came to Boston University, and in 2012, I started my collegiate career on Commonwealth Avenue. I worked with the missionaries who came to Boston, and had many adventures with them. I still room with a former missionary who’s one of my best friends, and I’m blessed to have had that experience. FOCUS is one of the biggest reasons I made it through many difficult times in college, and a part of why the BU Catholic Center was easily the best part of my BU experience. So many of my friends will sing similar songs. FOCUS helped showed us how to live honorable, Catholic lives in college and beyond through all their programming.
Among their most memorable bits of programming were newer iterations of that conference they ran. SEEK continued to expand as FOCUS expanded. The conference went from 200 to a few thousand over the following meetings. I first went to SEEK in 2013, when it was held in Orlando. Six thousand Catholic college students came from across the country. We heard talks about how to be a Catholic man, how free market economics can benefit Catholicism, how to read scripture in a prayerful way, and so many other marvelous topics. We went to Disney World to unwind, and we found ourselves praying in ways we never knew existed. Mostly, we were inspired by the faith of the thousands of college students around us. It’s hard to not be impressed when 3,000 college men are yelling their approval at a question about Disney princesses. Its even harder to not be amazed when these same people are singing their lungs out in adoration.
SEEK2013 came at the perfect time for me. I needed a lift to get through my freshman year and I needed to learn how to honor God with my work. I got a needed boost, and I maintain fond memories toward the people I met and got close to that week.
When I got on the flight from Orlando to Hartford on January 7th, 2013, I knew I wanted to go to another one of these major FOCUS conferences. I had an opportunity to go to SEEK2015 in Nashville, but decided not to go. I also could’ve gone to the Student Leadership Summits in 2014 or 2016, but again, decided against it. When I graduated from BU in May, I thought I wouldn’t be involved with any BUCC activities. Except I was and still am. I live in Boston and want to stay in a consistent Catholic community. I still have friends at BU, so I stayed around. I’m an active part of the Graduate and Young Professional Group at BU and I still hang out with the undergrads. When promotion started for SEEK2017, I couldn’t pass it up. I worked out the details, and made my way to San Antonio exactly four years to the day after I went to Orlando.
When I got there, I realized I was in for a similar experience to Orlando, but SO MUCH BIGGER. This time, 13 thousand college students made their way to Texas. When I walked into the main convention hall for Mass, I saw flags for every school flying, music blasting, and a great party raging. Every large scale gathering except for the morning Masses were like that. It was a huge Catholic party that raged on for 5 days, with plenty of fun moments, like a battle of the sexes game that made a celebrity out of a Texan named Reese, break dancing priests, and nuns with the most ridiculous stories.
The talks were also better. I heard people speak on Theology of the Body, How to save your Marriage before meeting your spouse, the main difference between Islam and Christianity, and how to respond to the 2016 election. There were so many more talks that I wanted to check out and couldn’t. There was always something to do, be it a talk, adoration, or just hanging out with people I hadn’t seen in a while. The talks were a highlight, because there are so few times when so many intelligent people are gathered to discuss the array of topics that were looked at. The ultimate highlight, however, was the encounter we all had with Jesus Himself.
When I went to Orlando, I was doing some soul searching. I had a rough year and I found solace in my God and friends who were with me there. But I was still unsettled. I wasn’t sure where I was going or what to expect from school or life in general when I got home. This time, I wasn’t in college. I didn’t have the same concerns, fears, or doubts. I was, in many ways, a completely different man. I was more relaxed, more willing to talk about my concerns and doubts, and more open in prayer. I walked with thousands of my brothers and sisters in Christ to confession, and had the most complete confession I’ve ever had. I walked out of the confessional wing of the hall and felt the grace poured out on both me and everyone else receiving the sacrament of Confession. I went to kneel in adoration as a Eucharistic procession began. I prayed my penance and smiled wide. I’ve never felt as clean or as free as I did at that moment. I got up and walked in the procession, singing, and praising God with all I had. We all were.
When you are surrounded by grace, there’s nothing you can do but praise God with those feeling the same grace you are. When there’s 13K people surrounded by and filled with the greatest of God’s graces, love and praise of Jesus in the Eucharist, there’s no words to describe the elation. Nothing I write would do it justice. You have to experience it for yourself to understand what’s going on there.
It didn’t last, but it was never supposed to. When SEEK came to a close, I hopped on a plane back to the northeast, exactly four years to the day after Orlando. I found myself thankful, at peace, and excited for the future. I have a network of friends that I can see and call on when I need to. I had similar feelings after Orlando, but lacked the certainty and confidence in myself, my talents, and my connection to God that I have now. I rested easily, knowing that God is working through FOCUS and is reaching thousands of college students. I reflected on my time at BU, and smiled about all the people I met and got close with in my first SEEK. The smile got bigger when I thought of all the stories that helped lead to. I was happy that I could provide a little veteran presence to the BU delegation that I benefited from in 2013. I was even happier to walk into an uncertain situation called my life with peace of mind.
I’m finishing up school and looking for more permenant work soon. I don’t have a set schedule or clear direction for what exactly I’m doing. I merely trust that God will guide me to where I am to go. After my week in San Antonio of praying with thousands of brave young men and women, learning about the practicals of living the faith, and being reconciled with the mistakes of my youth, how could I be anything but excited for what’s next?
So thank you to those 20 students from Atchison, Kansas, for saying yes to Curtis Martin’s idea all those years ago. It has made a massive difference for this proud son of New England and thousands of college students from all over this country. I pray we carry the lessons forward, and that those who come after us see the life in Jesus and all it’s graces. If that happens, then SEEK2019 will approach 20K attendees. The Kingdom of Heaven is growing here on earth. I’m happy to have seen it in action in San Antonio this past week.