Northern Arizona University alumna Jamie Quinlan has a favorite memory from last year’s FOCUS conference: among 17,000 Catholic students and parishioners from all over the country, thousands flooded to meet God’s mercy in Reconciliation. It took Quinlan’s breath away.

Quinlan is in her sixth year working for FOCUS — the Fellowship of Catholic University Students — and serves on the organization’s events team.

SLS 2020

Dec. 30, 2019-Jan. 3, 2020

Phoenix Convention Center, 100 N. Third St., Phoenix

Everyone is welcome to attend.

A three-day full access pass is available for $299. Those interested should visit the website, select “full day” options for days 2, 3 and 4 and use the code “PHXDEAL20.”


This year’s conference, Student Leadership Summit (SLS), will take place in Phoenix Dec 30.-Jan. 3. Don’t let the name fool you — the summit is for all Catholics, not just students. FOCUS conferences have never come this far west and Quinlan hopes Arizona Catholics will take part in this unique experience.

“This is an opportunity for everyone in the Diocese of Phoenix,” said Quinlan.

Fr. John Parks, the diocese’s Vicar for Evangelization who has attended two FOCUS conferences, referred to the opportunity as “an incredible gift to our diocese for people to receive this formation and then use it to transform their neighborhoods, families, ministries, parishes and schools.”

“[FOCUS] is doing some of the best if not the best work in evangelization and discipleship in the American Church,” he added.

SLS’s “Making Missionary Disciples” track teaches parishioners to be missionary disciples, something that Fr. Parks says everyone is called to do.

“FOCUS has a passion for raising up lay Catholics so they understand that they have this baptismal call to make disciples. FOCUS wants to equip them so they are able to do that,” said Fr. Parks. “You don’t need Bishop [Thomas J.] Olmsted to ask you, or for me to ask you, because Jesus asked you at your Baptism, and then you were empowered by Confirmation to do this very thing, to preach the Gospel and to make disciples.”

Prior to being the dean of students at Veritas Preparatory Academy in Phoenix, Justin Bell worked for FOCUS as a missionary at Hastings College, then as a member of the media relations team and finally as a mission trip leader to Ireland and Costa Rica.

Bell invites all parishioners to attend SLS and to not be intimidated by the five-day conference. He said he is eager to experience the “Making Missionary Disciples” track for the first time and encourages parishioners to consider attending part of the conference, even just for a day or night, to experience the excitement of the Church.

“Parishioners should go to see the Church, to become equipped with techniques with spreading the Gospel and to be inspired by the young people there,” Bell said. “Maybe you’ll return to your parish and be prompted to start a fellowship group, or you’ll be prompted to come together before Mass to look at the readings or pray regularly as a small group. See where the Holy Spirit will lead.”

A young person prays in this Jan. 5, 2019 file photo during FOCUS SEEK2019 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. Phoenix will host FOCUS’ Student Leadership Summit 2020 Dec. 30, 2019-Jan. 3, 2020. (CNS, courtesy Fellowship of Catholic University Students)

The 2013 FOCUS conference changed Marcus Vargas’ life and it’s where he realized that Christ wanted a relationship with him. The NAU alumnus is in his sixth year with FOCUS and works on their mission field staff.

At SLS, Vargas hopes to witness a zealous community come out of the conference with help from the Holy Spirit.

“SLS is an opportunity to take the next step in faith [and] expand our hearts to love and care for others but also to be cared for and loved by Christ, enabling Him to work through us,” said Vargas.

Peter Foley graduated from the University of Mary in 2016 and has been a FOCUS missionary since then. He serves the University of Mary’s digital campus located at ASU with his wife and 9-month-old daughter.

“The diocese is growing like crazy and what comes with that is responsibility to look out for the spiritual wellbeing of everyone in this diocese,” Foley said. “That’s going to take more than just our priests and bishop. It’s going to take everyone to provide each other with ways to encounter Christ and that fellowship that we all need in order to continue on our path to Heaven.”

Josh Fatzinger has been a missionary for six years and currently serves as the NAU FOCUS team director. He met his wife at FOCUS training four years ago, and they now have two children.

Fatzinger believes that a lot of good is coming out of the Diocese of Phoenix — especially with Bishop Olmsted’s two apostolic exhortations: “Into the Breach” and “Complete My Joy” — and is excited to see how the summit will add to the good already happening in the diocese.

There are ways for everyone to evangelize, Fatzinger added, saying he finds inspiration from St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Redemptoris Missio”: “No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”

“Evangelization is the priority of every Catholic,” said Fatzinger. “Everyone can do it.”