Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

FOCUS missionaries to assist with EWU Newman Ministry

by Eric Williams, for the Inland Register

(From the September 17, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)

College – especially freshman year – is an exciting, bewildering time, chock full of opportunity and temptation. According to Father Paul Heric, director of the Catholic Newman Center at Eastern Washington University, Cheney, it’s also a time when 85 percent of all Catholic-raised students leave the faith.

To address that issue head-on, the Newman Center is being re-branded. Key to that re-branding FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

FOCUS describes itself as “a national outreach that meets college students where they are and invites them into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith.” According to its website, the group was started in 1998 at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., by Curtis Martin and his wife, Michaelann, who were inspired by Pope John Paul II’s call to a “new evangelization.”

But what is a brand, much less a re-branding? We hear the term all the time, in multiple contexts. Webster’s tells us a brand is a product name or a logo, or even an iron used to mark ownership of livestock. But in today’s world, advertisers, journalists and others have expanded and simultaneously muddled the meaning, trying to bend it to their liking.

For the Newman Center at EWU, the rebranding is less about a facelift or a new coat of paint than it is about reinvigorating the center and its outreach to students, according to Father Heric, who along with overseeing the Newman Center is pastor of Cheney’s St. Rose of Lima Parish.

While spiffing up the facilities and a new logo are certainly part of the effort, for Father Heric, the rebranding is centered on Christ’s question to James and John: “What are you looking for?”

All of us answer that question a little bit differently, and in our own way. But the enhanced work emanating out of the humble building just across Elm Street from the EWU campus will focus on posing that question to Eastern students, while providing them support and context to form their own answers. “It’s a renewal of Catholic identity and evangelization on the EWU campus,” Father Heric said. “Are we not passionately Catholic …? The answer is ‘Yes,’ and we are unleashing who we are as Catholics in a passionate way.”

For Brian Stai, one of the four FOCUS missionaries recently dedicated to EWU, it starts with the basics. Stai is a recent graduate of North Colorado University.

“We all get caught up in our phones, in our computers,” Stai said during a recent interview. “Many college students today are starved for personal relationships.” To reach today’s students, “We look to the gospel, which tells us how Jesus poured himself into the Apostles.”

Shortly after being elected, Pope Francis discussed people leaving the church. “Instead of being just a church that welcomes and receives by keeping the doors open, let us try also to be a church that finds new roads, that is able to step outside itself and go to those who do not attend Mass, to those who have quit or are indifferent,” he told interviewer Father Antonio Spadaro in 2013. “The ones who quit sometimes do it for reasons that, if properly understood and assessed, can lead to a return. But that takes audacity and courage.”

Using that as both inspiration and guide, Brian explained that many students genuinely want to move toward a more Christian-centered life, but the first steps can be challenging, especially on a college campus. So in many instances, rather than starting with inviting someone to come over to the Newman Center, Stai and his fellow missionaries will meet a student for coffee, go to a concert with them, or find other neutral turf to start the conversation.

FOCUS missionaries begin by working to understand and assess. “It’s about building relationships,” he said, adding that providing support is also critical.

Even before the August arrival of the four FOCUS missionaries, Father Heric says that he has seen an increase in activity at the EWU Newman Center. Central to that is Newman Night, held on Wednesdays. It starts with Mass at 5:30, followed by dinner prepared by and for students, and then a faith-centered discussion. While not everyone can attend all three events, he said 70 students participate in a typical Newman Night. All told, some 200 EWU students are ministered to via the Newman Center.

With the help of the FOCUS missionaries, the goal is to increase involvement substantially. Father Heric estimates that of Eastern’s 13,000 students, nearly 5,000, or more than a third, are Catholic. Approximately 2,500 of the Catholic students are Hispanic. That’s in part a result of former EWU President (and St. Rose parishioner) Rodolfo Arevalo’s emphasis on Eastern providing education to first-generation students – the first in their family to attend college.

The FOCUS representatives are already working hard as missionaries. For his part, Father Heric is also busy raising the necessary funds to cover the three-year financial commitment to having the FOCUS missionaries on the EWU campus – some $60,000.

These four recent college graduates are the foot soldiers, friends, advocates and supporters whose mission is to rebrand the EWU Newman Center. One definition of a “brand” is that it is simply your “promise.” Author and recognized branding guru Denise Lee Yohn takes it a step further and says “Your brand can’t just be a promise: it must be your promise delivered.”

For the students of the EWU Newman Center, that promise is grounded in Christ’s question of “What are you looking for?”

(To contribute to the support of the EWU Newman Ministry, contact Father Paul Heric at St. Rose of Lima Parish, 460 N. 5th, Cheney, WA 99004; call (509) 235-6229; or email To learn more about EWU’s Newman center, go to; for more information on FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, go to

Inland Register Index | Home

© The Catholic Diocese of Spokane. All Rights Reserved