New FOCUS missionary ending college on a high note

Ryan Gruman, lower right, poses for a photo with fellow University of Northern Iowa FOCUS missionaries earlier this year.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

The Catholic faith was always an important part of Ryan Gruman’s life, but it didn’t define him the way music did.

As a hard-working French horn player, he struggled with perfectionism and feeling “not good enough,” something he believes is common among ambitious teens and young adults. “Especially as a musician… if you miss one note or one phrase, that can ruin the musical moment you’re trying to get at.”

The University of Northern Iowa undergrad’s mindset began to change after meeting FOCUS missionaries on campus. By seeing how they approached daily life through a spiritual lens, Ryan began to understand how his achievement-based mindset hindered his sense of self-worth. “Because of the way they lived, I desired to follow Christ the same way,” said Ryan, a member of St. Mary Parish in Grinnell.


This fall, the instrumental/general music major will begin a two-and-a-half-year term as a FOCUS missionary. “I saw it as an opportunity to grow and bring others with me who have had similar struggles,” he said.

Ryan, the son of Bill and Sandra Gruman, was involved with altar serving and music ministry as a child. Upon his 18th birthday, he joined the Knights of Columbus. In 2019, the Iowa Knights of Columbus named him Youth of the Year.

At the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, he attended Mass and participated in Bible studies at St. Stephen the Witness Catholic Student Center. He often ran into FOCUS missionaries who “modeled what it is like to be an active young Catholic,” defining them-selves — first and foremost — as disciples of Christ. “I saw them go to daily Mass and pray every day. I saw how they interacted with people.”

FOCUS is a Catholic collegiate outreach whose mission is to share the hope and joy of the Gospel with college and university students. Each year, approximately 800 FOCUS missionaries are sent in teams to serve at 180 college campuses at the invitation of the local bishop and with the support of the local campus ministry.

Ryan found the missionaries to be “some of the most generous and joyful people I had ever met. They wanted to know more about me, build that depth and relationship, and not just know surface level things. They asked me about my prayer life and what my relationship with God looked like.”

As Ryan’s faith evolved, he began to see that he could embrace his passion for music without letting achievements or missed notes define him. “We can lean on God even though we are imperfect,” Ryan said. “Those imperfections may take us on a journey to know him more and to get to know ourselves.”

Ryan is ending his college experience on a high note. For two years, he served as drum major of the (UNI) Panther Marching Band. He will spend his first semester as a FOCUS missionary at UNI as he completes his student teaching requirement. FOCUS will then assign him to another college for two years. Ryan plans to begin his teaching career after that, but is open to wherever the Holy Spirit leads him. “I don’t know what to expect, but I know God will get me through this. I trust him and the process he has set in front of me.”

To learn more about Ryan’s ministry as a FOCUS missionary, email or go to

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