Joel LaLiberty is married to Katie and the father of three: Maria, Edith, and Kolbe. He served as a FOCUS missionary for three years at Colorado State University. He currently works for the USDA and attends St. John Vianney Catholic parish in Belgrade, MT.
How did you get involved with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS)?
I first got involved with FOCUS at Montana State University. I had heard about FOCUS when I was a freshman, but I didn’t really get involved until my sophomore year when I heard about their Spring-break mission trip to Mexico. It was crazy how it worked out; I wasn’t planning on going, but my parents had come down for the weekend to visit and we went to Mass together. It just so happened that FOCUS did a parish talk about the mission and my mom said, “You should go on it.” I said, “Well, I hadn’t really thought about it.” She said she would pay for me to go, so I asked them, but they were filled up. Someone backed out at the last minute and I got the open spot. It was a week long mission trip to Mexico and they were a really good group of people to hang out with. I was really impressed so I got involved with a Bible study after I got back.
I stayed involved throughout college doing a Bible study. They also did a lot of activities on campus that I participated in like Frisbee and football. In my senior year I figured I wanted to be a FOCUS missionary so we went down to Fort Collins, Colorado for an interview weekend. They offered me a position, but I ended up turning it down to work instead for a year at a Department of Agriculture internship.
I did that for a year and then I applied for FOCUS again, and was again offered a position. This time I accepted it and I went to summer training. They sent me to Colorado State for my first year and I ended up serving all three years there.
What were some of the tools and habits that FOCUS helped build in your life that you were able to carry on into your career and your family?
I think that the most important thing that FOCUS did was put things in perspective. It helped me look at life through a Catholic worldview and center my life around God instead of myself. What that looks like practically is we did a holy hour, prayed the rosary, and went to Mass every day. Our first priority was making that happen, and then everything else would fall into place. We would schedule our Bible studies, our discipleship meetings, and everything else around the holy hour, rosary, and Mass.
It just really put things in perspective. What is the most important thing? Prayer, and giving your time back to God. That was probably the most important tool. We also had the opportunity to learn from really good spiritual directors and priests. For example, we learned how to pray; it wasn’t just sitting in the chapel for an hour, but actually making good use of that time.
How have you been able to keep up the inner life FOCUS helped develop in your current context of work and family?
It is definitely more difficult. The best thing about working with FOCUS is you have teammates who hold you accountable; you do the prayer, the rosary, and the Mass together, and it was very structured. Now it is more difficult since there are more variables and you have to take advantage of the time you do have. You’re probably not going to have time to pray the rosary in a chapel, but maybe now you are praying it on the way to work. As I think about it, it is kind of backwards that now I am fitting prayer time in around my work and family schedule instead of like in FOCUS where I fit work around my prayer schedule.
Given your vocation of being a father first, how do you still try to carry on the mission of evangelization?
First and foremost, by investing that energy into my children and making sure they are being raised up as good Christians. I think that is the most important thing; making disciples of your children first. But then also taking advantage of the evangelization and outreach going on at the parish.
Also, I have a lot of interaction with people at work that I always try to reach out to. When opportunities come up, I ask questions about different things to try to get them thinking about their faith and the Catholic faith. You just have to take advantage of the opportunities when you get them because I don’t have the time to be an evangelist like I was on the college campus.
Any other experiences you’d like to share?
I think that it is important to know that FOCUS really tries to launch people into a life-long mission for Jesus Christ. It’s not just about the college campus; it is about training missionaries to be life-long evangelists. The college campus is the ideal place because you have so many people that are making so many important decisions about their life, their vocation, and their career. And too, college students are a lot more available than people off campus. But the important thing is that FOCUS is training both missionaries and the students on college campuses to spend their life reaching out to people. It is a really good model and I think it is very effective.