‘A retreat, but on steriods’
Parker Schlenker was a self-described agnostic, but when Andrew Noah, a FOCUS missionary, asked him to attend the SEEK conference in 2019, Schlenker said yes. “I didn’t know it was a Catholic conference until I got the letters,” he said. “I didn’t believe in God or anything.”
SEEK a yearly Catholic conference put on by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.
According to FOCUS missionary Andrew Noah, “the idea of SEEK is to allow college students and adults to be able to gather in one place and come together to celebrate faith,” he explained. “It allows us to be able to grow in faith together, in community, and to celebrate the sacraments. There are opportunities to learn not only what the Catholic Church teaches, but why it teaches, which I think, especially for young people, is something that they’ve never experienced before.”
“It’s a retreat, but on steroids,” added Sammy Galuppo, a FOCUS missionary serving at Black Hills State University, Spearfish. “It’s 15,000 other college students that all seemed super cool and normal together and worshiping the Lord.”
For Schlenker, the conference introduced him to what a relationship with God He attended a breakout session about finding the faith while being an atheist. “The speaker said when she met her husband and he said he believed in God — she was shocked because she thought he was a smart person. Then one night there were a lot of things happening and she was crying and praying. What she had asked for she received, and it kept happening. I thought, ‘well that’s cool.’ She had her moment. Maybe I need to open myself up to having a moment?”
It was a men’s session where he learned what it was to open his heart to God. “It was a room full of dudes and the presenter was talking about how we have feelings too. As men, we’re always told to keep things in. At the end of the talk, a priest came out to pray over us. All the guys had their arms around each other, and we were praying for each other and there were just people crying everywhere, he explained. “The guy next to me, a jock guy, seemed like a tough dude, and he’s just bawling. During that moment I kind of felt a warmth to my heart and I was like, Lord, was that you?”
At adoration the group was able to sit in front. Schlenker remembers asking Noah what was happening because it was the first time he had ever experienced it. “I think they said, ‘that’s Jesus,’ or something and I just saw people crying and like looking at this piece of bread, but I just started praying for everybody in my family. It only felt like 10 minutes even though it was like an hour or so and when it was over, I was like, ‘whoa.’ That was my conversion.”
“I’m looking forward to going back to the conference in person,” said Galuppo. “I want to be able to walk with the women who are now in the place that I was as a freshman and see the transformation that happens in their hearts in the five days of the conference.”
Once the students arrive back on campus, “is one of things I love most about being a missionary — accompanying the students,” said Noah. “It was really weird because like when I came back, I was just sharing my story with people, and I did not understand why everyone was freaking out. It’s just my life but like looking back, my story brings people to the Lord. I mean, that’s cool.”
“It’s the power of testimony,” added. Noah. “You can argue apologetics with people all day long but there’s something about you, sharing your specific story, that you can’t refute.”
It was the support that kept Schlenker involved until he was welcomed into the church on May 3, 2020.
The conference is also open to adults looking to bring back enthusiasm for the faith to the parish. “There is a student track and a life-long mission track,” explained Noah. “We get several thousand adults that come to the conference every year. The talks are more focused on bringing back the conference to the parish level. Everyone in the diocese is welcome to come and to attend. I encourage everybody to go. This isn’t just for and just for students.”
The next conference is January 2-6, 2023, in St. Louis, Mo. Visit seek.focus.org to learn more about this year’s conference or to register.