Ellis — On a humid day in mid-June, ten first and second-graders hunched quietly over their work in a classroom at St. Mary Grade School in Ellis. They colored the first page of their Rosary workbook, as seminarian Paul Flesher discussed the first Luminous Mystery. Down the hall, third and fourth-graders received an impromptu Latin lesson during Emily Andreozzi’s explanation of the Apostle’s Creed. Next door, Payton Bergkamp pitched questions to fifth and sixth-graders during a game of Catholic trivia baseball. In the school’s cafeteria, seminarian Aaron Dlabal stacked missalettes in preparation for the students to practice the songs to be sung at the day’s Mass.
For Andreozzi, Bergkamp, Dlabal and Flesher, these activities were part of the kickoff to the week-long Totus Tuus program in Ellis, one of the 21 locations across the Salina Diocese served by the program during June and early July. The four individuals, all first-year Totus Tuus team members, were in the middle of their summer of work leading young participants through the program, and all of them agreed that the experience was eye-opening and rewarding. “This has been a journey growing in selflessness,” said Bergkamp, an incoming Freshman at Benedictine College. “I’ve learned how to push through those times that are more difficult, and I’ve learned you can still give even when you’re tired or frustrated.”
For Andreozzi, an education major at Benedictine College, Totus Tuus offered a glimpse into what her life as a future teacher might be like. “I knew I was called to teach so it’s been fun to get into the classrooms to teach these kids about things I love and am passionate about,” she said. “It’s also interesting to see how much more you can teach some kids versus others; you can teach the younger kids [the basics of] words in a different language, but with the older kids you can go into more depth with things.”
The team members said the participants at each location seemed to be drawn to different topics and come up with new questions that often surprised them. For example, “In Atwood, the kids really latched onto the Trinity,” said Dlabal. “They asked a lot of good questions about that.” “And some of those questions were hard to answer,” added Andreozzi with a laugh.
While catechesis was woven throughout both the elementary school program and the junior-senior high program, the approach to each group was slightly different. The younger students, who met from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., were divided into classrooms according to grade level. Their day incorporated classroom learning and games, Mass, lunch, recess and prayer.
The junior-senior high school students spent their time each evening in group discussions with the team members, participating in Eucharistic Adoration and reconciliation, playing games and concluding with night prayer. They also heard talks from each team member on topics including building a relationship with God, applying the gifts of the Holy Spirit in their daily lives and the importance of receiving the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist frequently.
Question and answer sessions were also a large part of each evening and led to several good discussions. Bergkamp attributed the quality and volume of questions to the anonymity factor, saying since the questions could be submitted anonymously, the kids seemed more open to asking about issues that were on their minds. “We had a lot of questions about prayer life, discerning vocations, and how to listen to God’s will,” said Dlabal.
As seminarians for the Salina Diocese, he and Flesher took the opportunity to share a bit about their discernment and journey to the seminary. Like Andreozzi, they took advantage of their opportunity to peek into the life of the priests they worked with during the summer. “It’s been interesting to see how different priests interact with the kids in their parishes in different ways,” Flesher said. “Totus Tuus has been a very grounding experience,” said Dlabal. “[Early] in the seminary, we don’t do a lot of ministry, so this has been different than what I’m used to, but it’s also a reminder that I really enjoy what I’m preparing to do.”
Despite the fast pace and full schedule of each week of Totus Tuus, the team members were impressed and encouraged by the students surrounding them. “It’s been so cool to experience the energy of these kids and the sincerity they have to know about their faith,” said Flesher. Dlabal agreed. “The kids are great — so smart and so into the faith. It really gives me hope for the future of the Church.”