Four young adults from the Diocese of Grand Rapids – Grace Theoret and Erin Brooks of St. Patrick Parish in Parnell; Cassandra Zimmer of St. John Vianney Parish in Wyoming, and Mary Sacha of St. Alphonsus Parish in Grand Rapids – spent summer 2020 in the Diocese of Marquette serving as Totus Tuus missionaries. We invited them to share their summer experiences:
The Diocese of Marquette’s Totus Tuus program is led by Father Ben Hasse, pastor/director of campus ministry at St. Albert the Great Parish in Houghton, Mich. which serves students on the campus of Michigan Technological University.
Totus Tuus, a Latin phrase meaning “totally yours,” was the motto of St. John Paul II. The phrase was taken from St. Louis de Montfort’s “True Devotion to Mary,” and it signifies the longing and desire to give oneself entirely “to Jesus through Mary.”
Normally, Totus Tuus student missionaries spend the summer traveling from place to place sharing the Catholic faith through evangelization, catechesis, Eucharistic worship and Christian witness to youth, but this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, they had to come up with a new plan. With training, hard work, and trust in the Holy Spirit to guide them, teams made up of college students, seminarians and returning student missionaries created completely virtual programming that included silly songs, a Totus Tuus show, saints skits, online bible studies and more.
View an album of photos at this link, or below:
Meet the missionaries:
Erin and her family are members of St. Patrick Parish in Parnell. She attended kindergarten through 8th grade at St. Patrick School before heading to West Catholic for high school.
During the past year, she’s been a student at Michigan Technological University (MTU) where she got involved with St. Albert the Great Parish which serves as the on-campus Catholic ministry to MTU students.
“As I became more involved at St. Al’s, I got to know Father Ben and other faith-filled students,” Erin explains. “I heard some of my peers talking about the summers when they served on Totus Tuus.”
The idea of a youth program centered around teaching the Catholic faith and values intrigued Erin. Stories shared by previous Totus Tuus missionaries about their summer experiences peaked her interest. In January, Father Ben asked if she wanted to join the team this summer. At the time, she was also considering a job offer through FOCUS Summer Projects, but after some thought and prayer she chose Totus Tuus, not knowing that the entire 2020 program would end up being virtual.
“To be honest, I had no idea if a digital platform would work and doubted its success,” she says, “but I knew that all we could do was try.”
Erin shares, “The summer was an amazing experience that helped me grow in both my faith and in character. Living and working in a faith-filled community made creating and filming educational videos an eye-opening experience. I love being Catholic and sharing my faith with others, especially younger kids, but the digital platform created a whole new barrier. As a team, we had to continually challenge ourselves to keep the content entertaining as well as educational. We spent a lot of our time thinking back to what we learned about the faith when we were young and drawing (from) that to create our videos. As someone who prefers to be behind the camera versus in front of it, this summer pushed me far outside my comfort zone.”
In the beginning, Erin spent a lot of time thinking, planning and practicing what she would say in front of the camera, but by the last week, she could easily record reflections or share a witness on a more impromptu basis.
Related: View the Totus Tuus 2020 virtual program content & meet the teams: https://mtucatholic.org/totustuus
Besides being pushed beyond the limits of her comfort zone, “I truly loved the opportunity to live and grow in faith alongside my teammates. We had a rhythm of prayer and work each day that allotted us time to grow closer to the Lord individually and as a team. Each day we prayed parts of the Liturgy of the Hours (morning and evening prayer), attended daily Mass and holy hour together. These helped in making this summer a very transformative summer, but it was not the structured prayer time that changed my summer the most: it was the friendships and community.”
Their shared experience as missionaries, growth in friendship, and love of the Catholic faith brought Erin and her teammates closer together.
“I learned so much through conversations with them but also by watching how they live their lives,” Erin recalls. “It was this community of faith that pushed me to strive towards the person whom God is calling me to be.”
Mary is from Grand Rapids and is a parishioner at St. Alphonsus Parish. She is a sophomore at Central Michigan University who was first was introduced to the St. Albert the Great parish community in February 2020 when she was invited to attend the SLS20 Focus conference with their parish. She attended at the invitation of her best friend from high school, Katie Smith, a student at Michigan Tech. During the conference, she met Father Ben who later invited her to apply to be a Totus Tuus missionary.
“At that point, (the program) was still going to be in person, where we travel around to various parishes,” Mary describes. “It honestly was all in God’s hands and by his graces that I chose Totus Tuus as my summer job. I applied to other Catholic summer camps but decided on Totus Tuus because of the beautiful Upper Peninsula, the Catholic community, and the mission behind the program. Even when the program turned digital, I was still excited for the mission and the chance to evangelize to kids and teens during the summer. I knew it was going to be less interactive, but still full of opportunities to grow in my faith and friendships.”
Each week, the three Totus Tuus teams were assigned videos to plan, film and edit.
“My team, Team Kateri Tekakwitha, had an average of four to five videos to create each week,” Mary says. “The videos targeted different age groups (K-3, 4-6, 7-8, and high school) and we talked about the Ten Commandments, the glorious mysteries, and the moral life. We also discussed vocations/discernment, shared our witness testimonies, and shared the life of the saint we picked.”
Mondays were days off and provided teams with the opportunity to explore various parts of the U.P. and experience its natural beauty.
“My favorite was when we canoed down the Au Train River, found a rope swing and ended the trip jumping from a bridge into the water!”
While one team lived in Ishpeming for the summer, the other two teams stayed at St. Albert Parish on the campus of MTU.
“It was a blessing to be able to stay at the church for the summer,” Mary says. “You always had access to the chapel and could easily go up to the church to spend time with Jesus.”
Since this was the first time that Totus Tuus had gone digital, the missionaries found themselves creating and adapting on the fly to find the best way forward.
“With a lot of uncertainty, we entered the summer having to have complete trust and faith in the Lord,” Mary explains. “With this, we made sure to take as much time for prayer as we took for work. The Lord blessed us all abundantly this summer and we received so much love and support from our community. By the end of the summer, we had made around 120 YouTube videos and had over 3500 views. This was an experience I will never forget and full of graces that I will be receiving for weeks to come.”
Like Erin, Grace is a parishioner of St. Patrick Parish in Parnell who recently completed her first year at Grand Rapids Community College with plans to transfer to Michigan Tech for mechanical engineering in the fall.
“I first became familiar with St. Albert the Great University Parish when my older brother was attending Michigan Technological University a couple of years ago,” she shares. While visiting her brother on campus, she had the opportunity to meet Father Ben and attend Mass at the parish.
Earlier this year, as she was discerning where to transfer after community college, a friend, Erin Brooks, invited her to come visit Michigan Tech. She stayed for a week, spending a significant amount of time at St. Al’s Parish.
“I became intrigued and fell in love with the community there,” Grace says. “After visiting, I decided I wanted to transfer there.”
With plans to continue her studies into the summer and work part-time, Grace had no intention of joining Totus Tuus 2020, but things quickly changed. On a whim, as she was returning home from the east side of the state, she decided to call Erin. As they spoke, Erin mentioned that Totus Tuus was looking for more female missionaries and described that the program would be going digital for the summer. Erin spoke exuberantly about the mission and asked Grace if she would be interested.
“I quickly shot the idea down thinking ‘no, that’s not for me,’” describes Grace, “but despite my initial reaction, she still tried to convince me. She encouraged me to pray about it, which I reluctantly agreed to.”
Her parents further encouraged her to pray and pointed out what an amazing opportunity it was.
“Over the next few days, I opened up to the idea and started to ask God what he wanted me to do,” Grace says. “The Holy Spirit prompted me to reach out to Father Ben who called me back and told me there was one spot left and there was another girl who was 50/50 on taking it. So, I gave it to Jesus and told him, ‘if I’m supposed to do this then I’ll do it. But if there aren’t any spots left, I’ll be content.’ A few days later Father Ben contacted me and told me the spot was mine if I wanted it!”
Full of anxiety and uncertainty about what the Lord had in store for her, Grace accepted the spot and two weeks later she was driving up to the U.P., ready to give the summer to the Lord. She had no idea what to expect. Though she initially felt out of place and unsure of the Lord’s plan for her, “by the end of the summer, I knew the Lord had called me to exactly where I was supposed to be.”
“This summer presented and challenged me with many opportunities for growth,” Grace writes. “From the structured prayer life, to the work schedule, we were constantly striving toward God in everything we did.”
One of the greatest areas of growth for her was developing a deeper trust in Jesus.
“If you let Him work through you, things will happen,” she says. “I was scared and anxious but I trusted in God that he would lead me to where I was supposed to be and in the end, he did. I found many new friendships that only came to be because they were founded on Christ. This summer has provided me with a more solid foundation to build my life on as I continue to follow Christ wherever he may lead me.”
Cassandra grew up in Wyoming, Mich. and, along with her family, attends St. John Vianney Catholic Church. For the last three years, she has attended Michigan Technological University, located on the western end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. During her freshman year, she became involved with the parish on campus, St. Albert the Great, where she met Father Ben.
“I got more and more involved with the Catholic ministry,” Cassandra says, “and during Christmas break, my freshman year, Father Ben sent me a message inviting me to become a Totus Tuus missionary. I was utterly enthusiastic at the idea of using my summers to serve God and work with children!”
That was in 2017, and this summer marked Cassandra’s third summer in a row serving as a Totus Tuus missionary, and in the last two years, as a team leader. Each summer, she has grown as a person and strengthened her leadership skills.
“The largest takeaway for this particular summer was learning the value of stepping into the unknown to give God room to work,” she shares. “This summer held various unknowns and difficulties since the coronavirus pandemic prohibited us from meeting and interacting with the children in person. However, instead of doing nothing, we knew we had to do what we could to reach out to the community and build up God’s kingdom.”
The decision was made to support families and parents in sharing the faith with their children by providing educational faith videos. While unsure about the success of this endeavor, Cassandra says that she and the other missionaries surrendered themselves and their time to God, trusting that he would use their efforts according to his plan.
“Although we have been unable to see all the fruits this summer has produced, we have been blessed to see bits and pieces of the ways God has used our efforts to touch the lives of people throughout Michigan and 11 other states!”