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Grace Makowski, youth minister at St. Gerard Parish in Kirkwood, led seventh- and eighth-graders through a prayer April 19 in the parish youth room.
Grace Makowski, youth minister at St. Gerard Parish in Kirkwood, led seventh- and eighth-graders through a prayer April 19 in the parish youth room.
Photo Credit: Trenton Almgren-Davis

Demonstrating the Father’s love to teens

Youth minister Grace Makowski credits time as a Totus Tuus missionary with leading her to youth ministry

During her first summer as a Totus Tuus missionary, Grace Makowski discovered a simple prayer that changed the way she approached ministry.

“I prayed, ‘Mary, give me your heart so I can love them,’” she said. “I could totally see the transformation that happened from when I started praying that prayer, just how much more I was able to love the kids. And that’s been cool to take into my life and into ministry now.”

Grace, now the youth minister at St. Gerard Majella Parish in Kirkwood, credits her two summers with Totus Tuus in 2021 and 2022 with setting her on the path to full-time ministry. A program of the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry, Totus Tuus (“Totally Yours”) is dedicated to sharing the Gospel and forming disciples. Taught by young adult catechists like Grace, who are known as missionaries, the week-long program is centered around five pillars: the Eucharist, Marian devotion, catechesis, vocational discernment — and fun. First- through sixth-graders participate in a day program, and seventh- through 12th-graders are invited to an evening program.

The Totus Tuus program and the Office of Youth Ministry receive funding from the Annual Catholic Appeal.

Grace was introduced to Totus Tuus as a recent high school graduate when the program came to her parish, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in south St. Louis County. She was “a little too cool for school” at the time, she said, but she remembered the missionaries when she was looking for something meaningful to do the following summer.

She asked Totus Tuus missionary — and now, fellow youth minister — Anna Hackett about her experience. “She talked about how much her heart was transformed,” Grace said. “I was drawn into the service and the aspect of ‘totally yours,’ pouring all of yourself out in that act of surrender.”

Members of the St. Gerard Majella Youth Ministry group played foosball and ate cookies before the meeting April 19 at St. Gerard Majella Parish in Kirkwood.
Photo Credit: Trenton Almgren-Davis
Grace was in the middle of earning her degree in elementary and special education at Southeast Missouri State University, so she was a little surprised to find herself most enjoying the evening program with teens. She started to feel the Lord tug her heart toward youth ministry.

When she returned for her second summer, she heard the call even more. She remembers running around the campus of Sacred Heart in Florissant, setting things up for the final night of her team’s week there, and hearing, “Just do it.” That same night, a friend texted her about the open youth ministry position at St. Gerard Majella. “(God) made it very clear that this was what He wanted,” she said. “And I felt a lot of peace about it.”

She interviewed and was offered the job soon after. She started in August 2022, serving part-time while doing her student teaching, and has been the full-time youth minister for middle school and high school teens at St. Gerard Majella since January.

Running the evening program for a new group of teens every week for two summers taught Grace valuable lessons she uses in her ministry today, she said. One of her main takeaways was the importance of just being goofy and having fun, showing in the process that it’s possible to love Jesus, live a faithful life and be a totally normal person.

“They might really just need to go play Ultimate Frisbee outside, so we’re going to do that. And you can really evangelize that way, because I think a lot of teenagers think Catholics are weird, and they don’t want to be that person,” she said. “But they get to know us as normal people — we’re super Catholic, and we can go play sports. We can do both.”

Working closely with her Totus Tuus teammates also gave her good practice in identifying and working with people’s different strengths, which has been helpful as she works with her core team volunteers at St. Gerard Majella. “Maybe not every teen is going to relate to me, but they all need an adult there for them that they can connect with. And that’s where my core team comes in — they all have different personalities, so everyone can connect with someone in that way, which I think is really cool and impactful,” she said.

Since starting her role as youth minister, she’s also relied on ongoing support from the Office of Youth Ministry. She participates in Wellspring, a formation program for youth ministers of the archdiocese, and looks forward to the regular chances to connect with other youth ministers to share experiences and advice. Through these connections, she’s found opportunities to collaborate with other youth groups.

And in challenging times, she always returns to that simple prayer to the Blessed Mother, asking for her own heart to become like Mary’s. “I really learned how to love teens, to love them in the way that Mary loves them and that the Father loves them,” she said. “That really changes the way you see them.”

Totus Tuus 2023

To participate, please contact the individual parish for cost and registration information. To learn more about the Totus Tuus program, visit stlyouth.org/totus-tuus.

June 5-9

Holy Infant, Ballwin

St. Patrick, Wentzville

June 12-16

Queen of All Saints, Oakville

Our Lady, Festus

Sacred Heart, Florissant

St. Charles Borromeo, St. Charles

June 19-23

Ascension, Chesterfield

St. Joseph, Imperial

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, Mehlville

June 26-30

St. Gabriel the Archangel, St. Louis

St. Theodore, Flint Hill

Assumption, Mattese

July 10-14

Ste. Genevieve, Ste. Genevieve

Immaculate Conception, Dardenne Prairie

Good Shepherd, Hillsboro

July 17-21

St. Gerard Majella, Kirkwood

St. Michael the Archangel, Shrewsbury (Holy Cross Academy parishes)

July 24-28

St. Anselm, Creve Coeur

All Saints, St. Peters

Sacred Heart, Valley Park

Our Lady of Lourdes, Washington

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