Totus Tuus is rejuvenating parishes and youth across the diocese this summer

Instructed to scream if anyone tried to take the bucket of “water” Rose Kirchgessner put down on the gym floor at Blessed Sacrament in Morton, Totus Tuus participants sound the alarm as costumed Zach Williams reaches for it. As it turns out, the bucket contained the day’s blue “covenant strings” for their wrists. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

MORTON — Vacation Bible School took a vacation at Blessed Sacrament Church this summer so young parishioners could try a new way of engaging their Catholic faith, and Totus Tuus proved to be just what they needed, said Msgr. Jerry Ward, pastor.

“I think coming out of the pandemic — or, hopefully, getting close to the end of the pandemic — this kind of rejuvenated the spirituality of the children and connected them more with the church and our relationship with Jesus,” he said of the parish’s first experience with Totus Tuus. “One big strength is going to Mass every day. We didn’t do that in Vacation Bible School. That’s been a blessing.”

Joseph Wizieck, high school faith formation coordinator at Blessed Sacrament in Morton, helps Leah Duffy tie a blue “covenant string” around her wrist. The strings represent a promise between Totus Tuus team members and the children to give 110 percent of their focus, energy and fun every day. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“We have wanted it for several years, but I think we were just sort of waiting for the Lord’s timing to bring it to us,” said MaryBeth Steinkoenig, the parish’s coordinator of family faith formation. “The Catholic element, the focus on the sacraments and coming to Jesus through Mary, was really important for us at this time.”

It was important for the older parishioners, too.

“Totus Tuus, this year especially, has had the charism of being able to, in many ways, reopen parishes,” said Paul Rupert, a seminarian for the Diocese of Peoria who worked with the faith formation program this year. “A lot of parishes are meeting for the first time, face to face. Totus Tuus potlucks have been reopening parish halls all summer.”

Blessed Sacrament is one of 17 parishes to welcome Totus Tuus missionaries for a week of prayer, study and fun focused on the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary. Totus Tuus is Latin for “totally yours” and includes a day program for children going into grades one through six and an evening program for teens in grades seven through 12.

While Totus Tuus does not include those going into kindergarten, Steinkoenig said Blessed Sacrament developed a program based on the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary so the littlest members of the parish could benefit, too.

Older parishioners acted as prayer partners, signing up to spend a “Holy Half-Hour” in the chapel to pray for the success of Totus Tuus while the sessions were taking place. Msgr. Ward said those who couldn’t come to the chapel had been praying at home.

“I think it’s a great experience for us to unite as a parish in our ability to grow our capacity to know God’s love,” Steinkoenig said. “I think the fruit is just going to blossom.”

“TOTUS TUUS WORKS”

At Blessed Sacrament, 80 children from the parish and surrounding parishes took part in the day program from July 11 to 17, while 32 teens regularly came for the evening program. Across the diocese, more than 850 were involved in the grade school program and about 358 teens came for the evening sessions.

They have been served by three teams of four college-age young adults who have been specially trained as Totus Tuus missionaries. An important part of that is the team prayer life, which includes the rosary, morning prayer, evening prayer and a Holy Hour every day. Any prayer in addition to that is encouraged.

The children in the Totus Tuus day program at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton gather for prayer, song and a fun activity as the day begins July 15. The parish was one of 17 faith communities across the Diocese of Peoria to host Totus Tuus this summer for catechesis about the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes and the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“It’s a blessing and it brings the team together. We have a culture of our own that is based solely on prayer,” Rupert said. “So the kids involved with the program can see people just a couple of years older than them that are extremely involved in their faith and have been taught well.”

In addition to Rupert, seminarians Thomas Williams and Luke Olson were on the other two teams traveling around the Diocese of Peoria. All three are studying at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minnesota.

This is Rupert’s second year as a missionary — last year’s program was online — but he has also been involved as participant in the teen program over the years. He praised Totus Tuus for its “particularly Catholic catechesis” and said it is unrivaled by other summer programs.

For example, before Mass the children prepared by going into church to talk about some aspect of the faith. On one recent morning, missionary Rose Kirchgessner of Metamora talked about the Liturgy of Word, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and the use of bells, and then directed their attention to the crucifix, telling them they would find one in every Catholic church in the world.

“That’s how much God loves you,” she said.

Kirchgessner told The Post that she was one of the first children in the diocese to do Totus Tuus when it started in central Illinois. This is her first year “on this side of things.”

Totus Tuus works, she said.

“The kids aren’t going to remember every single thing you taught them. They aren’t going to remember the plot of every skit that you showed them,” Kirchgessner said. “The things they’ll remember are the fun they had. They’ll remember the people they met. And they remember that God loves them.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: More photos from Totus Tuus in Morton and around the Diocese of Peoria will be posted to The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook.

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