Story by S.L. Hansen
(SNR) — For the last 13 years, thousands of children in the Diocese of Lincoln have had the benefit of a summer catechesis program called “Totus Tuus.”
Taught by seminarians and college students, Totus Tuus gives elementary and high schools students a fun, energetic week focused on faith.
The Totus Tuus program was started in the Diocese of Wichita, Bishop James Conley’s home diocese. Since 2001, Totus Tuus has been offered in the Diocese of Lincoln. Several seminarians and college students train for 10 days, then break into teams of four to spread throughout the diocese.
This year, there are six teams. On average, between 3,000 and 5,000 elementary and high school students will experience Totus Tuus at local parishes.
Jeff Schinstock, diocesan director of youth ministry, said the name “Totus Tuus” (“Totally Yours”) comes from our Blessed Mother’s fiat.
“Her ‘yes’ needs to be imitated,” he stressed. “It is an inspirational invitation to the Christian life that has been instrumental for many people.”
The Totus Tuus curriculum is based on a six-year cycle written by its founder, Father Bernard Gorges. Father Joseph Faulkner, now pastor of St. Ann Parish in Doniphan, traveled to Wichita as a seminarian to train for the program. In the Diocese of Lincoln, he is a longtime Totus Tuus contributor, and uses the Totus Tuus outline to determine what the classes will study each year.
Schinstock said the dynamic of young adults teaching catechesis makes a big impact on the kids who attend.
“Our teachers have the benefit of being ‘cool’ merely by age and stage,” he said. “When those college kids bring real and exciting catechesis, beautiful things happen.”
During a typical week of Totus Tuus, the elementary students attend each day from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., learning more about their faith as they enjoy songs, lessons, games, and other activities. High-schoolers gather in the evenings from 8 to 10 p.m. They cover the same topics as the younger students, but instead of doing so in a classroom setting, they have discussion and prayer.
Murphy Lierley, who grew up at Mother of Sorrows Parish in Grant, is currently in his fourth year teaching Totus Tuus. He said he believes Totus Tuus is an important supplement to the daily, informal religious education offered by parents as first educators, and in Catholic schools and CCD programs as formal religious education.
“Totus Tuus can show you the energetic and radical side of God,” he explained. “It’s seeing that you can have fun with the faith.”
Above all, he said, the kids learn that they are loved.
“The kids know that we’re there because we want to be,” Lierley said.
He noted that the high school students are especially impacted by learning about the faith with college students who are just a handful of years older than they are.
“There are battles that my generation will have to fight that my parents didn’t,” he reasoned. “In our world that tells you that truth doesn’t matter, that love is a feeling… it’s good for kids to see people their age show them that not only do they need the Church, but the Church needs them.”
Totus Tuus teachers also experience spiritual growth during their two weeks of training and the incredibly busy seven weeks serving on the team.
“It’s like living in the early days of the Church,” Lierley said.
Schinstock said that the teachers pray the morning, evening and night prayers from the Liturgy of Hours, as well as attend Mass and pray the rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet daily.
“This is supplemented with weekly Adoration, confession and Benediction with the high-schoolers,” Schinstock added. “They learn great leadership and conflict management skills as well.”
The teams stay with host families during the week, spend most of their day teaching young people, eat dinner with different host families, and then head back to the parish for the evening session with high school students. They don’t have much privacy and they really don’t have any “down” time.
“You’re always ‘on,’” Lierley admitted with a grin. “For a seminarian, there is no better formation that I’ve seen. You are basically (seeing what it would be like to be) a parish priest for a week.”
As exhausting it is for teachers, Lierley said being around youth is energizing.
“Saint John Paul II said the youth are our hope,” he said. “It’s hard to have a bad day, when you have that much hope in your life.”
Teaching the young also helps college students discern their vocations. Lierley said he has seen some fellow Totus Tuus teachers pursue degrees in education, meet future spouses and enter seminaries.
Tutus Tuus was also a key part in Lierley’s own vocational discernment process.
Working in Totus Tuus that first year as a college student awakened his passion for evangelism. Since Lierley had already been considering seminary, he enrolled at St. Gregory the Great Seminary in Seward. For the last three years, he’s been the seminarian in charge of a Totus Tuus team.
His experience with this summer program has continued to sharpen his understanding of what God wants from him and for him. Shortly after Totus Tuus ends for the summer, he will take over as youth director for Saint Joseph Parish in Lincoln.
“I owe my vocation to Totus Tuus,” Lierley said.
For more information about Totus Tuus in the Diocese of Lincoln, visit www.lincolndiocese.org/totus-tuus or call 402-488-2040.