Kyle Sladek, who recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame and will begin his studies for the priesthood this fall, is the lead teacher. It’s his second year helping with the program. He described the scope of the mission.
“Totus Tuus is a summer catechetical experience for young people from first grade through 12th grade. The program consists of two parts,” he said. “In the morning we work with first through sixth graders and we teach them the joyful mysteries of the rosary and we’ll teach them about the sacraments this year. We’ll also intersperse silly songs, skits and games and there’ll be daily Mass.”
The program for the younger students runs from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The older youth will attend two-hour sessions Sunday through Thursday evenings. Parents and middle and high schoolers are welcome to attend Mass each day.
In addition to Sladek, the Totus Tuus team includes Callie Kowalski, who is just finishing up a year of service through Spiritus, Elijah Simmons, another first-year seminarian, and Paige Lightner. Rachel Van Handel is the program coordinator. This will be a nine-week commitment for the team. They have two weeks of training before starting the parish work.
“In my experience, Totus Tuus has proven a lot more substantial than any vacation Bible school I’ve experienced as a teacher or a helper,” noted Sladek. “The children come away with fewer crafts but more knowledge of their faith. They are better catechized, they know solid things like the mysteries of the rosary, they know salvation history. Last year they learned what each line of the Nicene Creed means — how it affects them. They learn how to pray, they learn the importance of Mass, they learn the centrality of the Eucharist, they interact with priests, they interact with their peers and young people like Callie and I in ways that I haven’t seen with vacation Bible school programs.”
Kowalski, who is interested in a church ministry career in an area such as youth outreach, is looking forward to being a part of Totus Tuus. “I have a passion for working with youth. I spent a lot of time with youth with Spiritus. This sounds like fun — hanging out with kids all day, having fun and teaching them about the faith.”
Parish missions begin June 9
Sladek was asked to be a part of the team last year by the diocesan vocation director Fr. Daniel Schuster. “It was something unknown to me at the time and (I thought) it would be a nice variation from my previous summer work of doing construction work,” he said. “I really enjoyed my summer last year so I decided when the opportunity arose again this summer I would be very happy to do it again — working with the young kids is a blast.
“I love teaching; this is an opportunity to teach in a little more formal setting, a classroom with blackboards, usually, and attentive students willing to learn about their faith,” he added.
The students and their parents had as positive an experience as he did, said Sladek. “The kids loved it and the parents loved it too. The kids thought it was a great time. We had almost 100 percent positive feedback.”
This summer Kowalski will be the musician for Totus Tuus. “I’m looking forward to expanding not only my musical gifts but also teaching the kids through songs. Being on Spiritus it wasn’t a formal teaching setting, it was more retreat based — giving sessions and talks to students who don’t necessarily want to be there. The opportunity to be with kids who want to be there and want to learn about their faith, I’m really looking forward to that.”
There’s still room for more students to sign up for the summer sessions and Sladek encourages kids to join them. “It’s a great week; it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great way to meet other people your age who have a common faith, especially for the high schoolers. It’s a great way to learn about your faith and have fun doing it.”