Totus Tuus instructs and inspires kids

By Elizabeth Starr
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Totus Tuus returned to the Diocese of Davenport for its fifth year with seven parishes serving as host sites, the largest number of parishes so far.

The one-week program, emphasizing faith, fun and vocations, travels to different parishes over a seven-week period to teach youths in first through 12th grade about their Catholic faith through witness, catechesis and exposure to the sacraments. “Totus Tuus” is a Latin phrase that means “Totally yours.” It was St. John Paul the Great’s apostolic motto, expressing his devotion to Mary.

Parishes in Camanche, Clinton, Newton, Davenport, Columbus Junction, Grinnell, Mount Pleasant, Pella and Oskaloosa participated this summer, with some combining efforts (Camanche and Clinton, and Pella and Oskaloosa). Youths do not have to belong to the parish to participate. At St. Mary Parish in Davenport, children from Blue Grass, Buffalo and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf participated.

Approximately 20 to 30 first- through sixth-graders participate in daytime programming while 20 to 25 students in grades seven through 12 participate in evening sessions. The day program has more of an academic focus and the evening program provides more of a retreat or youth group experience. The older youths discuss prayer, identity, challenges in fostering a relationship with God, adoration/reconciliation and vocations. A mystery of the rosary is taught each year; this year’s focused on the sorrowful mysteries.

Elizabeth Starr
Hugo Rodriguez, Dane Dickinson, Mary Jacobsen and Sarah Adams lead an activity during Totus Tuus at St. Mary Parish in Davenport on July 23.

Totus Tuus differs from Vacation Bible School through a focus on the rosary and devotions, daily Mass, confession, adoration and discussion of vocations. Team leaders give testimonials throughout the week.

Father Joseph Sia, director of vocations for the Diocese of Davenport, oversees Totus Tuus for the diocese with administrative assistant Colleen Darland. “The fact that these kids are getting to know their faith is already a step toward holiness. For them to have Mass within the program, they appreciate it even more. They focus more. They get to see what the priest does.”

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Jasmin Tone, youth director for multiple parishes including St. Mary Parish in Davenport, worked with Totus Tuus during its first two years in the diocese. She attributes this year’s participation increase to many parishes hiring new youth ministers who may be more “willing to try something new.”

Offering a program tailored to two different age groups is beneficial, Tone believes, and the middle school/high school group experiences something not offered in other summer programs. Students are taught by young adults who are actively discerning, she said, and they get to participate in daily Mass.

Totus Tuus teams typically consist of two men and two women, ranging from college age to early 30s. Leaders this summer are seminarians Dane Dickinson and Hugo Rodriguez and students Sarah Adams and Mary Jacobsen of St. Ambrose University in Davenport. They received two weeks of training and one week off for the Fourth of July holiday, making it a nine-week long summer job. They stay with host families in each community.

Adams, serving as a leader for the first time, said she was excited to work with Totus Tuus after working as a marketing intern last summer. She hadn’t heard of Totus Tuus until Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action, sent her the application. When she arrived at her first parish, it “immediately felt like the right place.”

Dickinson sees Totus Tuus as a good opportunity to get to know the diocese and the children and families in several parishes. He said Totus Tuus has helped strengthen his calling and faith.

Manuel Toquinto and his wife Diana helped serve meals and set up Totus Tuus at St. Mary Parish in Davenport. He said Totus Tuus was a great way for the kids to get out of the house and it looks really fun for them. They play, sing, dance, jump. The kids are really involved and are motivated, he said.

Many children who participated at St. Mary’s are bilingual. “Many of the children will know the prayers in Spanish,” Fr. Sia said, “so we teach in English and then they will know both.” Spanish advertisements were used to promote the program to Spanish-speaking parents.

Fr. Sia’s goal is to have 10 parishes host Totus Tuus in the future, allowing for two teams to have five weeks of programs around the diocese. He also hopes to see more college men get involved. The majority of male leaders the past five years have been seminarians. Fr. Sia said other dioceses have seen college men who started on the Totus Tuus team who later entered seminary.


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