Like any good love story, Andrew and Katie Hellmann’s tale has interesting twists and turns. Andrew grew up near St. Stephen; Katie lived just miles away in Bowlus. Both attended Holdingford High School. Andrew was an athlete, while Katie enjoyed band and the arts.
Katie, who was a year ahead of Andrew in school, graduated from high school and pursued a double major in mathematics and math education at North Dakota State University. She had a solid foundation of faith growing up, attending St. Stanislaus Kostka in Bowlus with her family. So it seemed natural when she got involved with the college outreach group called FOCUS, Fellowship of Catholic University Students.
“One of the FOCUS student leaders, Mary, gave me a call and invited me to her Bible study. It was through that Bible study and through Mary that I saw the joy she had. I started spending more time with the Lord, rather than just saying my prayers at the end of the day, but actually talking to him,” Katie said.
She distinctly remembers reading the book “Rediscover Catholicism” by Matthew Kelly and recalled a passage about praying for friends to build her up in her faith.
“It was right before Christmas break and I remember asking the Lord, ‘Lord, I need some good friends. I have Mary, but I need more than that.’ It was that next spring that I started really getting involved with FOCUS. I started going to daily Mass. I met different people and, eventually, the women that I lived with for the next three years.”
After Andrew graduated, he, too, attended NDSU, majoring in psychology. He had no idea that Katie was also a student there. Although he also had a strong Catholic upbringing attending St. Stephen Parish in St. Stephen, he said he didn’t get involved much with his faith during his first years of college.
“As the first two years went on, I realized there was something missing in my life. And that’s when I started to meet, through God’s providence, a few people from the Newman Center,” Andrew said.
Through his love of sports, he was invited to play on a couple of intramural teams with people from the Newman Center.
“It was through witnessing their joy and friendship that I knew they had something I didn’t have and I realized it was their faith. I was invited into a Bible study, which is where I first started to learn a little bit about what FOCUS was,” he said.
During his junior year, he attended a retreat through the Newman Center, which works closely with FOCUS.
“That’s when I had an encounter with Jesus. After that, I really started to get involved with FOCUS and learning what it meant to be a disciple of Christ. It was a huge part in my journey and conversion,” he said.
During that time, Katie and Andrew lived in the same apartment building and often rode the same bus home from class. Although they were friendly toward each other, Katie said it wasn’t love at first sight.
“I wasn’t interested in dating him right away,” she said. “But after a couple of months, I started to develop a crush on him.
At that point, I didn’t know if he had a relationship with the Lord, and that was something I had been striving for. I knew I wanted someone who would be a spiritual leader for me. Then, at the retreat he went on, I was one of the leaders so I got to witness him encountering the Lord for the first time.”
Shortly after the retreat, Katie and Andrew began dating. Then came another plot twist: Katie received a job offer with FOCUS and that meant, as a first-year missionary, she was required to go on a “dating fast.”
“FOCUS doesn’t have you just go on a dating fast because they want you to not date. It’s an opportunity to set aside other things, to be able to see the men and the women in your life as brothers and sisters, not as potential dates, and to be able to really be pursued by the Lord. So what that meant for us was, because we were already in a relationship, we had to take a step back from our relationship,” Katie explained.
During the fast, they could talk on the phone twice a week for an hour. They also wrote each other letters every day.
“It was really difficult,” Andrew said. “We pretty much saw each other every day, but we couldn’t talk to each other.”
“It was hard,” Katie agreed. “But we wanted to honor that dating fast and what FOCUS was asking of us. And we recognized it was something the Lord was inviting us to as well.”
Despite the challenges, the couple agree that it helped their relationship grow, both with the Lord and with each other. As Andrew finished college and Katie completed her first year as a FOCUS missionary, Andrew, too, felt called to become a FOCUS missionary. He and Katie attended a FOCUS new staff training in Florida. By this time, the yearlong dating fast was over. They had both been praying about marriage.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to propose at training or wait until we got back. I didn’t have a ring. But then I decided on Thursday that I was going to propose at training. And then Friday, I went with one of my really good friends who I lived with during my senior year of college to get a ring. He also ended up being our best man,” Andrew said.
On Saturday morning, Andrew called Katie’s dad for his permission and blessing. On Sunday, Andrew took Katie on a date and proposed to her on the beach in Florida. The couple married at St. Stanislaus Kostka in May 2017. They continued as married missionaries with FOCUS, serving together at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. They are currently serving at Winona State University.
Being married missionaries affords the Hellmanns the opportunity to minister in a different way.
“Something we’ve noticed in society, and especially on college campuses, is there’s a hurt in society when it comes to family life. We get to be witnesses to say marriage is important,” Andrew said.
“We also get to show them that marriage is not always butterflies and rainbows,” Katie added. “There are challenges. But in the midst of those challenges, we’re still side by side.”
FOCUS has more than 700 missionaries nationwide, serving on 153 campuses. More than 700 people who have been involved with FOCUS have gone on to discern a religious vocation, and more have pursued sacramental marriages.
“It’s really awesome and beautiful to get to witness people encountering the Lord. Whether it be people in Bible studies or people we’re mentoring one-on-one in a discipleship relationship,” Katie said. “We feel so blessed to be instruments of the Lord’s grace.”
The Hellmanns don’t know what God has in store for them in the future, but they know they will keep serving the Lord.
“We have a very strong desire to one day come back to the St. Cloud Diocese and be able to bring a lot of the skills that we’ve been given in our time with FOCUS,” Katie said. “Using tools that we have gained through FOCUS is something that we’re going to do forever.”