Totus Tuus finishes its first year in the Diocese of Madison Print
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Aug. 07, 2014 -- 12:00 AM
Totus Tuus Water Fight, Cottage Grove 2014
Totus Tuus participants and team members take part in a water fight during the final day of the Cottage Grove session. To view or purchase photos, visit (Catholic Herald photo/Kevin Wondrash)

COTTAGE GROVE -- "This is going to be the best week of your life" is a bold promise from the team members of Totus Tuus, but for most of the participants at all levels -- it was indeed one of the best weeks of their lives.

Totus Tuus is a summer Catholic youth program dedicated to sharing the Gospel and promoting the Catholic faith through evangelization, catechesis, Christian witness, and Eucharistic worship.

With a program for students going into first through sixth grade and another for students going into seventh through 12th grade, Totus Tuus recently concluded its final week of the season.

"It's a reminder that the faith is alive, that the [parishes] are alive, and that they should keep their faith alive and keep things moving forward, just to not remain in their comfort zone," said volunteer coordinator Kristi Erickson, a junior at Rasmussen College in Madison.

This summer was Totus Tuus’ first year in the Diocese of Madison. It has been a part of youth ministry in the other dioceses in the state for the past several summers.

"You’'e going to learn more about how much God loves you and how you can love God better," said team member and Madison College student Zoe Apel, describing the program.

Bringing it to the diocese

The program launched this summer from the results of Erickson's ambition and perseverance.

Erickson, a member of St. Patrick Parish in Cottage Grove, had been involved in the program last summer in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and wanted to bring it to her home diocese and parish this year.

After meeting with Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison and Patrick Delaney from the diocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis early in 2014, Erickson got the go-ahead to contact parishes and offer Totus Tuus for the summer.

This proved to be a challenge as many parishes already booked activities for the summer or were unfamiliar with Totus Tuus.

She eventually scheduled the program at six parishes: St. Clement, Lancaster; St. Francis Xavier, Cross Plains; Holy Ghost and Immaculate Conception, Dickeyville; St. Patrick, Cottage Grove; St. Peter, Ashton; and St. John the Baptist, Jefferson.

"[For] every excuse everyone came up with in the parish, I had a response and I fought my way in," said Erickson.

The team members

Totus Tuus was blessed this summer to have four faith-filled team members: college students Apel and Katie Mansfield, along with seminarians Stephen Brunner and Peter Carey.

They went to a training retreat in Rockford, Ill., earlier this year, which Brunner said "had such an impact on me, and it [was] a great way to learn about the faith and to just be a witness with others your age who are just following the Lord."

Once the summer got underway, the team’s duty was "teaching [the students] about the faith and having fun while we're doing it," said Brunner.

The team led the students in prayer and in songs -- both serious and silly. They also had a daily feature -- "Totus Tuus Theater" -- where the team over dramatically acted out skits leading into each day’s lesson.

"Interacting with the kids has been the highlight," said Brunner. "All the kids that we worked with have been very well-behaved. They have been very enthusiastic."

Speaking about the team members, participant Grace Durham said, "I like that they're very nice and they're very encouragable, and even if you mess up, they like it anyway." Durham is going into third grade at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary School in Sun Prairie.

A day at Totus Tuus

On a recent Friday morning, the first through sixth graders in the program at St. Patrick Parish in Cottage Grove returned excited for the final day of the week.

Parents came from places such as Sun Prairie, Waterloo, and Jefferson to bring their kids to Totus Tuus.

"It's really fun, there’s a lot of action, and it’s just really fun," said Mary Clare Sande, who will be a fifth grader at St. John the Baptist School in Jefferson.

As the group came together, one of the first orders of business was to decide who will have what role in that morning's Mass. The kids go to Mass every day during the week.

"My most favorite part is the Mass," said Durham. She also enthusiastically added, "Because when I grow up, I want to be a nun, and I want to dedicate my life to God."

On this particular Friday, those who hadn't read, brought up the gifts, or served during the week got their chance to. Some of the boys served for the first time ever during their week at Totus Tuus.

As the Mass participants learned their roles, the rest of the kids sang "Hermie the Wormie" — a "silly song" to help them wake up.

Later Fr. Michael Tarigopula, parochial administrator for St. Patrick, celebrated Mass for the kids and visiting family members.

During his homily, he asked the kids, "What is prayer?" The students immediately answered a "conversation" or "talking with God."

After Mass and snack time, the kids broke into groups, based on their grades, and completed their lessons for the week -- learning the Luminous Mysteries and the Ten Commandments.

To help the kids better learn the Ten Commandments, the third and fourth grade group challenged the fifth and sixth grade group to see who could recite the commandments the fastest while tossing a ball to each person in the group while they said one of the commandments. The younger group beat the older kids by half a second.

Water fight!

After lunchtime and recess, everyone got ready for a Totus Tuus highlight -- the water fight.

Before all the water balloons and water guns of all shapes and sizes were filled up, several cans of shaving cream were put into use.

The challenge was simple, all the team members stood in a row, and the kids were told to line up behind their "favorite." On this day, Apel was the favorite. The kids each did their part to completely cover her in shaving cream.

As Apel was getting hosed off, the water fight began. A joyful, chaotic battlefield scene took place in the St. Patrick parking lot. Team leaders and students opened water fire on each other, all in fun. Those who needed a break or didn’t want to get wet -- very few -- retreated to a designated dry zone.

As everyone dried off after the fight, the day and the week ended with more games and prayers. Then, cars and vans drove up to the church one by one to pick up their children.

"It's an awesome program," said Brunner.

For more information on Totus Tuus, visit or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


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