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First- through sixth-graders join Totus Tuus leaders in song June 9 at St. Mary Parish in Wayne.

Totus Tuus teams enjoy parish families

Totus Tuus, a weeklong summer catechism program for elementary to high school students run by the Office of Vocations, is all about spreading the faith and having fun.

It’s also about family.

And that emphasis includes Totus Tuus teams of college students and seminarians staying in families’ homes, sharing meals, conversations and prayer as they travel from parish to parish.

Family connections begin "whenever you walk through someone else’s door," said Michelle Kratky of St. Michael Parish in South Sioux City and a senior this fall at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. "They share their homes with us, what their families are experiencing."

The sharing goes both ways, said Ann Pongratz, who with her husband, Dick, opened the doors of their home to Kratky at St. Patrick Parish in O’Neill from June 10 through June 16.

"It was great," Pongratz said. "I have three (grown) boys, so it was great having girls in the house."

Kratky was joined by Totus Tuus team member Ellen Schroll, a member of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Omaha and a sophomore this fall at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The Pongratzes were wonderful, Kratky said, sharing their home and a gift of rosaries honoring St. Patrick of Ireland.

This year, 70 families in 30 parishes holding Totus Tuus sessions from early June through late July are opening their homes overnight for the five teams of two women and two men each.

In addition, many parishes arrange for the teams to have dinner with a different family each evening, said Katie Winkler, the archdiocese’s Totus Tuus coordinator since the program began seven years ago.

"The teams love this opportunity to get to know families on a deeper level," Winkler said.

Families are involved in the Totus Tuus program in other ways, as well, Winkler said. Parents bring their children and adults can stay to help in the classrooms or provide lunches, and siblings and sometimes groups of cousins participate, she said.

This year’s theme is Salvation History, Winkler said. Each week includes the sacrament of reconciliation, Masses and adoration of the Eucharist, lessons about the faith, songs and skits, a water fight and dumping ice cream toppings on Totus Tuus leaders.

Elementary school students meet during the day, high school students in the evening, and Totus Tuus teams lead both groups, Winkler said.

The schedule leads to fun, busy days, Kratky said. Staying with families is a great help, she said.

Jane Kersenbrock, director of religious education at St. Patrick Parish, said she and her husband, Deacon M.J. Kersenbrock, had dinner ready June 10 with the arrival of Kratky and Schroll and the men the Kersenbrocks hosted, second-year seminarian Thomas Matya of St. Charles Borromeo Parish near Gretna and Noah Spagnotti of St. Patrick Parish in Fremont.

"They are like missionaries on the road, trusting in the Holy Spirit," Kersenbrock said. "In exchange for lodging and a meal we require (their) ministry to our children. It gets the whole community involved."

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