Summer program reinforces faith of youth

By Katie Lefebvre

Sioux City, Iowa, Aug 20, 2011 / 01:18 pm (CNA).- Learning about the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary was a highlight of the Totus Tuus, Totally Yours summer program for Maya Bishwokarma.

“This week I learned about the carrying of the cross, the agony in the garden, the scourging at the pillar and the crucifixion,” she said.

This Sioux City Holy Cross third grader is a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament and attended Totus Tuus at St. Michael Church the week of July 16-22. She decided to participate because she thought it looked interesting.

“I have really enjoyed how we learn. Every day it gets funner and funner,” said Bishwokarma. She added that each day when they reviewed she was raising her hand up and down more and more to answer questions because she had learned so much.

Program reaches many

Bishwokarma was one of many youth from the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa to experience Totus Tuus this summer. Four teams of teachers taught approximately 976 first through sixth graders and 345 seventh through twelfth graders in week-long sessions over seven weeks.

The teams traveled to 24 parishes in the diocese and one outside the diocese beginning the week of June 4-10 and ending the week of July 23-29.

This year the focus was on the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary and the mysteries of salvation history. The teachers were with the first through sixth grade students from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and the junior high and high school program was held from 7 to 9 p.m.

This was the first summer that Karmen Bower, assistant diocesan director of religious education and family life, was the Totus Tuus assistant director.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of parishes, a better group of teachers or a better group kids,” said Bower. “I am going to be able to leave this summer with such a positive experience. The parishes, the priests, the DREs and contact persons were so welcoming, hospitable and organized.”

She wanted to thank the parishes for opening their arms to the teachers. She said those who opened their homes and made meals for the teachers “are a beautiful example of living charity and servant love toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

“It can be a long summer for the teachers,” said Bower. “To be able to be incorporated into the family setting brings them a lot of joy. It is so evident through Totus Tuus in our diocese that we have awesome families and very vibrant parishes. I have been very impressed by how strong the faith is in each parish.”

Sean Martin, diocesan director of religious education, family life and youth and young adult ministry, thought the summer went very well.

“The teachers were dynamic in their teaching and faithful to their prayer, always striving to place the students in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a love for his church,” said Martin.  “The parishes served were very pleased with the program and are already planning for next year.”

Reinforcing faith

St. Mary Parish in Larchwood has been hosting Totus Tuus since it began in the Diocese of Sioux City and have continued because it is a wonderful program, noted Father Jeff Schleisman, pastor.  This year St. Mary’s hosted Totus Tuus the week of July 17-22.

“The children and the youth look forward to it being held. The response has always been positive from both parents and the children,” said the priest. “I personally look forward to it myself.  I enjoy getting to know the Totus Tuus teachers. They are always very gifted and are eager to share their knowledge and talents with the youth of the parish.”

For the past several years, Father Schleisman has hosted the two male teachers in the rectory and most of the time the two men are seminarians studying for the Diocese of Sioux City.  He said this is an opportunity for him to get to know a future priest for the diocese.

“The children benefit from Totus Tuus as it reinforces their faith. The good seed has been sown in their lives, and Totus Tuus helps the seed to find fertile ground in their lives,” he said.  “The teachings and message that the week offers helps the seed to take root. I see Totus Tuus as water and nutrients in the children’s lives. The children’s and the youth’s faith life will have an extra boost of growth due to having participated in Totus Tuus. As their faith grows, so does the church grow. The children are the church, and when they grow strong in their faith, so does the church grow stronger as a result.”

Father Schleisman added that both children and church “are inseparable, we are all in this together – to glorify God by building up the body of Christ the Church and Tutus Tuus helps do exactly that.”

Totus Tuus has been hosted at Holy Family Parish in Emmetsburg since 2007. A teaching team was in Emmetsburg the week of July 10-15.

“We have continued to host Totus Tuus because of the love of the program our students have, all ages from first grade to seniors in high school come to share the love Jesus in their life,” said Jean Hyslop, DRE at Holy Family. “Not only do our students attend and learn from the Totus Tuus teachers, but also students in grades 7-12 help with the classes during the day.”

Some of the students, she said, arrive at 9 a.m. to help out, leave at 2:30 p.m. and are back at 7:30 p.m. “to witness the love of Jesus in the young men and women who are wonderful role models to our students.”

According to Hyslop, hosting Totus Tuus is fairly simple.  They send in the payment to guarantee a team for the parish, ask for volunteers to provide housing for the teachers and ask for volunteers to serve evening meals to the teachers.  Volunteers are also needed during the day to help in the classrooms, with snack, lunch and to clean up.  On Wednesday evening the parish hosts a potluck.

“The parish and children benefit from the Totus Tuus program because for one week these children see college age young people witness their faith all day and into the evening.  These teachers are ‘Totally Yours’ for this week,” said the DRE. “It is also very evident in the kind of young people selected to teach, that they live their life according to the commands of Jesus.”

 The parish benefits by utilizing a program through the diocese that would be almost impossible to duplicate in their parish.  The potluck brings the generations together for food, building community, laughs and songs, noted Hyslop.

Printed with permission from the Catholic Globe, newspaper for the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa.