Totus Tuus missionaries aim to bring faith formation and fun to young people

By Daniel Charland

Witness Correspondent

DUBUQUE — Summer is the time of year for vacation bible schools (VBSs), week-long faith-building events held at many parishes that focus on teaching  children the Christian faith while engaging in fun activities.

While such events are relatively commonplace and generally run with more or less the same structure, one version of VBS seeks to expand its parameters in more ways than one.

Totus Tuus is a program developed in Wichita, Kansas, the former diocese of Archbishop Michael Jackels. The program was implemented in the Archdio­cese of Dubuque four years ago by the archbishop and, rather than being an independent parish-run event, is managed by the faith formation division of the archdiocese. Sixteen young adults have been trained this year to lead Totus Tuus in various locations across the diocese, with each one being lead by a group of four in such locations as Anamosa, Bellevue, Dubuque, Iowa Falls, and many others. Each group will serve in that location for one week before moving on to the next destination, with this pattern repeating from June 9 to Aug. 2.

From left to right: back row, Jeff Frieden, Jake Nilles, Sam Anderson, Sierra Petersen, Jacob Heidenreich. 3rd row: Sarah Mockler, Hayden Merkel, Gabrielle Pranger, Jacob Till. 2nd row: Maci Helle, Stephen Richert, Shae Slaven, Ben Welte. Front Row: Nicole Lengemann, Abby Burns, Isabelle Werner. (Witness Photo by Daniel Charland)

There are several factors that set Totus Tuus apart from VBSs. First of all, it’s one of the few to be created by a Catholic organization and have solid Catholic ideas and theology baked in, rather than being a Catholic adaptation of a Protestant creation. This is reflected in the yearly themes, with this year’s being the seven sacraments and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary. This solid Catholic core is a big draw for many of the volunteers like Shae Slaven. “I feel like the best way to serve the people of God is going out, being involved and reaching as many people as I can, especially children because they are the foundation of our church,” said Slaven. “Having strong formation and experiences for them is going to be really helpful in growing the church as time goes on.”  Another way Totus Tuus is unique is that it is eventually two programs rolled into one, a daytime program for children in the first through sixth grades, and an evening program for seventh through 12th grades. Events of the day include daily Mass, small groups, talks. The evening sessions will end with the Liturgy of the Hours.

In addition to the prayer and learning, part of the goal of Totus Tuus is to show the young that their faith is something that can be a fun, fully integrated, part of their lives. Isabelle Werner said this is what draws her to volunteer, “I think the mission of Totus Tuus is really great, providing students in the summer with not only religious aspects, but also fun. We do songs, skits, activities, and I think that adding that fun aspect to it provides these kids with the notion that religion can be fun. Religion is a beautiful aspect and it’s really what we should be basing our lives around.”

As an evangelization project, the missionaries pray that, even if the kids don’t take to everything right away, seeds will be planted that will grow into a stronger faith later in the lives of all the participants.

To  see the complete schedule for this year’s Totus Tuus missionaries parish visits, go to:  dbqarch.org/offices/cate-chetical-services/totus-tuus/.

Cover photo: This year’s Totus Tuus group is shown above practicing an action song to teach  children during the day camp. (Photo by Daniel Charland/The Witness)