Traveling parish mission challenges youth to give themselves to Christ

Totus Tuus, which means, “Totally Yours,” is a week-long parish mission program established by the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois. Four-person teams of college students spend two weeks training in Illinois and are then sent to their home dioceses where they travel from parish to parish, staying with different host families along the way.

This year, the Diocese of St. Cloud has formed a Totus Tuus team that is traveling to six locations this summer: Alexandria, St. Cloud, Fergus Falls, Browerville, Eden Valley and Elk River.

This initiative was prompted by Father Scott Pogatchnik, vocation director for the diocese, after hearing about it from other vocation directors around the country. He consulted with Catholic Education Ministries director, Linda Kaiser, and then set the plans in motion to recruit a team.

Rose Berg-Arnold, Alex Liebsch, Hannah Salfer and Clinton Forster make up the St. Cloud Totus Tuus team, a traveling parish mission aiming to bring youth closer to Christ. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)
Rose Berg-Arnold, Alex Liebsch, Hannah Salfer and Clinton Forster make up the St. Cloud Totus Tuus team, a traveling parish mission aiming to bring youth closer to Christ. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)

“The primary genesis for the program was to find healthy summer engagement for the seminarians — ways for them to continue to grow in their discernment, but also give them opportunities to teach, to share their faith and to give vocational witness,” Father Pogatchnik said.

“The more I got into the program I realized all the wonderful side effects it could have. It would help build up a seminarian, and the seminarian would also witness to the other college students. Also, there is the benefit of working in close quarters with a team. It can really help one to understand his or her own strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

The St. Cloud team is made up of Rose Berg-Arnold, team leader and member of St. Michael Parish in St. Cloud, seminarian Alex Liebsch from St. Mary of Mount Carmel in Long Prairie, Clinton Forster, a student at St. John’s University and Hannah Salfer, a student at St. Cloud State University.

Berg-Arnold, who is a nursing student at the College of St. Benedict, knew Salfer and Forster from their involvement with Ablaze, a monthly teen event for students in grades 9-12 in St. Cloud.

“I just really love working with kids and youth and I love spreading my faith with them,” she said. “It is also a little bit outside of my comfort zone and it isn’t often you get a chance to do something like this so I thought I’d give it a shot.”

The four embarked on a trek to Rockford, Illinois, where they spent two weeks of intensive Totus Tuus training.

“The first week was focused on us,“ Berg-Arnold said. “It focused on bettering our prayer lives. A lot of what we’re going to be doing is centered on prayer so it is essential for us to have a strong faith life.”

The second week involved practical training and studying the curriculum, which is based on five pillars: the Eucharist, Marian devotion, catechetical instruction, vocational discernment and fun. The curriculum runs on a six-year rotating cycle. This year, it focuses on prayer and the glorious mysteries of the rosary.

Generational impact

One of the unique aspects of the program is that the team arrives at the hosting church on Saturday and attends all the weekend Masses to promote it.

“It puts a face on the program,” Father Pogatchnik said.

At each location, participants are divided into two groups — grades 1-6 meet during the day and middle school and high school students attend in the evening.

Katie Gramke, a kindergartener, and her sister Elise, a second-grader, place paper flowers around the statue garden at St. Katharine Drexel School in St. Cloud as second-grader Emma Lochen and first-grader Nathan Lieser during Totus Tuus June 22. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)
Katie Gramke, a kindergartener, and her sister Elise, a second-grader, place paper flowers around the statue garden at St. Katharine Drexel School in St. Cloud as second-grader Emma Lochen and first-grader Nathan Lieser during Totus Tuus June 22. (Dianne Towalski/The Visitor)

Mass is part of each day and elements of prayer are taught through the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, the Angelus, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. They also include activities like “shaving cream whiffle ball” and “building a human sundae.”

Mark and Marnee McGowan, members of St. Mary’s Cathedral, said they were thrilled with the opportunity to have all five of their children, ranging from ages 7-14, attend the camp.

“They each connected with the program directors and the material in their own way and I know they all got something out of the experience,” Mark McGowan said. “My youngest daughter, who is going into second grade, has asked to go to daily Mass from now on because of her experience at Totus Tuus.”

And the team leaders find they are gleaning just as much from the participants.

“You learn so much from working with kids,” Berg-Arnold said. “They look at things through a different lens. I am learning little things from them and also finding different ways to teach them. Once I started sharing with them and teaching them, I realized how much I love my faith and want to share it with them.”

Father Pogatchnik said the idea of catechesis by the generation just ahead of them has a great effect.

“This gives another voice that is closer in age to them to witness to the faith,” he said.

Another advantage to the program is that teams are hosted by families.

Jim and Janine Perrault, members of St. Augustine Parish in St. Cloud, were asked to host the two men on the team the week of June 18. Their son, Danny, attended the evening camp.

“It was such a blessing for our family to host Alex and Clinton,” Janine Perrault said. “Even though they weren’t there very much, we got to know them right away. It was a good experience.”

St. Cloud team member Hannah Salfer prays with first-grader Simon Floerke. (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)
St. Cloud team member Hannah Salfer prays with first-grader Simon Floerke. (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)

The four-person team shares just one vehicle so it was convenient that the two women were staying just down the road from the men. Perrault rose early to fix breakfast for the men before they headed off to prepare for the day, beginning with an hour of Eucharistic Adoration before campers arrived.

“I’m very delighted with the quality of the team we have this year and if we can keep that quality, I’d like to have more than one team in the future,” Father Pogatchnik said.

For Berg-Arnold, committing her summer to God is something she was happy to do.

“It’s been fun just to work with all the awesome people on the team, the kids and the families,” she said. “All the help we’ve gotten from volunteers has just been incredible. It’s so cool to see the graciousness people have and the generosity they have given to us and to the program.”

Author: Kristi Anderson

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