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Totus Tuus: Totally Faithful, Totally Fun, Totally Yours

By Kara Storey


Ann Gonyaw could sense her children’s growing excitement.

'Totus Tuus'

Totus Tuus is Latin for “Totally Yours” and the papal motto of Blessed John Paul II. Taken from St. Louis de Montfort’s “True Devotion to Mary,” it represents the desire of the faithful to give themselves entirely to Jesus Christ through the hands of his Immaculate Mother. 
 
The curriculum breaks the four pillars of the catechism into a six year cycle teaching the Mystery of Salvation, the Apostle’s Creed, the Sacraments, the Commandments, the Virtues and Prayer and the Our Father. This cycle is complemented by a four-year rotation of the mysteries of the rosary.
“When is it going to come Mommy?! When are we going to have it?!” Gonyaw’s 7- and 9-year-old would ask with anticipation.
 
But their impatience wasn’t for the release of the latest video game or movie. Instead, they couldn’t wait to attend Mass, pray the rosary, and learn about their Catholic faith together with their friends at Totus Tuus, a weeklong catechesis program that was being held at St. Edward Catholic Church in Derby Line, Vt.
 
And they weren’t disappointed.  St. Edward’s, which is one of four churches that’s part of Mater Dei Parish, held Totus Tuus for the second year in a row July 9-13. Fifty kids attended.
 
“They’ve been exhausted when they’ve come home,” said Gonyaw, director of religious education at Mater Dei. “They’ve been completely worn out. There’s an hour and a half of silence in my house!”
 
Building the Program
Totus Tuus is a Catholic youth program that focuses on spreading the Gospel through the catechism, mysteries of the rosary and the sacraments. It began in 1987 in the Diocese of Wichita, Kan., when then seminarian, Father Bernie Gorges, taught a summer catechetical program at St. Michael’s Parish in Girard, Kan. Over the next three years, with the help of college students, he taught at 15 different parishes in the diocese. Each year the program grew and spread, eventually spilling over into other dioceses. Currently, Totus Tuus is in 29 dioceses in the United States, as well as in the Archdiocese of Toronto, Ontario.

Students are catechized during a Totus Tuus class session in Derby Line, Vt.

 
Totus Tuus works by having teams of four trained college-age students– two women and two men, one of whom is usually a seminarian – travel to a different parish each week to conduct a “parish mission” for youth based on that summer’s curriculum.  The elementary program runs from Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and includes daily Mass, the opportunity for confession, a daily rosary mystery and decade, and time for songs, snacks and recreation. They also receive a different color “covenant” string each day to wear around theirwrists to help them remember the rosary mystery. The junior high and high school program runs Sunday through Thursday, two hours in the evening, and focuses more on small group discussion about various faith-related topics. On Tuesdays the teens attend adoration and confession, and on Thursdays they have a “fun” night.
 
“We really focus on Eucharistic devotion, Marian devotion and there’s a really strong sense of vocational discernment within Totus Tuus,” said Raschelle Jirak, program coordinator with an emphasis in Totus Tuus for the Diocese of Wichita. The diocese, which has 11 teams serving 38 parishes, including one in Dodge City, Kan., also has a Camp Totus Tuus, where older youth can get the same curriculum in camp form.
 
Jirak grew up with the program, so she understands the excitement of Gonyaw’s children.
 
“When I was a kid it was so fun,” she said. “I just loved going and doing the songs and the skits and the activities. The teachers made it a lot of fun to learn about the Catholic faith.”
 
Solid Catechesis
While there’s no doubt that children have fun, it’s Totus Tuus’ strong content that attracted Father Jon Schnobrich, Totus Tuus liaison for the Diocese of Burlington, Vt.  
 
“It just seems that the places that are bearing fruit, or the programs that are attracting young people to the New Evangelization, are the ones giving a solid catechetical foundation and blending it with the right presentation,” he said. 
 
This is the third summer that Totus Tuus has been in the Diocese of Burlington, which has two teams serving 10 parishes. The program has brought new life into parishes and challenged parents to grow deeper in their own faith, Father Schnobrich said.
 
“These kids come home and they can’t stop talking about the Blessed Mother, or Mass, or the Eucharist, or what they learned about the Creed,” he said. “When parents see this new spark in their children it makes them wonder, ‘What the heck is going on?’”
 
That same sentiment can be found in Wichita, which this past year had 37 seminarians studying for the priesthood, one of the largest numbers of seminarians per capita.
 
“A lot of them would attribute that to Totus Tuus and helping them to think about their vocation and to pray about their vocation,” Jirak said.
 
Rural Success
While Totus Tuus doesn’t discriminate between rural and urban areas, the program is overwhelmingly in rural dioceses. Father Schnobrich believes it’s because rural areas generally have fewer resources and finances, which makes Totus Tuus more attractive.
 
“When the diocese offers a program like this, it comes into town and it makes quite a splash because you don’t have all of the opportunities someone in a more urban area has,“ he said.
 
The program also brings the parish community together by relying on the generosity of parishioners. Parishioners provide housing, lunches and dinner for team members, as well as snacks for the youth. Then usually on one night during the week there is a parish-wide potluck, for families to share in hospitality and to experience what the children are learning.
 
“There is just an unbelievable outpouring of generosity on the part of the parishioners for cookies, and the lunches for the team are really nice and well-prepared, delivered with a smile and a note,” Gonyaw said. 
 
Jirak, who grew up in a small Kansas town, remembers the excitement that surrounded the program each summer when it came into town. Everyone, from the kids to the parents and host families, knew they were in for a fun and holy time.
 
“It was a chance to get together,” she said. “I could live 15 miles away from one of my friends and I would get to see them at Totus Tuus every day and that was great. It was a coming together for the kids and the community to share their faith with one another and to do it in a fun and exciting way.”
 
For more information about Totus Tuus and a list of dioceses that host the program, check out the Diocese of Wichita's webpage.
 
Photos:
1) Students receive catechesis at Totus Tuus in Derby Line, Vt. (Photo by Stephen Gonyaw)
2) Students receive their new colored string for the day, to remind them of the daily rosary mystery. (Photo by Stephen Gonyaw)
3) Totus Tuus focuses heavily on the sacraments. Here in Derby Line, Vt., students attend daily Mass during Totus Tuus. (Photo by Stephen Gonyaw)
4) Totus Tuus is also about fun. Here at Camp Totus Tuus in Wichita, campers participate in water games. (Photo by Raschelle Jirak)
 




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