By Isaac Doucette
I was privileged to accompany more than 40 students from the University of Iowa Newman Catholic Student Center to SEEK, a conference held Jan. 3-7 in Indianapolis and sponsored by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, or FOCUS.
FOCUS is in its first year at the University of Iowa. The SEEK conference provided an opportunity for college students from across the U.S. to gather in prayer and fellowship and to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. I attended SEEK to support the students, to better understand what is important to them in their life, and to meet some new brother seminarians from across the country. There were great meetings and speakers, but the top takeaways do not always come from the speakers. The Holy Spirit works in these events to give some amazing graces if you are aware of them.
One such grace happened after one of the sessions. I was walking back to my room when I heard my name being called. I looked around but was surrounded by a sea of people. After a few seconds of searching, I spotted my friend running over to talk with me. I had a strong prompting last summer to ask whether she had ever considered a religious vocation. She said at the time that she was strongly considering one, but was unable to say more than that. At SEEK, she had a huge smile and exciting news. She is currently doing a service year before joining the Franciscans. Her news was a tremendous grace and brought a lot of joy. We do not always see the fruit or impact of our actions. When we do, it is truly a grace from the Holy Spirit.
My classmates who attended a FOCUS conference last year told me how impressed they were with the Masses. That still did not prepare me for the magnitude of my experience. Imagine going to Mass with 17,000 college students, 400 priests, 250 seminarians and one archbishop. Just one archbishop, though. With the U.S. bishops on retreat in Mundelein, Ill., Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver was able to “retreat” from the retreat to celebrate Mass one day at SEEK. The number of people, the energy and hope were inspiring. It fostered a strong sense of community. I’m excited to see how the Holy Spirit will continue to foster a bigger sense of community on the Iowa campus.
Throughout SEEK I got to listen to and be with a variety of people, most especially the students from the Newman Center. It was heartwarming as an alumnus and a seminarian to see the great impact FOCUS is having on campus. It is helping the students at the University of Iowa grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. This is combined with the excellent spiritual guidance and love that Father Jeff Belger, Father Steve Witt and the entire staff provide to the Newman Center students. As the priest director of the Newman Center, Fr. Belger has a unique personality that perfectly fits college students.
All of this leads to a bright and vibrant future for the church, in my mind. It was a great privilege to see the Holy Spirit moving at SEEK and to catch a glimpse of it moving among the students of the Newman Center.
(Isaac Doucette is a seminarian for the Diocese of Davenport studying at University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, in Mundelein, Ill.)