Totus Tuus Leader Haley Arndt is portraying St. Clare of Assisi for participants at St. Mary’s in Tomahawk. Each day of the program, children learn about a different saint. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald staff

With a new school year starting, the rest and relaxation of summer already seems a distant memory. But hundreds of youth across the diocese are looking to parents and parish mentors to help keep present the spiritual encounters of summer 2017.

Relational ministry

Totus Tuus has a proven track record of long-term faith enrichment and discipleship formation. Under the guidance of Chris Hurtubise, diocesan associate director of Catholic Formation, and assisted by summer intern Mariah Schultz, two four-person teams served 11 parishes this summer.

“The catechetical and prayer components are both placed in the context of really authentic and loving relational ministry, and that makes both the teaching and the prayer come to life,” Hurtubise told the Catholic Herald.
Participants likely don’t realize their opportunities for encountering Christ, “are facilitated and strengthened by the team loving them and giving joyful witness to the power of Christ in their own lives,” he believes.

Serving in her second year as the program’s intern, Schultz was the logistical middle person between parishes and teams. She also reached out to each of the eight team members weekly, making sure individuals were doing mentally, physically and emotionally well and functioning well as a team.

“If there’s conflict, we encourage them to honestly and openly talk to the other team members; if necessary, I step in, but it hasn’t been necessary,” she said.

Schultz sees these skills of mature and constructive communication as a good framework for any area of ministry.

“It’s a whole concept of discipleship that is being refined. Within the diocese, I’ve heard the word discipleship a lot recently,” she added. “I think it’s so beautiful because that is essentially what I’m doing with the teams. We’re in a discipleship relationship, and we’re all trying to run to Christ and learning together.”

Schultz is an example of the influential role Totus Tuus can play in participants’ life. A self-described half-hearted participant, she does remember the strong experience of ending evening sessions with group night prayer.

The summer before her senior year, Schultz asked how to be become a Totus Tuus leader. She was given the information, but also the invitation to look into National Evangelization Team ministries. Schultz ended up serving two years with NET after high school.

From personal experience, she believes “the biggest thing that will affect our diocese is these young people being offered an encounter with Christ,” and then following up these encounters with practical tools to live out spirituality and the relational support structure to persevere.

One 2017 Totus Tuus team member was Haley Arndt of Merrill. Raised in a strong Catholic home where her parents, Wendy and Deacon Jim, made faith a priority, Arndt heard about the importance of living a life for the Lord and saw it acted upon.

Among other things, they encouraged their children to participate in Totus Tuus. Arndt was influenced by her father’s ordination to the permanent diaconate while she was in high school.

“Growing up with a dad as a deacon was always a really great and constant reminder about who we should be living our life for,” she said.

However, she told the Herald, “It was the friends that I made at Totus Tuus that helped me keep my faith strong throughout high school.”

Totus Tuus built a community within the youth of her church.

“Every summer during [that week] I was able to connect with kids my age who were taking their faith seriously,” she added.

A student at UW-Steven’s Point, Arndt is studying psychology, religious studies and communications. In the past year, she has felt God pulling on her heart to consider a future in ministry. Becoming a Totus Tuus teacher for the summer seemed a great way to discern that call.

Arndt has been truly impacted by her experience.

“Going into this summer, I had a strong relationship with God, but not necessarily with Catholicism,” she said. “After this summer, my appreciation for the Church has grown tremendously.”

One of the biggest impacts for Arndt was the team’s daily praying the Liturgy of the Hours, something she plans to continue as she heads back to school.

She said of her experience after the sessions were finished, “Despite how tiring it was at times, I absolutely loved it. I don’t think there is anything better out there than building relationships with the youth and bringing them into a closer encounter with Jesus.”

An invitation

Hurtubise remembers coming home from sports and music camps energized, only to revert to the status quo within a few weeks. Commenting on Totus Tuus as “just one week out of the year,” he said, “The key is to find ways to use it as a springboard or a catapult to drive and inspire the participants to deepen their faith all year.”

Like any good youth program, it “inspires and awakens a desire for God in the young people that participate. It is then up to our parish formation programs and ultimately our families to take that inspiration and nurture it and help it grow.”

Summing up Hurtubise’s specific invitation to parents, “no matter how awkward it might be”: Beef up family prayer life. Commit to getting to Mass regularly, even daily Mass when possible. Go to confession. Ask kids what they liked about Totus Tuus and how they encountered the Lord. Then commit to find ways to continue that at home and through participation in parish life.

Asked what parents can do to build on their children’s experiences, Schultz offered three ideas: “First, sacraments. Please take your kids to Mass. The Lord gives us so many hours in a week; and the minimum he asks for back is one. Encourage them to go to confession.

“Second, pray as a family. It brings about a sense of unity and refocusing towards Christ.” She recalled from her own childhood the simple acts of praying before meals and bedtime.
“And third, doing service work. Not just doing it as philanthropy, but because the Lord calls us to serve those who need it. And maybe we are the ones who need it.”


Totus Tuus parent testimonies

Lindsay Stanley, parent from Our Lady of the Lake, Ashland

My kids were super excited to go to Totus Tuus each day, and I am amazed at what they learned! Totus Tuus offered an in-depth look at the joyful mysteries and my kids left the program with a bounty of knowledge they were eager to share.  The material was presented at a developmentally appropriate level and in a manner that made the information stick. (The colored yarn bracelets were a  great tool!) My kids are still talking about what they learned at Totus Tuus, and are, of course, still singing many of the songs they learned during the week. I hope Totus Tuus will be back at OLL again soon!

Patty and Chris Zunker, parent from Our Lady of the Lake, Ashland

My children, Katrina, age 11 and Michael, age 10 had a lot of fun learning about our beautiful Catholic faith during Totus Tuus at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Ashland.  They now have a much deeper understanding of the Bible, its stories, and the teachings of our church.  My children relate to the Gospel readings in church on a new level.  Michael especially liked learning about the seven Sacraments, and Katrina found the Eucharistic Miracles fascinating!  The Totus Tuus team was an inspiration to my children as well as to us!