MENASHA — Madeline Mittelstaedt, 8, a third-grader at St. Margaret Mary School, had the time of her life last summer attending Totus Tuus, a summer mission program for parish youth offered by Spiritus.
Spiritus includes teams of young adult Catholics who lead retreats for parish youth. They are based at Mount Tabor Center in Menasha. Katherine Foord, assistant director of Spiritus, said Totus Tuus is a Latin phrase that means totally yours. “St. John Paul II used it as one of his mottos,” she said. “It’s giving yourself totally to Jesus through Mary.”
Madeline’s dad, Bob, said his daughter “had a blast” at the Totus Tuus event. “They have Mass every day and it’s so neat how they incorporate kids into that,” he said. “Ever since then it’s been a Spiritus infatuation.”
All summer and fall Madeline talked about the Spiritus team and wanted to do something for them. During Advent, Madeline and her friend Jillian Matheny, 9, decided to bake cookies for the Spiritus team and sell Christmas cards to raise money for them.
“We baked about 100 cookies and the girls got blank Christmas cards and made some of their own,” said Bob. “They walked around the neighborhood with this fruit jar and came home with like 27 bucks.”
The first Friday in Advent the girls delivered the cookies and money in a fruit jar to Mount Tabor. The team gave each of the girls a rosary. “We were very surprised and excited that the girls would have an interest in supporting Spiritus. It was such an act of goodwill for those young girls,” said Foord. “We hope to keep that connection with the girls.”
Bob, who is Presbyterian, and his wife, who belongs to a Congregational church, said Madeline wasn’t raised Catholic. She went to public school through first grade and her parents enrolled her at St. Margaret Mary in second grade.
When Madeline came home the first day of school praying, her parents were impressed. “It kind of put me back on my heels,” said Bob. “I went to the children’s Mass and then Madeline started asking to go to Mass all the time.” He began taking her to Mass and also started researching the faith.
“When I started to learn about Catholicism, all my Protestant biases began to melt away,” he said. “I’m like, ‘This is the truth.’ What hit me was during the Eucharist with her, we just felt that presence of Christ. It’s really cool to have that connection with my daughter.”
The Holy Spirit was moving in Bob’s life. “I started praying a lot — I started praying the rosary.”
When his wife was facing some potential health issues he went to Mass at Holy Hill. “I prayed to Our Lady, ‘I don’t know if you’re listening, and I don’t know if you’re real, but I’m going to pray to you.’” Two days later they got the news that everything was fine and he thought that maybe there was something to this faith.
He began attending a Tuesday night study group at the parish. “I just noticed the presence of God in my life a lot more. It wasn’t all wonderful but I got a sense that he’s working in my life.”
Bob is in currently in the RCIA program and will be confirmed at the Easter Vigil in March. Madeline joined the church and received her first Communion last year.
Seeing the Catholic faith through new eyes, Bob Mittelstaedt is so impressed by the Spiritus team.
“They’re just an amazing group of kids. You can just feel the energy of this group,” he said. “I was blown away by the amount of people this program has touched in the last seven years.
“For us, raising a young daughter in this world, and to have a group like this means so much. I’m just shocked at what an early age, the self-confidence and self-image issues start to arise. To have a group like this as role models is so important,” he added.