Atwood — Lunchtime conversation at Sacred Heart Parish included giggles, claps and several “God is good,” chants back and forth.
Totus Tuus, the annual summer catechetical program offered by the Diocesan Office of Youth Ministry, kicked off June 5 in Atwood and across the diocese.
Children invited members of Team 2: seminarian Bob Schroeder, Matea Gregg, Michaela Sasse and Joshua Caasi to sit by them and share what they learned during morning sessions.
“Bob is the best teacher,” exclaimed 8-year-old Savannah Warning as she flashed the seminarian a smile across the table.
Her tablemate, Payton Juenemann, agreed. “We’ve learned a lot about the Glorious Mysteries,” she said.
Savannah and Payton, who will enter third grade in the fall, with the help of team leader Schroeder named the first, second and third mysteries. The fourth and fifth mysteries were learned in the next couple of days.
The Totus Tuus team conducting the Atwood session introduced themselves after Mass June 5. They relaxed and prepared for the five day “vacation Bible school” that evening, after being scheduled to host Sacred Heart junior high students.
Totus Tuus teachers instruct kindergarten through sixth graders from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
“Wednesday and Thursday evenings are scheduled for high schoolers,” Schroeder said.
The themes for this year’s Totus Tuus classes are prayer, specifically the Our Father and the Glorious Mysteries.
Totus Tuus is the Latin phrase from St. John Paul II, Totus Tuus, Maria, which means “Totally Yours, Mary.”
“It means giving yourself completely to Mary to give over to Jesus,” Schroeder said.
“The kids are doing well,” he continued with a smile. “They are a very lively bunch. They are retaining lessons and having a good time.”
Schroeder said the sessions are fun with team members and students acting out the mysteries, playing games, attending daily Mass and sometimes, even being serious. They have recess time for all that extra energy to be spent.
The team uses patience and incentives for good behavior.
“We have good deed beads,” Schroeder said. “Collecting all of the good deed beads entitles the students to participate in the Friday water fight.”
“We also have encouraged the boys to be gentlemen,” Gregg said, noting the eager way the young boys were cleaning up plates off the lunch tables. Students scurried to push in chairs before recess time for “high-fives” and “good deed points” with Gregg. The kids can even score points at Mass.
“We really like how Father (Gnanasekar Kulandi) is doing his homilies,” Schroeder said.
Father Gnanasekar invited all 39 children to the front altar to participate in the homily and petitions. He sat on a short footstool in front of the altar and children surrounded him. Schroeder noted it was similar to the way Jesus taught children and the eagerness of the students to be near Father.
Petitions varied from praying for the sick and handicapped to wishing the Totus Tuus team a good trip.
Wednesday night was potluck for the parish and Totus Tuus participants, with about 30 to 35 parishioners attending.
Schroeder, Gregg, Sasse and Caasi are one of four teams in the Salina Diocese who are conducting Totus Tuus sessions. The teams are mostly comprised of two young men and two young women, with a seminarian as the team leader, Schroeder said. His team will be traveling around the Diocese, teaching in Salina, Hanover, Beloit, Manhattan and attending Prayer and Action in Junction City later this summer.
Schroeder and other team members have bonded since their training. Gregg said she felt called to be on the Totus Tuus team.
“I promised I would think about it,” she said as she recalled why she volunteered for one of the openings available. “It kept popping up in my thoughts and I realized I should probably just do it!”
Gregg is from Hays. Sasse, from Gaylord, graduated from Fort Hays State University this spring and will be attending optometry school. Caasi, a Park parishioner and native of Quinter, is in his second year at Benedictine College, studying engineering. Schroeder graduated from Kansas State University in 2015, was farming with his family near Colby and trying to discern a call to the priesthood. He is now a pre-theology student and finished his first semester at Conception Seminary in Conception, Mo.
Schroeder said the spark of thinking about priesthood began about two years ago. An active member of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish - St. Isidore Catholic Student Center on K-State’s campus, he had friends who had participated in diocese events including Totus Tuus. He spoke with different priests and visited with Father Gale Hammerschmidt.
“I’m really glad I (discern going to seminary),” Schroeder said. “I’m more at peace now and feel like I’ve grown a lot in the last semester.”
The Totus Tuus experience provides missionary and leadership experience, he explained.
“I’m making prayer more of my everyday life,” Schroeder said.
“During training we learned that people see us as that witness of faith,” Schroeder said. “Even if you don’t think anyone is looking, we always need to be witnesses and live our faith.”