Sam Dusek chose Concordia for the pre-med program. Now a junior majoring in biology, she actually never applied anywhere but Concordia. And as she was cruising along, passing organic chemistry and making incisions on cadavers, Dusek knew this was her school.

Except something was missing, and it had nothing to do with medicine.

During her freshman year, Dusek happily participated in the student-led worship service Sunday Night @ East. She became involved with Campus Crusade for Christ and led a women’s Bible study with her roommate, Abby Sauer. The gap, she realized, was that none of this led Dusek to a group of friends with whom she shared her Catholic faith.

So when she was approached last April to take on a new project, she quickly seized the chance. Hired by St. Joseph’s Catholic Parish of Moorhead, Dusek is now in her second semester as a peer minister for the new Moorhead Catholic Campus Ministries.

“It’s nice,” she said. “I was really excited to be involved in something Catholic.”

Dusek works with three other students from Minnesota State University-Moorhead and Concordia to plan events for college students. They aim to help students grow in Catholic knowledge and fellowship. One of these events included a trip to St. Paul earlier this month for the regional Fellowship of Catholic University Students conference.

Thirty-seven students from Moorhead area campuses traveled to the event on Jan. 7-9, accompanied by the Rev. Todd Arends of St. Joseph’s in Moorhead. It was Arends who had asked Dusek last spring if she would be willing to serve as a peer minister. When he and the ministry team began to invite students to the conference, they were expecting a small group to express interest.

“When we started, I thought maybe we’d grow to a group of, I don’t know, 20?” Dusek said.

The turnout was nearly double what she’d thought. Arends was also surprised with the enthusiasm of the college students, but speculates that it was due mainly to word of mouth and the invitations from the peer ministers that the number grew to 37. Nine of those students were Cobbers, and the group joined more than 900 students present at the conference.

“I was hoping we would consider it successful if we got 10, maybe 12 students,” Arends said, chuckling.

Under the theme “Answer the Call,” the FOCUS conference aimed to help college students discern vocations and listen closely to God’s call in their lives. Filled with keynote speakers, breakout sessions, reconciliation and lively entertainment, the FOCUS conference offered something for everyone. On Friday evening, the audience listened to musical artist Audrey Assad perform. Her original piano and vocal pieces resonated throughout the ballroom as she shared stories of her own journey in faith and love.

Following an encore by the band, movie producer and screenplay giant Emilio Estevez (known for his role as the coach in “The Mighty Ducks”) arrived on stage to introduce a special pre-screening of his latest film, ‘The Way.’ The movie is a powerful narrative about a father who makes the Camino de Santiago, an 800 km pilgrimage through Spain, after his son’s life is lost in a hiking accident. As the final credits rolled, Estevez returned to the stage for a question and answer period. He provided insight about the challenges in making a film with a strong Catholic message in today’s Hollywood.

For some, the movie showing was the best part of the conference. David Kolar, a junior at MSUM said the film was humorous, but moving.

“I think he’s on the right path to bringing Catholicism to a positive light,” Kolar said.

Though the concert and movie created a late 1 a.m. bedtime, the MCCM group woke up Saturday ready for more. After a keynote and Mass before lunch, the conference participants chose between several afternoon breakout sessions. Topics ranged from Catholic media to Pope John Paul II’s famous “Theology of the Body,” and included panels for men and women about vocation discernment.

Though Concordia is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, 30 percent of the student body is Catholic, according to the Office of Admissions’ fall 2010 fact book. Due to this large contingent of Catholic Cobbers, Dusek has never felt shut out or ostracized because of her faith. Yet she realized at the conference that her position as a peer minister has fortified some things.

“It’s helped me find that zone where I can defend my own beliefs without offending others,” she said.

That “zone” has facilitated interesting conversations between Dusek and her group of friends at Concordia.

“They’re usually not heated in a serious way,” Dusek said, “but we can make jokes and talk about it.”

The conference also disproved something she’d been told before.

“People assume our generation only goes to church because their parents went to church,” she said. “But that group of students was at the conference because they had a passion.”

So what does MCCM plan to do about this group of passionate students? The spring agenda includes a trip to a Fargo Force hockey game and a new project called “Service Saturdays,” which will allow college students to spend two weekends each month volunteering at various community organizations. St. Joe’s parish has also added another Mass time specifically for college students on Monday at 10 p.m. All are welcome, according to Arends.

As for Dusek, she will continue to lead a Bible study this semester, but instead of holding it off-campus at St. Joe’s, her women’s group will meet each Thursday on-campus.

“It’s such a blessing to see all our work pay off,” Dusek said. “You know you’re touching people individually.”

After the intensive faith experience of the conference, Dusek noticed that MCCM felt re-energized, spiritually healed in a way.

“You just want to tell people about it,” she said. “You’re on fire and want to tell the world.”

Maybe it did have to do with a sort of medicine, after all.

Stephanie Barnhart

Steph Barnhart, 2013, is a multimedia journalism and public relations major at Concordia College. She has been a contributing writer, staff writer, and the news editor for The Concordian. Steph is an optimistic vegetarian who loves sustainability blogs, green tea, and talking. Follow her on Twitter at @stephbarnhart.

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