Totus Tuus missionaries Carl Oman, left, and Hunter Wallace, right, lead the infamous banana peel song to end another day of fun and faith for children attending the day program at St. Anthony Parish in Park Falls. (Catholic Herald photo by Jenny Snarski)

Jenny Snarski
Catholic Herald Staff

Thirteen parishes in the diocese experienced the dynamic Totus Tuus program between mid-June and early August.

Unique to the 2021 Totus Tuus missionary teams, seven of the eight young adults were not only Diocese of Superior natives but had also grown up with diocesan youth programming.

There were also a couple parishes served by a team from the Diocese of Marquette to fill requests for the program.

The Catholic Herald travelled to Park Falls in late July to interview one of the four-person teams.

Colette Harrold, 19, New Richmond, has completed one year at the College of St. Benedict. She is studying psychology and hopes to be a counselor.

Lydia Sittlow of Hudson, also 19, is studying psychology and education and looking to go into speech therapy. She will return to Benedictine College in Kansas for her second year.

Hunter Wallace of Merrill, 20, studies kinesiology and will be a junior at UW-Madison.

Carl Oman, 22, from Amery, just graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth with a mechanical engineering degree and has been accepted into St. Francis de Sales Seminary this fall.

Missionaries were asked about teaching methods they employ in presenting catechesis to youths.

Harrold acknowledged their methods differ according to the age group they’re working with; missionaries rotate through various age groups but all use the elements of energy and repetition and keep lessons relatively short.

“If you’re excited, they’ll be excited,” she said.

Oman noted the use of stories and personal examples, especially in speaking about virtues, and engaging kids by inviting them to share their own examples. He sees how this makes it relevant to their lives.

Sittlow spoke about starting and ending each lesson with prayer. “It’s how we communicate with God and grow in love with him,” she said, and it was a gift for her to pass that on and for students to see the love of God through her. Sittlow loved not only praying the traditional prayers but also opportunities to pray for each kid by name.

In response to the question about their favorite aspects and those most challenging, all agreed that meeting the children, youth, adults, church leaders and priests was a highlight.

Wallace’s personal impression of the diocese was lifted up in witnessing the energy and hope on the horizon for the many good things and “cool people on fire for the Lord.”

Oman added the descriptors “faithful” and “awesome” to his experience of the Superior Catholics, admitting that his only contact with the eastern side of the diocese was seeing it on a map.The exposure to a lot of different priests and families influenced Oman as well, “seeing what vocations look like in real life,” he said, noting that he felt at home with kids around and toys on the floor.

On the verge of entering the seminary, he was also struck in seeing “how the priests are moving heaven and earth and mountains and rivers to make the Totus Tuus Mass times work,” as well as “the behind-the-scenes life of a diocesan priest.”

Oman has a new sense of appreciation for how they juggle their ministry roles and how they are allowed to let their own personalities shine through, to engage with their interests and connect with people.

“It gives me a lot of comfort in pursuing the priesthood,” he said. “I’m free to be exactly who I’m supposed to be within the priesthood.”

Sittlow mentioned it was beautiful to watch children grow and unfold throughout the week, but it was also difficult to start over with a new group after making meaningful connections.

“It’s so cool to see God in a little package with the funny things they say, the love they have,” she said.

Seeing the students’ growth and their own as God’s vessels, Sittlow added, “It’s beautiful to see that we’re working with the future of the church.”

The aspects of team life were another valued part of the experience for all four.
“We really do feel like siblings and friends,” Harrold said, something aided by the playfulness of the program.

Related to that, Wallace spoke of the meaningful experience of living and learning “how to be a brother in Christ, especially to the young women team members.”

Sittlow mentioned how helpful their daily team check-ins were – moments to be honest with each other, vulnerable and supportive. She also grew in her understanding of what real friendship means.

She added that she anticipates watching the fruits unfold, moving into the school year and “back in the real world.”

Moving forward, Harrold will take the experience of “seeing families bring faith into their family life” and wanting that for herself some day. She also feels a deeper sense of mission and desire to continue being a missionary in multiple ways at school, with family and friends.

Harrold sees the trajectory of how she was moved by the example of mentors in the faith and now has had the opportunity to be that gift for other kids, “especially with the high school groups, to show them that in their public high schools they’re not alone.”

Oman looks back and sees how important the “powerful moments of conversion” were from his time at Extreme Faith Camp.

“Having my need for Jesus and the faith made clearer, I look back on that as an anchoring point moving through college,” he affirmed.

Sittlow also “can see how the little pieces of formation and growth in programming with the diocese have come full circle” through her progression as a camper, prayer team member and high school leader.

Both Sittlow and Wallace commented on those developed leadership skills.

Wallace admitted he was a quiet kid in high school and didn’t talk much during his participation in the Totus Tuus evening programs. It was, however, “the only cool Catholic thing” he did in those years, and he valued the powerful testimony of his Totus Tuus leaders.

His missionary experience has shed light on knowing there is “a good chance their hearts are being moved, keeping in mind there are kids who could be him someday.”
Finally, the team wanted to share their gratitude: “We have received so much love, support and food!”