February 22, 2017
Crystal (Buchanan) Gruber, a 2008 biomedical engineering graduate of Michigan Tech, became the first St. Al’s alumna to join FOCUS several years before St. Al’s even had a FOCUS team.
Crystal entered the Catholic Church through the RCIA process at St. Al’s while she was a student, and she remained involved in the RCIA program and with the weekly Friday Night Fireside events throughout her time at Michigan Tech.
Although she had a deep conversion experience in college, Crystal says that she still kept “falling flat on her face” throughout her time as a student since many of her friends were still living the “typical” college lifestyle. She noted that “It would have been great to have somebody like a FOCUS missionary around at that time to provide guidance, and to be a big brother or sister who could call you out on certain things.”
After graduation Crystal worked for a company in the healthcare industry near Madison, Wisconsin, and she became friends with the young-adult minister at her local parish, who was a former FOCUS missionary. Crystal also befriended the FOCUS missionaries at the nearby UW Madison campus ministry. As she learned more about FOCUS Crystal began to wonder whether she might be called to such a ministry, but she was hesitant to do so after spending so many years to earn her engineering degree.
After spending time discerning both the possibility of becoming a FOCUS missionary and the possibility of a religious vocation, she applied to FOCUS. Crystal had always wanted to do work that directly helped people, which is why she studied in the biomedical field. She also realized, though, that college is a place where people make a lot of life decisions and need guidance, and talking about God is a fundamental part of that.
Crystal served as a missionary at MIT during her first year in FOCUS, and then at UW Madison in her second year. After the second year she married a fellow FOCUS missionary, Joseph. They spent the next three years at Carnegie Mellon and then moved to Western Washington University to start the FOCUS program at the campus ministry there. Shortly after their wedding Crystal stepped down from being a full time missionary to care for their now three year old son Phillip and one year old daughter Gisella, while Joseph remained on the team. Crystal still offers support to the team in whatever ways she can.
What surprised Crystal most about her FOCUS experience was just how much trust in the Lord was required. Many parts of the missionary lifestyle pushed her out of her comfort zone, and many of the things that had looked easy from the outside were actually challenging. The challenges are worth it, though, and the work is very rewarding, which is why Crystal and Joseph have remained a part of the FOCUS program for seven years now.