Totus Tuus: totally fun, inspiring summer weeks around diocese

Photo Caption: The children who attended the day program for Totus Tuus in LaSalle July 19-24 shout “God is good!”

By: By Jennifer Willems

LASALLE — Who says sharing the faith can’t be fun, as well as deeply spiritual and inspiring?

This summer, four teams of college students and seminarians have been using laughter and games, music, study and prayer to help students in 21 parishes around the Diocese of Peoria grow in holiness as part of Totus Tuus.

Latin for “totally yours,” Totus Tuus is a weeklong faith formation program with sessions for grade school children during the day and junior high and high school students in the evening. This year the focus was on spiritual virtues and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary.

“It’s a great program because you’ve got four college students who love their faith and they know how to share their faith. They know how to coordinate fun and catechesis at the same time, so the young just gravitate to everything they say,” according to Father Antonio Dittmer, pastor of the LaSalle Catholic parishes, which hosted Totus Tuus the week of July 19-24.

The program was based at Trinity Catholic Academy. Daily Masses were celebrated at nearby Queen of the Holy Rosary Shrine, which also opened its doors for eucharistic adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation for the older students one night.

While there was plenty of time for skits, snacks and play each day, the Totus Tuus missionaries also got the students ready for Mass by going over prayers and songs, and what it means to be reverent in God’s house. They gave the children opportunities to be leaders in praying decades of the rosary in English and Spanish, too, and then offered classroom sessions on the topic of the day.

“They prepare them for Mass very well. Then, after Mass, they have these prayers together,” Father Dittmer told The Catholic Post. “That is incorporated into their daily life, which is beautiful.”

Stephen Tony, one of the four Totus Tuus team members in LaSalle, has firsthand experience with the program. A “very proud graduate” of Peoria Notre Dame High School, he was invited to attend Totus Tuus while he was there and “it changed my life.”

“It changed the way I looked at my faith. Because of how much it’s affected my life — the joy I got from Totus Tuus and putting Christ first — I knew I wanted to give back,” he said during his lunch break. “It was just a matter of when.”

Tony, a member of St. Philomena Parish and a junior at Bradley University, said he enjoys working with the young people and “seeing how God is able to work through us and change their lives.” But he knows this is helping the team members grow, too.

“Being able to share our faith and learning how to love like a parent or a priest or someone in religious life, we get just as much out of it as the students do,” he said.

Maddie Conley, who is majoring in social work at Bradley University, is also in her first year as a Totus Tuus missionary. She said her favorite part has been going to Mass with the children during the day and “seeing how they realize how special those moments are.”

“I look at each of their beautiful faces and it makes every single second worth it,” said Conley, who was recruited by her pastor at St. Mark in Peoria and St. Joseph Newman Center chaplain, Msgr. Brian Brownsey.

This is the second year for team leader Zachary Taylor of Peoria, who is majoring in secondary education at Bradley University this fall, and Lydia Perrilles of Fairview, who is studying elementary education at Monmouth College.

“Coming from a small community like I do, you don’t get to see many Catholics,” said Perrilles, a member of St. Patrick in Raritan. “So seeing all of the families, all of the kids and seeing them so enthusiastic about their faith, it just hits you. Sometimes you can’t keep them in the pew.”

Taylor, who attended St. Mark School and Peoria Notre Dame, said he appreciates the structure of the day, which allows the team to pray together before the students come and after they leave.

“It’s very formative — not just for the kids, but for myself as well,” he said. “It helps me grow in my relationship with the Lord. I love it.”

This team served at St. Jude in Peoria, Our Lady of the Lake in Mahomet, St. Vincent de Paul in Peoria and St. Thomas in Philo before arriving in LaSalle. They are completing their summer commitment to Totus Tuus at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Silvis this week. (For the other teams and parishes they served, see the related story.)

“They inspire me,” Sue Calderon, director of religious education for the LaSalle parishes told The Post. “I see them praying the Liturgy of the Hours and just praying spontaneously and praying the rosary during the day. Their faith is such a part of their life that it’s so wonderful to have them here and be inspired to grow.”

There is already a waiting list of parishes for Totus Tuus next summer, but coordinator Amy Chovan said it is possible to add a fifth team if there is enough interest. For more information, contact her at (309) 671-1550 or

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