Totus Tuus: Helping young people take a summer plunge into the waters of faith
By Paul Thomas Moore of The Catholic Post
DANVILLE — In approximately 50 dioceses across North America, it wouldn’t be summer without Totus Tuus. The Diocese of Peoria is one of them.
This year, 22 parishes are hosting the weeklong program with daytime itineraries for children entering grades one through six, and evening schedules for teens starting grades seven through 12. Facilitating the sessions with pastors and religious education coordinators are 16 Totus Tuus missionaries divided into four teams of four apiece, each with a seminarian.
Totus Tuus, which means “Totally Yours” in Latin, was Pope St. John Paul II’s motto and declaration of total commitment to Jesus through Mary. Likewise, the Totus Tuus summer program is a total immersion for both missionaries and children — a summer plunge in the waters of faith.
Carla Oliver, coordinator for the Office of Priestly Vocations for the Diocese of Peoria, said the college–age adults who serve as missionaries are primarily drawn from this diocese, but applications come in from all over the country. Regardless of where they come from, all are looking for “an opportunity to serve the Lord,” she said.
The missionaries’ task is to serve up faith with a side order of fun.
HELPING CHILDREN LEARN
During a recent week in Danville, seminarian and team captain Peter Schoonmaker said missionaries learn during Totus Tuus training that a child’s attention span ranges within four minutes, plus or minus, of their age.
“Some kids who are 8 can last for 12 minutes. Others kids can pay attention to one thing for four minutes,” he explained.
Serving with him from June 18 to 23 were Maria Stedwill of St. Jude Parish in Peoria, a freshman at Benedictine College; Alondra Gomez of St. Mary Parish in Moline, a junior and fine arts major also at Benedictine College; and Steven Demma of St. John Paul II Newman Center on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal, where he is entering his senior year and studying data science.
For the churches that make up the Danville Vicariate — including St. Paul and Holy Family in Danville, St. Isaac Jogues in Georgetown, St. Anthony in Hoopeston, and St. Mary in Westville — 56 children took part in the day program and 23 teens were engaged in the evening program. Based at the south campus of Schlarman Academy, which is adjacent to St. Paul Church, Totus Tuus missionaries started each day with prayer followed by a morning “pump up” consisting of a fun song and a quick skit.
“It’s all about getting . . . all their energy out before we enter into class and then get them a little more calm,” Schoonmaker said.
Demma said “each group of kids is like a new year,” and opportunities for prayer interspersed throughout the day help him reflect on “who God wants me to be through them.” Stedwill was also very appreciative of the focus on prayer, saying, “We have a Holy Hour every morning. . . . It kind of just sets the tone for the day.”
SPIRITUAL CORE, PLUS FUN
This year, Totus Tuus is focusing on the covenants of salvation history and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, Oliver said, to illustrate how God led his chosen people via covenants with Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David, culminating in the covenant Jesus made in his blood.
She said Totus Tuus team members use curriculum resources so as to not dwell too much on the more gruesome aspects of the Passion but “on this beautiful gift of the Lord to the children.’’
“We get to know them, hang out with them. It’s less about giving them all that information and more about, ‘This is my story with Jesus, and I want to invite you into that.’” — Peter Schoonmaker
The evening program runs from 6:30 to 8:15 p.m. Schoonmaker, a member of St. Mary Parish in Rock Island, said the portion of the evening sessions devoted to formal talks was reduced this year to provide extra time for the teens to build relationships.
“We get to know them, hang out with them,” he said. “It’s less about giving them all that information and more about, ‘This is my story with Jesus, and I want to invite you into that.’”
Prior to Totus Tuus, team member Gomez had been somewhat nervous about the receptivity of teens, remembering herself at the same age. “I was one time in that position where I’m like, ‘I don’t want talk to anybody’ and I was in the corner,” she said.
But she has found unexpected blessings in this style of “relational ministry,” which she thinks is both more effective and closer to her own heart. “I have a desire to just be an older sister to these young girls,” Gomez said.
ROLE MODELS AND WITNESSES
Schoonmaker is a junior at Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, Minnesota. The other seminarians taking part in Totus Tuus are John Assaf, of St. Pius X Parish in Rock Island, and Jarod Raber of Christ the King in Moline, both sophomores at Immaculate Heart of Mary; and Andrew Bilgri of Immaculate Conception Parish, Monmouth, and St. John Paul II Newman Center in Normal, a junior at Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake.
When all is said and done, Totus Tuus attendance is expected to be about 1,600 children and youth.
“Little kids, they tend to look up to teenagers and college age, so having that role model, absolutely — that is very helpful,” said Father John Cyr, pastor at St. Paul and chaplain at Schlarman Academy.
Jennifer Martindill, coordinator of religious education at St. Paul, said without Totus Tuus there would be a void.
“The team, the missionaries that come — they witness so much to the whole community,” she told The Catholic Post.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Four Totus Tuus teams crisscross the Diocese for six weeks each summer. This year they have visited — or will visit:
- Week One (June 11-16): St. Edward in Chillicothe, Epiphany in Normal, the Ottawa Catholic Community, and St. Michael the Archangel in Streator.
- Week Two (June 18-23): St. Vincent de Paul, Peoria; St. Paul, Macomb; Danville Vicariate; and St. Mark, Peoria.
- Week Three (June 25-30): Blessed Sacrament, Morton; Immaculate Conception, Monmouth; St. Jude, Peoria; and St. Mary, Pontiac.
- Week Four (July 9-14): St. Anne, East Moline; St. Mary, Metamora; and St. Malachy, Geneseo.
- Week Five (July 16-21): LaSalle Catholic Community; Galesburg Catholic Community; St. Mary of the Woods, Princeville; and St. Matthew, Champaign.
- Week Six (July 23-28): St. Patrick Church of Merna and Holy Trinity, Bloomington; Our Lady of the Lake, Mahomet; and St. Louis, Princeton.