Totus Tuus summer program is filled with fun, faith and friendship

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Resting comfortably in their chairs, a group of sixth-graders peppered Sam Sargent with questions about vocations:

What are the differences between the way the Church and the government recognize marriage?

Why can't girls become priests?

What's the difference between a religious sister and a nun?

Why can some married men become priests?

Sam, have you ever thought about religious life?

On being questioned about whether she's considering religious life, Sargent didn't hesitate with her students.

"I'm open to it," she said. "Right now I'm discerning — what do I want to do with my life? What does Jesus want me to do?"

These were complex questions, and Sargent handled them with nary a pause. She was on her last day of a week of catechesis with these kids at St. Clement of Rome, and by then they were deep in discussion on matters of the faith.

The Des Peres parish was the first of seven to host Totus Tuus this summer. The weeklong program for first- through 12th-graders incorporates sharing the Gospel and promoting the faith through evangelization, catechesis, Christian witness and eucharistic worship.

Totus Tuus has elements of a vacation Bible school and parish mission. Younger children learn how to pray, the importance of prayer and the sacraments, and how to participate in Mass, including why we make the sign of the cross, genuflect and sing. Middle and high school teens focus on prayer and meditation, small-group discussions, adoration, Mass and reconciliation.

The program was introduced in the Wichita, Kan., diocese in the 1980s when Father Bernard X. Gorges — then a seminarian — taught a catechetical summer program to elementary grade students. The program was marketed nationally in 2016 and is now offered in 26 dioceses across North America.

The program's name is Latin for "Totally Yours," and was St. John Paul II's motto, taken from St. Louis de Montfort's "True Devotion to Mary." The program has a noted Marian focus, with a different theme every year ("Chosen" is the 2017 theme) that ties back into Marian devotions, such as the Rosary.

The young adult catechists who lead the program undergo training in Wichita, and spend the summer rotating from one parish to another, staying with host families close to the parish. They receive a small stipend for living expenses — but for the most part, they're in it for Jesus, and to help young people grow in their faith.

St. Clement got a taste of Totus Tuus when then-seminarian Curtis Hecker (now a priest of the Wichita Diocese) helped develop a children's program modeled after St. John Paul II, and later extending to lessons on other saints. That effort blossomed, so Totus Tuus seemed a natural fit for the parish.

"We always want this to be a fun experience — where faith and fun meet," said Karla Kramer, who helped co-coordinate Totus Tuus at St. Clement. "To see these young adults willing to dedicate their whole summer and share the truth of the faith is awesome."

The kids certainly learned, via going to Mass daily and having frank conversations about Church teachings and traditions. Fifth-graders Chris Potter and Henry Barreca felt like the learning was more on the fun side.

"Every day was a joyful mystery, and instead of just sitting in class and listening, we acted it out through skits," said Chris. "We went to Mass every day and we had music that was about Jesus."

Of course, the pinnacle of the week was a "sundae-ing" of two adult catechists — essentially covering them in sundae toppings — followed by water games. Both Chris and Henry summed up their feelings with large grins after a fun-filled week.

"It was awesome," they agreed. 

>> Parishes participating in Totus Tuus this summer

St. Clement of Rome, Des Peres

Ascension, Chesterfield

St. Patrick, Wentzville

St. Gabriel, south St. Louis

Immaculate Conception, Dardenne Prairie

St. Gerard Majella, Kirkwood

St. Clare of Assisi, Ellisville

To learn more about hosting Totus Tuus in 2018, contact Joe Dobrynski, coordinator of faith programs with the Office of Youth Ministry, at (314) 792-7613 or email joedobrynski@archstl.org. 

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