Young missionaries bring Good News to campus

Dominican Father Martin Martiny, chaplain of the University of Louisville Interfaith Center, was photographed outside the center with the new FOCUS missionaries, clockwise from lower left, Madison Ulmer, David Koch, Joe Hemmelgarn and Jessica Wade Sept. 15. UofL is one of 19 campuses on which FOCUS missionaries are serving for the first time this year. The foursome are carrying out their ministry through Bible studies, prayer groups and discipleship. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer

The University of Louisville has gained four new young men and women, but unlike their peers, their purpose on campus is not to seek a college education but to share the Good News of the Gospel.

Jessica Wade, Madison Ulmer, David Koch and Joe Hemmelgarn are missionaries with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students assigned to the UofL campus.

FOCUS is an apostolate with a mission to share the hope and joy of the Gospel with college and university students, according to the group’s website. FOCUS has 700 missionaries on 153 college campuses. UofL is one of 19 university campuses where missionaries are serving for the first time this year.

Wade, Ulmer, Koch and Hemmelgarn, who arrived on campus in late summer, are a part of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Catholic Campus Ministry team, said Dr. Brian B. Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the Archdiocese of Louisville.

Reynolds said that for many young people “peer mentoring is central to faith.” He said the FOCUS missionaries will use their “energy and personal skills” to do just that.

“They are about bringing the Good News of Scripture and faith,” said Reynolds. “The FOCUS program has a great reliance on Scripture study and prayer, which are the best ways to nurture faith by learning more about the Word of God and experiencing prayer opportunities with others.”

The young missionaries have already established themselves on campus.

Wade, who hails from Lafayette, Ind., and has a degree in human biology, is leader of the FOCUS team on campus.

She said during an interview Sept. 15 that the team’s mission is to “help students encounter the love of Jesus Christ and his church.”

This requires her and the other three missionaries to meet students “wherever they are spiritually and literally,” said Wade.

With this in mind, the four can be found spreading the Gospel while working out in the gym or hanging out at a coffee house on campus, she said. The idea is to develop a genuine friendship with others on campus where learning about Christ is central, she said.

The four said they’ve been well received on the UofL campus. Hemmelgarn, who is from Ohio and has a degree in sports business from Boston University in Muncie, Ind., said he noticed that “students are looking for something more.”

Koch, another of the young missionaries, is a native of South Dakota and in his second year of service as a FOCUS missionary. Koch said the group will concentrate on helping college students in three areas that seem to challenge many on college campuses — chastity, sobriety and excellence in studies and living a balanced life. Koch says he refers to those as “the big three.”

Establishing a relationship with Christ is the first step to being successful in these areas, said Koch. The hope for the students they encounter is “to make them life-long Catholics” who will lead others to Christ, said Koch.

Wade said the group plans to accomplish its mission primarily through Bible studies. That’s the first step, she said.

“When we see that people want more, we invite them to pray with us and to commit to the ‘big three’ and we invite them to reach out to others,” said Wade. The group has already set up several Bible study groups for men and women at UofL. Most take place in the evening to accommodate students’ schedules.

Besides Bible study, students on the UofL campus will have the opportunity to take part in retreats and mission trips, said Wade.

The fourth missionary, Ulmer, is from Houston, Texas, and a graduate of James Madison University in Virginia. This is her first year serving as a FOCUS missionary.

Students on campus also have the opportunity to take part in Masses in the chapel of the Interfaith Center Monday through Friday with Dominican Father Martin Martiny, who is the center’s chaplain.

The center also has a 5 p.m. Mass every Sunday followed by a dinner, opportunities for adoration and confession, said Father Martiny who will be working alongside the new missionaries.

To learn more about FOCUS, visit

Though the foursome will dedicate their time to their ministry on campus, Reynolds said he anticipates they “will be present in our community as part of our pastoral staff.”

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