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The Antelope

Making a ‘FOCUS’ on faith


Missionary Herder shares passion for faith, community, friendship at Newman Center

Ryan Boyd

Antelope Staff

At the beginning of his college career, Joe Herder, a 23-year-old social work major from Mound, Minnesota, lived the life of an average college student. His freshman year of college was spent at St. John’s University where things were fine, but he felt a change was felt to be necessary.

“I transferred to the University of Minnesota-Duluth my sophomore year. The intriguing part was that two of my best friends were going to school there, and I was excited to go to college with them,” Herder said.

While students that have met Herder this year at UNK know him for his love of religion, he didn’t really come into his own faith until going to UMD. “FOCUS helped me improve my faith life in college. A couple of months in to my sophomore year, my friend Jesse and I decided to go to mass and when the mass had ended we were getting up to leave.”

The next encounter changed his future. “During that time, there were FOCUS missionaries greeting at the back of the church, and they spoke to Jesse and I,” Herder said.

FOCUS stands for The Fellowship of Catholic University Students. After being told about FOCUS at mass, Herder agreed to have a one on one with a male missionary at UMD.

“I got lunch with Ben Berning, who was the missionary who had the biggest impact on me during my time at UMD. After that we just continued to spend more time hanging out, which in turn kept teaching me about FOCUS,” Herder said.

“As I teach it now, FOCUS is about desiring to know Christ Jesus for us missionaries and then making him known to others.”

Herder explained the three primary objectives of FOCUS:

First, divine intimacy: “We go to holy hours and daily masses to improve our ability of giving Christ’s love to others.”

Second is authentic friendship: “We seek to develop friendships and spread love to students at each campus.”

Third is spiritual multiplication: “We want not only to help students along in their faith, but to teach them about faith so that they may go and teach other students what they know.”

As he learned more about FOCUS, Herder was reaching a point in college where he was unsure about his next step in life. “After college, initially I was going to go into my social work major instead of doing anything with FOCUS. I had told this to my friend Ben, and he recommended that I go ahead and apply for a position as a FOCUS missionary.

“So out of respect for him I applied and then I prayed about it. While I waited during that interview weekend, I was surprised by the community aspect of the FOCUS missionaries. That was something I really wanted to be a part of because I desired to be formed in my faith life before going out into the real world, and as it turned out I landed the missionary job just a couple of weeks later,” Herder said.

The next step for Herder was to begin training in Florida before learning about which campus he would be assigned to. “The team of us five missionaries for UNK actually didn’t know each other before getting our envelopes and meeting in the same spot. We’re from different areas, but I think it really helps us show off as unique individuals. There is Brenda Zierke from Kearney, Monica Mackie from Plymouth, Michigan; Kevin Roerty from Fort Collins, Colorado; Megan Henle from Indianapolis, Indiana; and myself,” Herder said.

This is the first year that UNK is connected with FOCUS and large thanks for that connection is due to the pastor of UNK’s Newman Center, Father Neal Hock. “Ever since he became priest at UNK four years ago, Fr. Hock has wanted FOCUS at UNK, and it was able to finally happen this year.

FOCUS tries expanding to multiple campuses constantly, but it depends on the number of missionaries available and if that campus would be a good fit for FOCUS,” Herder said.

For the FOCUS team itself, UNK offers a great chance for prosperity for students and the missionaries alike. “This is a great opportunity for us to help teach this campus what FOCUS is all about since this is the first year that UNK has had FOCUS,” Herder said.

“It’s been a trial and error experience working with another guy missionary. Ultimately so far we’ve had a lot of graces while having challenges at the same time. For me it’s been about having a lot of trust in faith in God for everything that we’ve been doing.”

Herder and the other three FOCUS missionaries will be assisting the faith life of UNK students throughout the entire 2017-2018 academic year and will provide whatever they can offer.  Herder would really like to be able to offer such lasting advice that really stuck with him: “One of the holy missionaries at training in Florida said, ‘Before you do anything make sure to pray.’”

At the end of the day, that’s our faith life, being intimate with Christ in prayer. Have Christ be the No. 1 priority in your life,” Herder said.

To learn more, click on FOCUS at

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