September 6, 2019

Evangelization and Catechesis Supplement

Summer Totus Tuus program helps youths, young adults say ‘I’m totally yours’

Youths of Holy Family Parish in New Albany raise their hands to answer a question posed by Totus Tuus catechist Jackie Parkes in the parish’s school gymnasium on June 19. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Youths of Holy Family Parish in New Albany raise their hands to answer a question posed by Totus Tuus catechist Jackie Parkes in the parish’s school gymnasium on June 19. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

NEW ALBANY—After a week of teaching the faith to youths of the Tell City Deanery this summer, Jackie Parkes was feeling uncertain.

“Sometimes it’s easy to become discouraged—are they getting it? Are they listening?” Parkes, 21, says she asked herself. “By the end of the week, the kids were like, ‘I want to be a saint! Thanks for showing us how to be saints!’ ”

Their responses were reassuring. But then she received an unexpected reward.

“This little girl came up to me at lunch the last day and said, ‘Miss Jackie, I think you’ll make a great saint!’ ” she recalls, her eyes misting at the memory.

Parkes is one of four members who formed the archdiocese’s first “Totus Tuus” catechetical team. The four young adults spent seven weeks this summer traveling to parishes in central and southern Indiana, as well as Ohio and Illinois, for a week at a time to teach the faith to youths and teens—and to ignite in them a love for Christ, Mary and the Church.

‘Teaching important stuff, not fluff’

The name of the program is Latin for “totally yours.” It was the papal motto of St. John Paul II in honor of his consecration to Jesus through Mary, as taught by St. Louis de Montfort.

Totus Tuus was founded in 1993 and is now implemented in parishes nationwide. Its curriculum consists of five “pillars”: the Eucharist via daily Mass and adoration, Marian devotion, catechesis, vocational discernment, and time for fun games, skits and songs.

“Totus Tuus includes everything that’s good and fun about other types of vacation Bible school experiences,” says Ken Ogorek, director of the archdiocesan Office of Catechesis. “But it adds a few important dimensions.”

Ogorek lauds the program for using “not just Scripture but also sacred tradition, teaching young people several important aspects about our Catholic faith.”

Totus Tuus breaks the four pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church into topics that form a six-year teaching cycle: The Mystery of Salvation,

The Apostles’ Creed, The Sacraments, The Commandments, The Virtues, and Prayer and the Our Father.

Marian devotion is also encouraged. A decade of the rosary is prayed each of the five days of the program, and the curriculum explores one of the rosary’s four sets of mysteries each year.

“It helps [youths] appreciate not just the rosary, but the mysteries, which come out of sacred Scripture,” Ogorek notes. “Kids are really learning how to invite Mary into their lives as disciples of her son Jesus.”

The curriculum content impresses Theresa Shaw, coordinator of family faith formation at Holy Family Parish in New Albany. This was the first summer she invited Totus Tuus to offer their program for the parish youths.

“I like that [Totus Tuus] is not just basic stuff, not just ‘God is love’ and ‘Jesus loves you,’ ” she says. “They’re teaching important stuff, not fluff. Even though [the kids] learn about faith in school, this goes deeper into how to live it in life.”

Jonathan Higgins, coordinator of youth ministry and education for St. Michael Parish in Greenfield, couldn’t agree more.

“We were blown away by the content and the depth of it,” he says, referring also to the sentiments of St. Michael pastor Father Aaron Jenkins.

He describes the program as “authentically Catholic. Everything they teach our kids is from a Catholic standpoint. It’s good quality material, the kids enjoyed it—you can’t lose with that.”

‘They not only teach, but witness’

Perfect examples of living their faith are the program’s catechists, the second reason Ogorek is impressed by the summer catechesis program.

He explains that Totus Tuus “is facilitated by a team of four faith-filled young adults—two men and two women, usually college students, including a seminarian if possible”—who were interviewed and chosen from a pool of applicants.

“These four young adults are on fire for love of Jesus and the Catholic Church. They not only teach but witness in a very powerful way.”

Parkes and one other team member are originally from St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington. Each is now studying at Indiana University and worshiping at St. Paul Catholic Center, both in Bloomington.

Parkes, now a senior, applied to be a Totus Tuus catechist to help prepare for a career in ministry or missionary work after graduating.

Her desire is to pass on to others “the difference between learning about Jesus, and knowing him, and how to have a relationship with him.” She hopes to help youths grow “in understanding of the sacraments and why we should be practicing our faith and not just be Catholic in name alone.”

Scott Wiles, 22, of Holy Family Parish in New Albany says Totus Tuus was “right up my alley,” having taught religious education to his parish’s fifth- and sixth-graders. The recent graduate of Indiana University Southeast in New Albany recommends any young adult “who wants to teach kids about Christ” apply to be a catechist for the program.

The curriculum this summer focused on teaching the seven sacraments and the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. Wiles, who is interested in pursuing a graduate degree in theology, was impressed by how two former Totus Tuus catechists—both now diocesan priests in Ohio—“taught us how to break those deep concepts down for the kids” during the 10 days of training the catechists received.

Both Wiles and Parkes are enthusiastic about their opportunity with Totus Tuus.

“To me, there’s just no better summer than to talk about God all the time, go to Mass every day and have structured prayer time,” says Parkes.

‘The whole parish gets involved’

Another unique component Ogorek appreciates about Totus Tuus is that it “provides an opportunity for kids ranging from first all the way up to twelfth grade to plug into these beautiful experiences.”

The catechists work with youths in grades 1-6 from morning to mid-afternoon during the week days.

Then on Sunday through Thursday evenings, they focus their catechetical efforts on students in grades 7-12.

In addition to catechesis on that summer’s topics of focus, the evening program with the teens includes prayer, witness talks, small group sharing and discussions on how to live out the faith. Confession is available, and one evening includes a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament.

“The teens, who can be less enthusiastic by their nature, ended up absolutely loving the program and were passionate about it,” says Griffin. “It’s great to have college kids come in and show kids they’re living their faith out this way. It sets a good example. They taught them [the faith], and also showed them.”

And the benefits of the program don’t stop there, says Shaw. With parishioners preparing lunch during the week, hosting team members for dinner and providing a place for them to stay, she says Totus Tuus “gets the whole parish involved in this opportunity for the kids to grow in their faith.”

Closeness to Christ leads to purpose in life

It was during his exposure to parish life as a Totus Tuus catechist for two summers as a seminarian that Father David Doseck of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati affirmed his call to the priesthood.

Now he and a priest of the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, who also served as a Totus Tuus catechist while in seminary, devote their vacation time to training the program’s catechists for 10 days each summer. They also develop the program’s theological content, “making the curriculum as applicable as possible,” says Father Doseck, 29.

The last day of the program includes a discussion about vocation.

“We mention the vocation call and that, first and foremost, a relationship with Jesus Christ will lead you to your purpose and meaning for life,” he explains. “We tell [the youths] how some of them might be called that very week at Totus Tuus to be a priest, to marriage, to the religious life, or to be single and chaste and live in holiness right now.”

But the largest witness of seeking one’s purpose and meaning through a relationship with Christ comes from the catechists themselves, says Father Doseck.

“They’re giving up their summer to dedicate their life totally to Jesus and loving these children,” he explains. “For a young, single person, that’s very radical.

“And the fascinating thing is that most Totus Tuus missionaries are actively discerning their own vocation to married life, the priesthood or to religious life. We encourage them to be open to sharing their discernment at this stage in the process, especially with the middle school and high school kids.”

In all, says Father Doseck, Totus Tuus is “a healthy, holy way to approach [youths] where they are in their faith, and move them in a direction closer to Jesus.”

And for the young adult catechists, he continues, “This is where they learn ‘totus tuus,’ saying to Christ and Mary, ‘I’m totally yours,’ and saying to the kids and the parish for that week, ‘I’m totally yours. I’m dedicated to help you encounter Jesus and learn the faith.’ ”

(For more information on Totus Tuus, go to or call Ken Ogorek at 317-236-1446 or toll free at 800-382-9836, ext. 1446, or e-mail him at


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