What moves you? Thousands to attend FOCUS’ SEEK2017 conference

It began as a gathering of 25 college students in 1999. In just 18 years, it has evolved into one of the largest Catholic conferences in the country, asking students, “What moves you?” and inviting them to encounter Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church in a way unlike any other event.

SEEK2017, a national conference run by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), provides an opportunity for daily Mass, several keynotes and breakout sessions, confession and adoration. 2017’s event takes place Jan. 3-7 in San Antonio, Texas, and more than 12,500 students are expected to attend.

SEEK, which runs every other year and generates a long lineup of talented Catholic speakers and entertainment, had almost 10,000 attendees from nearly 450 campuses at SEEK2015, and was largely successful — both as an event, and more importantly, on an individual level.

“At SEEK2015, a student told a priest during his confession that he was going to commit suicide. Because of the experience, his life was saved,” said Christine Sarnow, senior director of events for FOCUS, via email.

“Others have stopped living with their boyfriend or girlfriend, have confronted eating disorders and drug addictions, and have accepted an invitation to be FOCUS missionaries, enter convents and seminaries.”

Over 200 priests heard more than 5,500 confessions at SEEK2015. (Photo provided by FOCUS)

Over 200 priests heard more than 5,500 confessions at SEEK2015. (Photo provided by FOCUS)

One Colorado college student, Sara Sawyer, who went to the 2015 event, went back to her campus at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she began leading a Bible study. This year, she’s returning to SEEK again — this time, with another student, who has decided to join the Church after being in Sawyer’s Bible study.

“[SEEK2015] was pretty mind-blowing. It was awesome to see so many Catholics together…that were very devoted,” Sawyer, 22, said. “The speakers were phenomenal…and adoration was awesome.”

Sawyer, a fifth-year senior in ROTC, found that after SEEK, she “found her family” in the Catholic Church and was the beginning of her growth in the faith.

“I’m really hoping [my friend] gets a ton out of it. I want to walk with her on this experience, and I’m just desiring the most for other people on this experience as well,” Sawyer said.

CU Boulder is expected to bring around 100 students to the event, according to Sawyer. Colorado State University (CSU) is expected to bring in around 200, according to Nathan Quintana, senior.

Quintana went to FOCUS’ Student Leadership Summit (SLS) earlier this year in January, a smaller conference specifically for those who lead Bible studies for other students, and runs on SEEK’s off years.

After SLS inspired him with seeing how many other college students were passionate about growing in their faith and sharing it with others, Quintana, 22, decided he wanted to go to SEEK2017 as soon as it was announced.

“I knew it’d be a great opportunity to deepen my faith even more,” Quintana said. “It’ll be great to have five days to get away and set aside time for prayer…to see many great speakers, increase my knowledge about the faith, and getting to pray with 12,000 other college students.”

Students listen to a talk at a breakout session at SEEK2015. (Photo provided by FOCUS)

Students listen to a talk at a breakout session at SEEK2015. (Photo provided by FOCUS)

Students going to SEEK are all in different places in their faith journey, according to Sarnow.

“The students who come are all seeking something deep in their hearts, whether they know it consciously or not. That something is actually Someone — the true presence of our Lord Jesus,” Sarnow said.

“SEEK is an opportunity for students to encounter Him, and a catalyst for them to leave on fire to engage their Catholic faith in a deeper way. Our missionaries on campus are waiting to share their lives with the students as they return from SEEK, to be their guideposts on the journey.”

This year’s event packs a lineup of speakers including Fr. Michael Schmitz, Mark Hart, Curtis Martin, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Ryan Anderson, Audrey Assad, Jeff Cavins, Leah Darrow, Crystalina and Jason Evert, Matt Fradd, Jackie Francois, Jennifer Fulwiler, Dr. Tim Gray, Dr. Scott Hahn, Patrick Lencioni, Dr. Jonathan Reyes, Sarah Swafford and Dr. Edward Sri. Special guests and entertainment include Lou Holtz, former Notre Dame coach; The Oh Hellos, a folk rock band; and comedian Michael Jr.

For more information on SEEK2017, visit www.seek2017.com, or for more information on FOCUS and their ministry, visit www.focus.org.

COMING UP: A beautiful origin: FOCUS initiative seeks to evangelize through beauty

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A new initiative within the Fellowship of Catholic University Students is bringing beauty to the forefront of evangelization.

Dubbed simply as “A Beauty Initiative within FOCUS,” this initiative seeks to encourage the collective talents of FOCUS missionaries, especially those who are artists, and utilize them as a means of evangelization. Serving as the starting point for the initiative is Origin, an album of beautiful worship music performed by the FOCUS worship team.

The idea for Origin and the beauty initiative as a whole was planted at last year’s SEEK conference in Nashville. Shaun Garrison and Leah Sedlacek are among a group of musicians that lead worship for the conference each year, but they said last year in particular was especially powerful. They were a part of a great line up of musicians, not only in terms of musical ability, but also in prayerfulness and in the ability to trust and rely on one another. 

The FOCUS worship team released an album of worship music called Origin at the beginning of the year. The project is a piece of a greater beauty initiative within FOCUS that seeks to encourage artists to find ways to awaken their gifts within the context of the Catholic Church, as well as use beauty as a method of evangelization. (Photo provided)

The FOCUS worship team released an album of worship music called Origin at the beginning of the year. The project is a piece of a greater beauty initiative within FOCUS that seeks to encourage artists to find ways to awaken their gifts within the context of the Catholic Church, as well as use beauty as a method of evangelization. (Photo provided)

Sedlacek recalled taking out her in-ear monitors during their performance of “Be Thou My Vision” and being taken aback by the unity of worshipping voices. It was so beautiful, she said, that she was moved to tears.

“I just started crying. It was so beautiful, this intimacy of singing to Our Lord together,” she said. “I think there I felt the power of the Holy Spirit bonding the band together that was then helping people to be bonded together as the body of Christ to worship.”

“The Holy Spirit was just moving through the music in a way that none of us had experienced,” Garrison said. “All of us were amazed in that moment to be a part of it, but also saddened to think that the reality is we’re only together for seven days a year.”

Garrison and Sedlacek felt as though the Lord was stirring something in them to do more. They drafted a proposal for the beauty initiative, the first step of which was organizing a retreat with the FOCUS worship team and creating an album of music.

Garrison and Sedlacek, along with the rest of the worship team and a few kindhearted volunteers, retreated to a cabin in Buena Vista for five days and held the recording sessions for what would become Origin. The album consists of reinterpretations of old hymns, some modern worship songs as well as a couple of original songs written by some of the musicians involved.

Beauty is something that washes over a person and creeps into the cracks that need God’s presence. It’s a very soft way of evangelization, which then brings [people] to a point where they can open their heart and hear the truth.”

The late-night recording sessions and intense creative output made for an exhausting experience, they said, but one that was unforgettable. All of the musicians felt as though it was a dream come true, being holed up in a cabin for five days and creating music together, and the higher purpose of the project motivated and led them to create something special.

“It was for the Lord, it was for something greater, and I think that was an intangible thing that was present,” Sedlacek said.

Garrison and Sedlacek explained that the ultimate goal for Origin and everything else that falls within this beauty initiative in the future is two-fold: to reach people using beauty as a means of evangelization, and also to encourage other artists to awaken their unique gifts and talents and discover how they fit within the context of the Catholic Church.

“Evangelization is not a method; it’s not something you do. It’s who you are,” Garrison said. “Every single person has a unique calling. The main goal of any of this is not music, it’s to become saints. Music just happens to be the language with which we’re speaking of God’s goodness.”

Though it began with an album of worship music, the beauty initiative within FOCUS is not limited solely to musicians; it’s for any person who seeks to reach people and change hearts by means of beautiful things.

“You can’t help but be moved by beautiful things. They can make you pause and bring you into those deeper questions,” Sedlacek said. “Beauty is something that washes over a person and creeps into the cracks that need God’s presence. It’s a very soft way of evangelization, which then brings [people] to a point where they can open their heart and hear the truth.”

Origin is available for purchase digitally on iTunesAmazon or Bandcamp, or on CD at shopfocus.org

Origin musician line-up: Shaun Garrison - guitar, vocals Jessy Kaufman - vocals, bgv Leah Sedlacek - violin, bgv JohnMarc Skoch - guitar, vocals, bgv Sonny Fortunato - keyboard Kenny Kohlhaas - guitar, vocals Sarah Kroger - vocals, bgv James Rosenbloom - cello, banjo, mandolin Edwin Trahan - bass guitar Tom Veitch - drums, percussion Produced and engineered by Shawn Williams

Origin musician line-up:
Shaun Garrison – guitar, vocals
Jessy Kaufman – vocals, bgv
Leah Sedlacek – violin, bgv
JohnMarc Skoch – guitar, vocals, bgv
Sonny Fortunato – keyboard
Kenny Kohlhaas – guitar, vocals
Sarah Kroger – vocals, bgv
James Rosenbloom – cello, banjo, mandolin
Edwin Trahan – bass guitar
Tom Veitch – drums, percussion
Produced and engineered by Shawn Williams

FOCUS Origin

Watch a video about how Origin came to be: http://focus.org/origin

To learn more about the mission of FOCUS, visit http://focus.org