Passing the torch: totus tuus ignites student faith

What if I told you that the most important part of your college career might happen in the summer? Believe it! Passing midterms and studying for finals are required to reach graduation, but exploring meaningful learning experiences outside the classroom is a must-do as well, and summer is a great time to make it happen. While some choose to take the summer to travel, either through Europe by rail with Dr. Kelly McFall (look for a feature on this trip in our fall issue!) or to Guatemala for intensive Spanish and service, others are giving back to their diocese through the increasingly popular Totus Tuus program right here in Wichita.

Totus Tuus (TOE’-tuss TO’-us), a Latin phrase meaning “totally yours,” began as a catechetical program taught to elementary-age students in the summer of 1987 by Fr. Bernie Gorges, a seminarian at the time. He sought to teach children the “five marks” of the program: proclamation of the Gospel; explanation of the reasons for Catholic belief; witness of Christian living; celebration of the sacraments, and participation in the missionary spirit. As Totus Tuus grew, Fr. Bernie began recruiting college students to assist him, and today the program has its own board of trustees, diocesan office and a slew of college students and seminarians applying to work the parish and camp programs each summer.

Current Newman student Tyler Winslow was one of those applicants. After graduating from Bishop Carroll Catholic High School in Wichita, Tyler entered Conception Seminary in Conception Mo., to study for the priesthood and was asked to assist with Totus Tuus.

“I participated as a kid, but the summer before my first semester at seminary I was able to take a couple weeks away from my summer job and help with the Totus Tuus parish and camp programs with my three closest friends,” he recalls.

So what exactly happens at Totus Tuus? Each year, the diocesan office opens registration for K-12 students to attend Totus Tuus offered at their home parish, at Camp Wa Ja To near Lyons, Kan., or both. Traveling teams are assigned to different parishes throughout the Diocese of Wichita each summer and teach various age groups throughout the week, usually working from a yearly theme. Generous parishioners at each stop offer their homes as lodging, and each parish program culminates with a church-wide picnic.

The Totus Tuus camp, however, is what Tyler likes to call a “beast in itself.” Teachers are on call 24 hours a day, Monday through Friday, to create a fun-filled week of worship and recreational activities.  Instructors and participants, along with a visiting diocesan priest, enjoy guided adoration, confession and Mass throughout the week, as well as a weekly visit from the Most Rev. Carl Kemme, Bishop of the Wichita Diocese. Campers also have the opportunity to hear from instructors who share their personal journeys with morality, relationships and dating, and the various vocations.

“Campers and volunteers alike are expected to live good, Catholic lives, and we give them the tools to make that happen,” says Tyler.

Though he is no longer in seminary, Tyler continues to live his faith through various outlets offered at Newman University. He is an ASC Community Leader Scholar, participates in Ambassadors for Christ and Jets for Life, and is a member of the Justice League (yes, you heard correctly), a club for criminal justice majors.

“I’m also ecstatic to be serving in the Campus Ministry office starting this fall,” he says with a smile.  Though he’s chosen to take an internship this summer, he’ll be passing the torch to another Newman student, sophomore Kylie Werth.

Kylie, a biology major and Cardinal Newman Scholar, will be taking a break from her usual summer jobs as a ranch hand and Trego County EMT, to teach Totus Tuus this summer. Like Tyler, Kylie experienced the Totus Tuus camp as a kid.

“I went to Totus Tuus, both the parish program and the camp, when I was little, and my older brother was teaching it at the same time,” she says. “It made a pretty big impression on me, and I really, really enjoyed it. I came from a small town with very few Catholics, so I’d never been exposed to other kids with whom I could relate. Totus Tuus was an amazing opportunity for me to have that camaraderie with other people my age.”

After nearly 20 years, the Totus Tuus legacy is going strong. Fr. John Fogliasso, Newman University chaplain, is excited to have Newman students take part in this unique experience:

“As a former Totus leader, I appreciate how incredible of an experience this summer will be for everyone involved in the program, and I look forward to seeing how it will help Kylie grow in her faith.”

For more information on how to register for Camp Totus Tuus, attend or volunteer in the parish program, or apply as an instructor for summer 2016, please visit catholicdioceseofwichita.org.

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