My name is Rachel and I served on one of the Totus Tuus teams this last summer. It changed my life. Before we were able to teach, Totus Tuus teachers from 5 Dioceses around the Midwest came together to have a week of training at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Winona, MN. During this week, we absorbed theology and catechism lessons based on the 2015 Totus Tuus curriculum at a collegiate level, knowing full well that we’d eventually be breaking it down to teach to 1st-12th graders. Although initially overwhelming, we had plenty of help from our directors, priests, and experienced teachers that were serving a second year in the program. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, our directors determined our teams half-way through the week—I was placed on Team Mary with three others: Grace and Archdiocesan seminarians Tyler and Joseph. Then came our first Team Mary meeting; we were going to be spending a lot of time together in the next 6 weeks, so we discussed our personalities, languages, strengths, and weaknesses to know how to properly affirm and support each other throughout our ministry as brothers and sisters in Christ. We had a good mix: Tyler had served on Totus Tuus two summers before with the Diocese of Winona, Grace and I were pursuing education degrees, and Joseph brought an undying energy to the team that sustained our ministry—we were set.
We began to grasp onto and embody the 5 pillars of Totus Tuus: Eucharistic Devotion, Marian Devotion, Catechetical Instruction, Vocational Discernment, and Fun. At the very center of the Totus Tuus day program (1st-6th grade) was the celebration of the Mass—Eucharistic Devotion—and for the night program (7th-12th grade), Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was held on Tuesday evenings. It was only fitting to have these celebrations to remind both ourselves and the students and youth the reason for all we do (including fun): to glorify the Lord and share His love and joy with the world. The second pillar—Marian Devotion—was exercised through the title of the program, Totus Tuus.
“Totus Tuus Suum Maria” was the papal motto of Saint John Paul II, meaning that we totally belong to the Blessed Virgin Mother—everything we have we give confidently to Mary, who leads us directly to her Son. As a team, we prayed the Most Holy Rosary daily with her intercession as well as taught the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary during our day program. Pillar two transitioned nicely into the third pillar: Catechetical Instruction. In addition to teaching about the Sorrowful Mysteries, this year’s curriculum included the Moral and Theological Virtues as well as the Beatitudes. For me, during the first few weeks, I was focused on teaching the content, but as the summer went on, the new knowledge about my faith became part of who I was, making it easier to teach and show the students what it means to live as a Catholic.
With prayer each day and constant reliance on the Lord, we embraced the fourth pillar: Vocational Discernment. Now, this meant discernment of vocation for not only ourselves, but for our students and youth as well. Class periods were dedicated to discussing God’s call, the “Vocations Cake” (the different levels of vocation), and what that means for each of us—a universal call to holiness. Each day, a saint came to visit during our day program, showing the students that they, too, are called to be saints, and it IS possible. The saints spoke about listening to the Lord’s call, and we practiced listening to Him in class, at Mass, and during Adoration for the night program. Finally, with every ounce of energy we could muster, we accomplished the fifth and final pillar: FUN! Each day, we were able to share the joy of the Lord through prayers, silly songs, music, laughs, games at recess, ice breakers, activities in class, and most of all, during the youth night for the night program on Thursday evenings and the (cold) water fight that was held each Friday afternoon for the day program. These opportunities allowed us to be in fellowship with the students and youth of each parish, getting to know them outside the classroom environment—who they truly are as children and youth.
After leaving Columbia Heights, we traveled next to Transfiguration Parish in Oakdale, MN, where we had the most students and youth we had all summer. We learned the importance of organization and the energy that is possible when so many are gathered in the name of Jesus. Our next stop was the Church of Saint Timothy in Maple Lake, MN. Here, with a smaller number of students, we were able to build relationships with not only the students and youth, but also with the families in the community as well as the parish priest and others who worked at the parish. This became a trend that continued on our Totus Tuus mission.
We began our second three week session at sister parishes SS. Peter and Paul in Loretto, MN and St. Thomas in Corcoran, MN. These two small but vibrant parishes reminded us of the reverence for the Eucharist and the importance of the unity of the parish family. Saint Patrick Parish in Oak Grove, MN was our second-to-last stop, and the support we received from staff, parents, and volunteers was overwhelming. We learned the value of flexibility while staying grounded in prayer. And, finally, we jumped across the border to St. Joseph Parish in Amery, WI to help out a parish in the Diocese of Superior.
I learned how to love, willing the good of the other; love the students and youth I served, those I encountered, and especially my three teammates. I became this summer, and desire every day, a witness to this love I learned to both give and receive.
I was humbled by all that we received after each week— we were first-hand witnesses to God’s grace, poured out into the hearts of those around us. Working as a teacher on Totus Tuus this summer provided me with a testimony of love, and since God is love, it is ultimately a testimony of God.
+Totus Tuus Suum Maria+
Mary, we are totally yours.