October 1, 2021 | Local News

Madeline Rafferty, who grew up at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Owensboro, is a third-year missionary with FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). COURTESY OF MADELINE RAFFERTY

‘The Lord made me for this and it is a joy’ says Owensboro-native FOCUS missionary


Looking back, Madeline Rafferty’s path to her ministry today just makes sense.

As a resident assistant in college, Rafferty witnessed countless ways that the world broke its false promises to the many young women she encountered.

“I saw the ways their hearts were broken and longing to be known and loved,” said Rafferty, who today serves as a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Rafferty’s own heart had already been “set on fire” when she encountered Jesus in Adoration during the summer after her freshman year of college, while working at Gasper River Catholic Youth Camp and Retreat Center in Bowling Green.

After that experience, she developed a longing “to let people know that there is Someone who loves them more than they can ever imagine,” said Rafferty in a Sept. 2, 2021 interview with The Western Kentucky Catholic.

Rafferty attended SEEK (FOCUS’s national conference) in the December of her sophomore year. She met a FOCUS missionary there, and was struck by how she was truly seen and heard by the fellow young woman.

Then, during her junior year, FOCUS missionaries came to establish a mission at Rafferty’s own college, University of Western Kentucky in Bowling Green. Through FOCUS, Rafferty was equipped to start leading Bible studies and small groups for her peers.

A member of Kappa Delta Sorority, Rafferty even began leading a Bible study for her sorority sisters, adding that she appreciated the opportunity for “mentoring and discipling Greek women as well.”

Through grace and the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Rafferty recognized that she was called to serve as a FOCUS missionary after graduation. She began her ministry as a FOCUS missionary at University of Illinois in 2019; this is her third year of mission at that university.

With a 52,000-person student body at University of Illinois, she said a challenge is definitely getting to know the campus culture and demographics of students’ different areas of origin, and acknowledged the “very rigorous” academics at the school.

“It takes time” to acclimate to the campus, she explained, adding that the FOCUS missionaries have learned to accept the “objective limitations we have as human beings; accepting and trusting the time it takes to get to know the people there.”

Ultimately, “the hope is that all are reached,” she said.

Rafferty said one of the greatest blessings of her ministry is “to sit side by side with someone when their heart is opened to be transformed by the Lord.”

“Sin is not the end of the story,” she said. “The brokenness is not the end of the story.”

Rafferty also participates in FOCUS Greek, which is an intentional outreach within FOCUS to members of fraternities and sororities in Greek systems.

“Many Greek students hold a high level of involvement on campus and have a unique influence and zeal to lead people to Christ and his Church both on campus and in the world after graduating,” she said. “FOCUS Greek missionaries have a great desire for men and women in Greek life to see that life with Christ is a full life.”

Rafferty said Catholic ministry to college and university students is crucial, since “80% of former Catholics leave by the age of 23.”

“A lot of times people grow up as Catholics, and then at 18, when they move away for the first time and for 4-5 years, there is a lot on the table that is both good and bad,” she said. “There is a newfound freedom of voice and a newfound freedom to believe what we choose.”

But as the years go by, the college campus “can become a place of confusion,” said Rafferty.

“Christ has an eternity of love and joy and hope to offer,” she said. “How will they know that if people aren’t there to genuinely get to know them and their life, and show what God is calling them to?”

Rafferty, who grew up at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Owensboro and attended Owensboro Catholic School System from kindergarten through 12th grade, said this “life on mission for Jesus is a good life.”

Right now she and her FOCUS team members are walking with about 15 students who will hopefully begin leading small groups of their own.

“The biggest conversion of my heart is that the Lord made me for this and it is a joy,” said Rafferty.

How to help

To find out more about Madeline Rafferty’s mission and how you can assist, visit www.focus.org/missionaries/madeline-rafferty.

Originally printed in the October 2021 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.


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