Totus Tuus provides saintly, silly summer for parish youth across the diocese
PRINCETON – For six weeks this summer, five teams of “fools for Christ” crisscrossed central Illinois, encouraging young people of all ages to commit themselves entirely to Christ through Mary. In the process, Totus Tuus reached 24 parishes in the Diocese of Peoria, as well as one parish in Iowa and two parishes in Indiana.
“I think a lot of kids grow up thinking that the faith is about knowing these facts, but Totus Tuus really is relational ministry,” said Caylee Kennedy, coordinator of youth and young adult ministry at St. Louis Parish, where one of the five Totus Tuus teams spent the week of July 15 -20.
“They bring a side of the faith that a lot of people don’t see these days,” she said. “There is a formational aspect of it, but the team is so focused on being real. . . . It’s so authentic and genuine.”
The children see the team members teaching and being serious in the classroom, but then being silly, presenting skits, and playing with them at recess, Kennedy said. She knows this from experience since she was on a Totus Tuus team for three summers, including a week at the Princeton parish in 2014.
“They see these teachers are just like them,” she said.
Those teachers in Princeton were seminarian Jack Swoik of Pekin, Tom Anderson of Metamora, Antonia Rupert of Peoria, and Madison Michel, a student at Bradley University in Peoria. They worked with 27 children in the day program, and about 25 teens in the evening program.
Totus Tuus is a Latin phrase that means “totally yours.” This year’s focus was on the Apostles Creed and the Luminous Mysteries of the rosary.
GROWING AS DISCIPLES
The day program, which is for students entering first grade through sixth grade, includes four short classes, Mass, and an opportunity to go to confession, Swoik said. Other prayer opportunities include a decade of the rosary after lunch and recess, and a prayer before leaving for the day.
“We lead the program, but it’s for them,” according to Swoik. “We get them to do everything we can.”
That means leading the rosary and serving as lectors, altar servers and gift bearers at Mass, he said. The team also prepares the children by going over the music with them.
The evening program, which meets Monday through Thursday, is for students entering seventh grade through high school. While they have time to socialize – there was an ice cream social on Thursday, for example – the teens also pray the Liturgy of the Hours each night and have an opportunity to spend time in eucharistic adoration, go to confession or ask questions.
On the last evening they also cut loose, playing shaving cream whiffle ball. In Princeton, they didn’t get through even one inning before it turned into a shaving cream fight, however.
“I really feel like they get great formation during the week. We’ve noticed that in particular with the evening program,” Father Daniel Gifford, pastor, told The Catholic Post.
“I tell people Totus Tuus is designed to meet each age group where you are and help you to grow as a disciple of Christ in the heart of the church,” he said. “So for the kids in the day session, it is more like a day camp. For the evening session it’s more like a retreat, but you get to throw marshmallows at each other.”
(See the related story, “Totus Tuus comes one month after Princeton teens witnessed tragedy“)
The impact of Totus Tuus extends beyond the parish setting, however.
“This program changes lives,” Kennedy said. “It changed my life in a major way. I would not be here, I would not have done the things I did at the Newman Center at Bradley, if it hadn’t been for Totus Tuus.”
She added that the team members she served with credited the program for helping them to find their vocations, whether to married life or the seminary.
That’s true for Tom Anderson, who just completed his second summer with Totus Tuus.
A graduate of Peoria Notre Dame High School and Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, Anderson was set to pursue a doctorate in mathematics at the University of Nebraska before he got involved with Totus Tuus. Now he hopes to apply to be a seminarian for the Diocese of Peoria and discern a call to the priesthood.
“Before Totus Tuus I was kind of worried about the pastoral side of things,” he told The Post. “I’ve got a lot of philosophy and theology from my undergraduate work at Christendom, so I know the faith in an intellectual way, but I was kind of worried about how I could relate to children and things like that. Totus Tuus has definitely helped me grow in that.”
The intense prayer life the team commits to — morning, evening and night prayer, Holy Hour, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, rosary and daily Mass — has also helped, he said.
“The best advice I got from last year’s training was you can’t do God’s work without him, and with Totus Tuus you really feel that,” he said. “After awhile you will get drained and you will have nothing in your tank. That is when you rely on God the most and that’s when prayer is most crucial.”
Madison Michel agreed, saying, “Prayer is the rhythm of our summer.”
“I know I won’t necessarily see how I’ve changed until afterward, but already I’ve seen that I have grown in trust – you need that so much,” she said. “I’ve grown in humility, because you have to be a fool for Christ when you do Totus Tuus. You put yourself out there and say, ‘OK, Jesus. Here I am. Your will be done.’”
The Diocese of Peoria has offered Totus Tuus officially since 2012. Amy Chovan, coordinator of the Office of Priestly Vocations, said the program has grown from one team serving six parishes that first year to the five teams serving 27 parishes this summer.
In the past, teams went outside the Diocese of Peoria for training, but that changed this year when the diocese prepared its own Totus Tuus team members. Seminarian Nic Wilson and Deacon Danny McShane worked with Father Tim Hepner, vocation director of recruitment, for nearly a year to make that happen, Chovan said.
She added that she is extremely grateful to the parish coordinators for all they do, from finding host families for the team members to lining up volunteers to bring lunch or provide dinner each night.
For more information about Totus Tuus, visit comeandfollowme.org.