The 2019 Diocese of Superior Totus Tuus’ 12 team members are pictured with summer interns Bryn Rademaker and Isaiah Schick during their training session in Winona, Minnesota. Team members hail from inside and outside the diocese; for those not local to northern Wisconsin, many connected with the diocese as students at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. (Submitted photo)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

“A leap of faith” is how youth minister Kendra Mitchell, Immaculate Conception, New Richmond, described the effort of parish leaders to bring Totus Tuus to their parish.

While the parish offers many other youth opportunities during the summer, including a Vacation Bible School, pastor Fr. John Anderson strongly encouraged and supported the effort. An unsolicited generous donation also made it possible.

Immaculate Conception was one of two new parishes added to the Diocese of Superior’s Totus Tuus 2019 summer schedule, along with St. Mary’s in Hammond. In total, 19 parishes will be served by three teams of four young adults, spending one week at each location from June through early August.

Three of those parishes are actually in the Diocese of La Crosse: St. Joseph, Boyd; Holy Ghost, Chippewa Falls; and St. Mary, Altoona.

Chris Hurtubise, diocesan coordinator of youth ministry, said, “In 2015, we bumped up to having two teams, but last summer we had more parishes that wanted to participate than our two teams could handle.

“We were blessed to be able to bring in a team from the Diocese of Marquette to meet our need, but with another couple more parishes wanting to jump on board, we decided to hire three teams.”

After filling the Diocese of Superior parish requests, Hurtubise was able to offer the three remaining weeks to a neighboring diocese.

“Three parishes just south of us in the Diocese of La Crosse jumped at the opportunity,” Hurtubise noted, and he said in 2020 they would do the same, unless more parishes in the diocese wanted the program.

Anyone who works for the church will say it’s not a great way to get rich, and though Totus Tuus team teachers and leaders do get a nominal stipend, it is a sacrifice – especially with most in their college years – to not have those eight or nine weeks for a summer job.

But for Fi Robbins, a first-time teacher and student at the University of Minnesota—Duluth, “It’s totally worth it!”

Robbins is from Superior and had experienced what Totus Tuus has to offer as a high school student. Some family friends from her home parish of Christ the King Cathedral suggested she look into participating as a team member, and she is very glad they did.
The commitment for team members is not nominal, and as veteran team member Robbie Simon shared, teaching the same material, singing the same songs and playing the same games can get repetitive week after week.

This summer, he came straight from traveling in Europe. “The scenery change was,” he admitted, “a little disappointing.”

However, he said, seeing some of the faces in parishes he worked at his first year, and new curriculum (it changes yearly based on a six-year cycle) have added to the “greater sense of mission and purpose” this summer. He feels he is being given a greater chance to grow personally this summer, as he knows the basic flow of the program.

“If I wanted to sightsee, I could be elsewhere,” Simon said. “Last year everything was new, it was my first time ever in Wisconsin.

This year, he is waking up every day with “that sense of purpose of why I am here. I am here for the people and the kids.”

Simon said he’s been at his best when he hasn’t felt overly excited, given some of the monotony.

“It helps you to do it out of love,” the Los Angeles native affirmed.

The experience has helped him, too. A student at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Simon is part of the university’s priestly discernment program. That was where he met Isaiah Schick, a seminarian for the Diocese of Superior, and was introduced to the diocese’s Totus Tuus program and the opportunity to serve as part of a team in the Northwoods.

He joked that part of his experience with Totus Tuus has helped him realize he does not want to be a diocesan priest. He feels called at this point to discern with the Dominicans after graduation, and all the experience teaching the faith these last two summers has helped him to clarify that call.

“I admire the diocesan priests very much,” he said. He and teammate Brandon Toman have been able to stay in various rectories so far this summer.

“It has been a good experience for discerning,” Simon added.

Vocation is a strong theme of the Totus Tuus curriculum – understanding that vocation includes more than one calling, but most of the team members are either formally discerning or at least open to the possibility of priestly or religious life.

Robbins, who isn’t actively discerning religious life, said that while growing up she just assumed marriage would be her path, Totus Tuus has helped her realize the need for and merit in generously being open to discernment.

Loree Nauertz is a parent whose children have participated in Totus Tuus for more than a decade. She has been particularly involved with the seventh- through 12th-grade students, and loves “the example of college-age kids who are great role models.”

“Faith and fun combined” is how Nauertz summed up the program. She appreciates the solid teaching transmitted and that the sessions are “a safe place to ask any question about our faith and morals and how to live and love our faith in the real world and everyday life.”

“It’s centered around the sacraments with fun mixed in. The kids learn that our Catholic faith is meant to sustain us, while at the same time be a setting where good fun and great friendships can be had.”

From the standpoint of catechetical formation, Mitchell shared, “After hosting TT at our parish, I can firsthand say it is one of the best opportunities a parish can offer for the entire parish.

“We were able to involve youth from surrounding parishes, which really made for a beautiful larger Catholic community-building experience. Friends from Extreme Faith Camp were reunited, and new friends were made. The witness of the young missionaries is a special and powerful aspect of the week, and the engagement of parishioners as host homes and providing meals was wonderful.”

As a youth minister whose primary role is “to be in the front line of ministry,” she valued the experience of “sitting back and watching ministry happen.”

“It was so evident that God was working through the (broader community’s) involvement … The parishioners, volunteers, missionaries and youth all ministering to each other. Isn’t that how God designed it to be?”

Totus Tuus team members Robbie Simon and Fi Robbins offer parents some thoughts on how to maintain and build upon their children’s experience and encounter with Christ.

  • Remember that you are your children’s primary educator in the faith. Try to find ways to enrich and inform your own faith.
  • Continue teaching your children through stories – Bible stories and lives of the saints. Kids love these elements from Totus Tuus; build on that and learn as a family.
  • To help children want to go to Mass, make sure they understand it is the highlight of the day. Give them your example of being excited to spend time with Jesus, listen to Him and His word, talk to Him. Help them see that one hour a week (even seven hours a week if daily Mass is available) is so little in comparison with all God has given us.