Totus Tuus ‘parish mission’ inspires diocesan youth

To celebrate the end of a fabulous week of Totus Tuus, participants and leaders enjoyed a water fight and were joined by a local firetruck at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in St. Joseph.  Father Christian Malewski, Pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, joined in the water fun.  (Sara Kraft/Key photo)

By Sara Kraft

“Totus Tuus is the highlight of my son’s summer. The kids really enjoy having fun with their Catholic friends. They really look up to the Totus Tuus leaders, and the leaders just become invaluable role models for the kids,” stated mother Erin Henry.

The week of June 25-29, over 80 youth from all over St. Joseph and the Kansas City Northland joined the Totus Tuus team for a one week youth “parish mission” at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in St. Joseph. Totus Tuus is Latin for “totally yours” and was the motto of St. John Paul II. It signifies the desire to give oneself totally to Jesus through Mary. Totus Tuus was founded in Wichita and has been offered in our diocese since 2008.

The diocese’s two Totus Tuus teams will lead ten of these “parish missions” throughout the diocese this summer. Each team is led by a seminarian and three college students including two men and two women. Participants entering 1st through 6th grade attended sessions during the day, and middle school and high school students had the opportunity to attend evening sessions.

The mission of Totus Tuus is to inspire in young people a true longing for holiness, a deep desire for daily conversion, and an openness to their vocation by constantly challenging them to give themselves entirely to Christ through Mary and by continually strengthening their prayer lives in imitation of Her.

“We hope to help the kids grow through catechesis in order to give them the opportunity to grow in faith and to encounter Jesus,” said Totus Tuus leader Melissa Klein, an elementary education major at Witchita State University.

The five pillars of Totus Tuus are the Eucharist, Marian devotion, catechetical instruction, vocational discernment, and FUN!

Totus Tuus leaders seek to build a relationship and be authentic with students in order to inspire students to encounter Jesus. Whether it’s a silly skit, joining in games at recess, or participating in the human sundae and water fight on Friday afternoon to celebrate the end of their time together, the leaders seek to witness their Catholic faith to participants.
“We are not too old, so we can still be ‘cool.’ It’s more an older sibling interaction verses ‘we are your teacher,’” explained Kathleen Morgan, a music major at Truman State University. Kathleen is a parishioner at St. Mark Parish in Independence.

Each day, the grade school sessions begins with “pump up” – consisting of songs and skits. Next, participants learned about the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary in the classroom. Teachers drew out the story behind each mystery (one per day). They also learned about the Apostles Creed (focusing on what we believe as Catholics) and a saint every day. There is a four year cycle for the mysteries of the Rosary, and a six year cycle for the four pillars of the Catechism, so participants will learn new information each year.

Totus Tuus participants were noticeable by their “covenant strings” worn throughout the week. Students were given one string a day. Each of the five strings reminds the students of a different mystery. White signifies Jesus’s baptism and accepting God’s mission. Blue is for the wedding at Cana and becoming Mary’s disciple. Purple is for proclamation of the kingdom and a change of heart. Yellow is for the Transfiguration and a desire for holiness. Red is for the institution of the Eucharist and devotion to the Eucharist.

The strings also serve to remind participants to give their all at everything they do.

During class, the Totus Tuus leaders are careful to have a more relaxed classroom than what one might find in a school setting while still keeping it orderly and organized. They incorporate skits, songs, and play with the participants at recess.
“We strive to make learning fun, and connect things to everyday life with something they know,” Kathleen said.

The evening program places more emphasis on witnessing their faith. “In college, a lot of people lose their faith. We show you can be cool, have your faith, and be in college,” explained Kathleen.

By offering the sacraments frequently, the team hopes participants will encounter Jesus. Mass was celebrated each day at noon, with opportunities for Confession and adoration throughout the week as well. Participants were instructed in proper Mass etiquette including folded hands and proper Mass postures throughout Mass.

“My favorite part of Totus Tuus is getting to go to Mass every day,” said fifth grader Johnny Gertsema. “Mostly, I enjoyed Father Christian’s homilies and the consecration.”

“Kids learn a lot in this one week, and it really sticks with them,” explained Father Christian Malewski, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. Last year, a youngster who was unbaptized attended Totus Tuus and following the week-long parish mission requested to be baptized.

Parents were quick to praise the parish mission.

“It is inspiring for the kids to see all their peers practice their faith,” said Erin.

“Totus Tuus is a good alternative to other camps. It teaches the faith and aspects of the faith I may not know, but in a fun way,” stated Yen To. “It helps normalize the faith for my son as he sees kids doing the same thing. It confirms and validates what we are doing at home. He sees religion is not just mom’s thing, but other kids are doing it too.”

Totus Tuus leaders are also inspired by the parish youth.

“My favorite part of Totus Tuus is seeing the students’ faith life growing and asking good questions,” said Derek Maghe, a parishioner at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish.

“I think sometimes parents are afraid to admit they don’t always have all the answers. If we don’t know the answer to a question, we will ask Father,” explained Melissa. “The students are so excited to finally have the answers.”

“Seeing the pure, innocent love they have is so inspiring,” Kathleen said. “I really love seeing the ones who are super innocent who know about their faith. Seeing them go from head knowledge to heart knowledge is so inspiring. You can tell they are paying attention and praying with their whole bodies. It makes my faith increase.”

For more information about Totus Tuus and to view upcoming sessions, visit


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September 28, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph