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Sam Gerbic, a Totus Tuus misionary from Incarnate Word Parish, was transformed into a human sundae on July 27 as, from left, Giorgio Jansen, Jacob Wolf, Reid Ellis and Tommy Schneller poured chocolate sauce on him.
Sam Gerbic, a Totus Tuus misionary from Incarnate Word Parish, was transformed into a human sundae on July 27 as, from left, Giorgio Jansen, Jacob Wolf, Reid Ellis and Tommy Schneller poured chocolate sauce on him.

Human sundaes and the hypostatic union

Totus Tuus summer camp wraps up second successful year of fun and faith in St. Louis

To Sam Gerbic, the explanation for why he was covered in sprinkles, chocolate syrup and whipped creme was simple.

“To share the Gospel!”

Gerbic, of Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield, served this past summer as a Totus Tuus missionary for the archdiocese’s Office of Youth Ministry (OYM). The Totus Tuus day camp program marked its second year in St. Louis this summer, wrapping up two months of fun and formation the week of July 22 at St. Gerard Majella Parish in Kirkwood.

Totus Tuus is a nationwide catechetical program with origins in the Diocese of Wichita. Staffed by college-age missionaries and seminarians, the camp travels around a diocese from week to week in the summer. Missionaries form participants in grades first through sixth through participation in the sacraments, catechesis and fun, and also lead a night program for teens that consists of reflection and social time. Host families at each parish house and feed the missionaries during their stay in the area. Missionaries generally traveled in two teams, though combined for certain larger parishes.

The program has expanded in the archdiocese from its inception last year, when seven parishes participated, compared to 11 this year. Around 1,100 campers attended sessions this year, up from approximately 930 last year.

Joe Dobrynski, Coordinator of Faith Programs in the OYM, said that the camp accomplishes its goal “through the relational ministry of the teachers who are college students absolutely on fire for their faith.”

Missionaries teach the faith through focus on the Catechism and a set of mysteries of the Rosary, using various analogies, cheers and games to communicate material. This year, the missionaries taught on the Luminous Mysteries.

“Totally Yours” The Latin phrase “Totus Tuus” is taken from eighteenth-century French preacher St. Louis de Montfort’s moniker “Totus Tuus, Maria, Ego Sum,” meaning “Mary, I am totally yours.” The Totus Tuus program is steeped in Montfort’s Marian spirituality through its focus on the mysteries of the Rosary. St. John Paul II also used the phrase as his apostolic motto.

Underlying the learning and the fun is a basis in the sacraments, a relatively unique feature of Totus Tuus compared to other religious summer programming. Campers attend daily Mass before lunch, go to confession on Monday if they have already participated in the sacrament and attend Eucharistic adoration on Thursday.

Adoration “was amazing,” said fourth-grader Ryan Eilerman. “I could feel the presence of God.”

Friday morning at St. Gerard Majella consisted largely of review of the week thus far. The young campers tossed around phrases such as “hypostatic union,” “institution of the Eucharist” and “to Jesus through Mary” with euphoric enthusiasm.

“What a shocker!” shouted one sixth-grader as missionary Kristin Gummersheimer, a parishioner at St. Gerard Majella, explained a Eucharistic miracle from the eighth century.

Fifth-grader Maisy Veninga said she likes learning about the faith “so I can go to heaven, and be with God.”

Despite the seemingly high-level content of the material, the children understand it because of its grounding in truth, explained missionary Abby Sanders of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in St. Charles.

“It makes it more attractive, that it’s true,” Sanders explained.

“I like learning about Jesus,” said first-grader Lila Brown. “Miss Abby (Sanders) told me about how He died on the cross.”

Sixth-grader Joseph Jansen of St. Ferdinand Parish in Florissant said that having “cheerful” teachers made the camp enjoyable.

Prior to the start of camp sessions, missionaries attend a two-week training program, which this year took place in Lincoln, Neb. Missionaries described a “college-level” program of theological formation designed to supplement existing knowledge of Scripture and Catholicism. However, missionary Michael Baer, who is entering his first year of pre-Theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, emphasized that their learning was not focused on memorization but evangelization.

“This is supposed to inflame in your hearts a desire,” he described the formation, “and then you’re supposed to share that desire with the kids.”

Ann Eilerman, whose four children attended both last year and this summer, cited that same enthusiasm for learning in her children.

“This is fun, but it’s also experiential learning, jumping right into our Catholic faith,” Eilerman said. She described her kids coming home excited to explain the hierarchies of angels, and said that “our dinner conversations are filled with their experiences of the day.”

“They’re more aware of the teachings of the Church, of the love that God has for each of us,” Ann Eilerman said of her children’s experience after two years attending. Sarah Veninga, mother of campers Maisy and Adelle, also said that her two daughters attending were gaining a “really good, deep knowledge” of the faith.

The week doesn’t simply consist of summer days spent in class, however, as afternoons are also at times dedicated to recess, skits and games.

At St. Gerard Majella, Gerbic and Gummersheimer dripped the concoction of sprinkles and syrup as part of the “Human Sundae,” a Totus Tuus tradition for the last afternoon of camp before a giant water war.

“This is Totus Tuus,” Baer smiled proudly in the midst of his fellow missionaries’ antics.

>> Get Totus Tuus in your parish

Totus Tuus is organized by the Office of Youth Ministry, part of the Catholic Youth Apostolate. If you would like information about bringing the program to your parish next year, contact Joe Dobrynski at joedobrynski@archstl.org or (314) 792-7613.

“There’s not a parish that I’m not willing to drive out to and meet with people” interested in the program, Dobrynski said.

Parish registration to host next year’s camps opens November 2nd.

>> Wait, what’s the hypostatic union these kids are talking about?

Don’t worry, you might still be smarter than these fifth graders. The hypostatic union is a theological term that refers to the union of human and divine natures in the Person of Jesus Christ.

To learn more, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 252 and 468.

Totus Tuus parishes in the archdiocese this year

St. Patrick, Wentzville

Little Flower, Richmond Heights

Sacred Heart, Valley Park

Ascension, Chesterfield

Holy Spirit, Maryland Heights

St. Joseph, Imperial

St. Gabriel, south St. Louis City

Immaculate Conception, Dardenne Prairie

St. Clare of Assisi, Ellisville

St. Gerard Majella, Kirkwood

Additionally, one team of missionaries flew to Honolulu, Hawaii to host the camp the week of June 9-15 for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickman at the request of Prince of Peace Catholic Community, which serves families at the base.

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