Prayer energizes Totus Tuus teachers as they witness Jesus Christ to Diocese
of Sioux City youth
By KARA KOCZUR, Globe staff reporter
June 26, 2008
Sitting on the sidewalk behind St. Michael's Church in Kingsley, Totus Tuus
teacher Jeff Podolski munches on his last chocolate chip cookie from lunch. It
doesn't take long for him to be surrounded by inquisitive children, vying for
"Jeff, we had fun last night, didn't we?" a young boy asked.
"Jeff, try this," said a girl, handing him a cracker and frosting
sandwich. "Do you like it?"
"Jeff, I'm voting that you get shaving 'creamed" later,' another
Even with the at times overwhelming attention, the energy needed from 7 a.m.
to 10 p.m. and nights of six or less hours of sleep, being a Totus Tuus teacher
is still more fun than working at a book warehouse, which was his other summer
job option, Podolski said.
Plus, this job helps him to grow in his faith.
"I did Totus Tuus because I saw it as a great opportunity to learn more
about my faith - a way to open myself up to what God has planned for me,"
said the Iowa State junior, originally from Illinois. He is studying mechanical
engineering and literary studies.
Podolski is one of eight young adults traveling throughout the diocese this
summer teaching Totus Tuus, a summer catechetical program for students in grades
1-12. They are on two teams of four, with two girls and two boys on each. The
teams travel to separate parishes throughout the summer, spending a week
catechizing students at 15 parishes in all.
On the go
There's not much free-time teaching Totus Tuus. Teachers must be at the
church by 8 a.m. to pray morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours and the
rosary. From 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. they teach grades 1-6 about the Ten
Commandments and the glorious mysteries of the rosary.
At 3 p.m. they gather to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and evening prayer,
and then by 5:30 p.m. they need to go to a parishioner's home who has offered to
serve them supper. From 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. they teach the junior high and
high school program. The day concludes at 9:40 p.m. with night prayer.
"It really is more than a full-time job," said Andrea Jenson, 21, a
teacher who will be a senior at Morningside College. "We're going from 7 in
the morning until 10, 11 at night - sometimes later."
The packed schedule makes for one of the most challenging aspects of Totus
Tuus, which is not getting nine hours of sleep, said teacher John Leinbaugh, 18,
of St. Mary's in Spirit Lake.
"It's very demanding, very tiring, but it's so worth it," said
Leinbaugh, who will be attending Northwest Iowa Community College come the fall.
"It's kind of challenging to stay high energy for the kids, but it just
sort of happens."
Maintaining enough energy for the kids is a struggle, Emily Morse agreed. But
along with Leinbaugh, she said the most effective answer to finding energy is
through a lot of prayer. After that, the 19-year-old from St. John the Baptist
in Bancroft just tricks herself.
"I just make myself believe that I'm just as energetic as they
are," said Morse, who will be a sophomore at Iowa State, majoring in
pre-professional health. "It's definitely not from sleep. I make the
decision that I'm going to give my all and then think in the present moment and
not about the future."
Prior to starting their summer of teaching with an internship week at St.
Cecelia's in Algona, the teams had a week of training in the Diocese of Sioux
Falls, with that diocese's five teams.
The material, which is based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the
papal encyclical "Veritatis Splendor," is taught above the teachers'
levels so they have something to reach for, said Mark Thomason, director of
catechesis, evangelization and RCIA. Teachers aren't given scripted lesson plans
because the Gospel isn't script, he said.
"Jesus didn't just script it, he personalized it," said Thomason,
who runs Totus Tuus in the diocese. "Jesus didn't dumb it down either. He
proclaimed the truth."
While Thomason and a couple others taught the material, he said it's the job
of Totus Tuus teachers to translate that material. In translating it, each
teacher weaves in personal stories so that in teaching the curriculum they're
also teaching who they are, which is the witness of Jesus Christ, he said.
"In the translating process, they invest themselves in that, and when
you invest yourself, you're not just teaching a lesson. . .you're
witnessing," he added.
The college-level training must eventually be brought to a level the students
will understand. Brian Feller, who recently graduated from the University of St.
Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., and will be teaching at St. Mary's in Storm Lake this
fall, said his teaching approach is first to decide what is the most important
point he wants to get across in each class.
"Then I try to figure out how I can help their minds discover that main
point," added Feller, who taught Totus Tuus last summer and is from St.
Andrew's in Sibley. "For example, that Jesus Christ is truth. So then in
order to figure out how I can lead their minds to discovering that truth, I have
to figure out where they're at."
In order to help the young minds grasp the point, he'll give examples, ask
questions, get them to ask questions and sometimes tell stories, he said.
In Kingsley June 13, teacher Pat Behm, of St. Mary's in Storm Lake, astounded
his students by zipping through the glorious mysteries of the rosary first
forwards, backwards and finally inside out. This is Behm's third full summer
teaching Totus Tuus. He returns, he said, because he loves sharing the Gospel
with young people.
"Their faith is so pure and they're so thirsty for it," said Behm,
26, who plans to return to school in the fall. "They hunger for the Gospel
and they hunger for the truth."
Because the day is so hectic and involved, having a teammates for support,
both physically and spiritually, is important for teachers.
"It is extremely essential to have a team, and not only to just be with
them but to know them, to get along with them and to challenge them to grow in
holiness because you're with each other 24/7," said Jenson, of Resurrection
of Our Lord in Pocahontas.
Her teammates are the ones who build her up and hold her accountable, said
Natalie Scott, originally from Nevada. They also have such faith and trust in
"They give me hope - hope for the future, hope in God," said Scott,
21, who graduated from Briar Cliff this spring with a degree in theology.
"They remind me every day that I want to be a saint."
Being the youngest team member, Leinbaugh said he looks up to his teammates
and is able to witness how young adults, who have been exposed to many things in
the world, live out their faith. They're a blessing, he said.
"I'm a role model for the kids, but then these kids are my role
models," he said. "I can ask them questions and they're so
knowledgeable and they can answer them. They have helped me grow in my
While the life of a Totus Tuus teacher can be physically exhausting, Podolski
said it is even more grueling spiritually. Besides the scheduled prayer times,
teachers attend Mass daily with the students and begin and end each class
session with prayer.
The structure of daily prayer has helped Rosalie Full, another teacher, form
her prayer life in a way she had been desiring.
"Prayer has become such a huge aspect of my life and it's no longer a
separate act that I desire to come closer to God, [but] a life commitment,"
said Full, 20, a student at Loras College from St. Mary's in Alton. "Prayer
is a life commitment saying, 'God, I want to be with you eternally. I want to
involve you in my life and to be with you in every moment of my life.'
In catechesis, a person needs to be a pray-er, Thomason said of the need for
teachers to have what can be considered a rigorous prayer schedule.
"Whatever they teach means nothing unless they pray," he said.
"How can our teachers teach prayer if they're not praying?"
Thomason will often remind the teachers not to let anything get in the way of
praying, and to take time to pray with the kids, even using a class session to
pray the rosary.
"If we just taught the kids the rosary every single summer, they'd be
way far ahead," he said. "The rosary has unfathomable depths to
Following the motto "Totus Tuus," which means "Totally
Yours," teachers ask their students to give their entire lives to Jesus,
especially through the intercession of Mary. Yet, this motto resonates in the
lives of the teachers as well.
For Full, like the motto, the part she likes best about the program is that
she is challenged daily to give herself totally and completely to Christ. And
while the world may look at challenges as a negative thing, Full doesn't see it
"Growing in holiness is not about being comfortable," she said.
"We go through struggles and challenges in our lives so that we can fall
and be picked up by Christ so that he can help us along the way. We realize we
can't do it alone. We have to become totally dependent on God."
"Totus Tuus" is what keeps Podolski going, especially when he gets
tired. It's "Totus Tuus," not "Half-us Tuus," he said.
"You've got to give even when there's nothing left to give," he
said. "If the kids want you to play, you have to play for them. If they
want you to bandage them, you have to bandage them, and you always have to
smile. You have to be all things to all people. Through the grace of God he lets
you do that."
Thomason is already trying to recruit teachers for next year, when his goal
is to have three teams. He said parents and grandparents should encourage
college students they know to apply. He is looking for teachers who are faithful
to the church's teachings and are open to growing deeper in their faith.
"[Totus Tuus," he said, "is converting the teachers just as
much as it's converting the kids from the places that we go to."