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Totus Tuus 2017

Troy Norman, a seminarian for the Diocese of Burlington, is spending part of his summer break from his own studies -- teaching.
 
A team leader and teacher in the Totus Tuus program, he is, he said, “helping children give themselves to Jesus through Mary” and sharing his experience of the faith with them as a role model.
 
Two teams of two seminarians and two young women each are conducting five Totus Tuus programs for elementary and middle school students and a separate one for high schoolers.
 
In Bennington, 62 children participated along with about a dozen high schoolers.
 
Totus Tuus was St. John Paul II's apostolic motto. It is a Latin phrase meaning "totally yours" and expressed his personal consecration to Mary.
 
Totus Tuus is a Catholic youth program dedicated to sharing the Gospel and promoting the Catholic faith through catechesis, evangelization, Christian witness and Eucharistic worship. The goal of Totus Tuus is to help young people grow in their understanding of, and strengthen their faith in, Jesus Christ. The program strives to bring faith to life by creating a balance between knowledge of the meaning of the sacraments and an authentic sacramental life.
 
According to Holy Cross Father Robert Wiseman, administrator of Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Parish in Bennington and St. John the Baptist Parish in North Bennington, the program provides a consistency in vacation religious education throughout the statewide Diocese.
 
Though some parishes have their own Vacation Bible School programs, Totus Tuus offers the same program with a strong catechetical basis throughout the Diocese with trained staff members.
 
Vermont is the only site in New England where it is currently offered.
 
Father Dwight Baker, director of the Catholic Center at the University of Vermont in Burlington and chaplain for Totus Tuus, said the program is a “great blend of learning and fun.”
 
Classes are geared to each grade level, and each year the theme is different mysteries of the rosary; this year it is the Joyful Mysteries. Participants also learn about salvation history.
 
“The young people [on the team] are on fire for their faith, and the children see they are living an authentic life in their faith,” Father Baker said. “They are people [the children] look up to.”
 
Participants in the Bennington Totus Tuus – one of the largest in the Diocese – came from Bennington, North Bennington, Manchester and Arlington and from North Adams and Williamstown, Mass.
 
Jessica O’Connell, one of the coordinators, sent her son, Ambrose, 5, to Tutus Tuus at the Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Parish Center. “It’s an opportunity for him to be with a group of his peers and be exposed to the older leaders who are encouraging him in his faith,” she said.
 
The other coordinator, Tammy Buckley, said she hoped the Totus Tuus experience would have an effect on the wider community too, bringing persons to Jesus through the words and actions of the participants. “It’s really all about love,” she said.
 
Father Wiseman said Totus Tuus also is an opportunity for him to meet parents “and engage is some pastoral ministry.”
 
In addition, he said it is good for parishioners to see youth activities in the parish; he planned to show a video of Totus Tuus during upcoming weekend Masses.
 
Kayla E. King, 14, a volunteer helper from Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Parish, said she helped the children “stay focused” on their lessons and have fun. “It’s important so they can grow in their faith,” she said.
 
Totus Tuus is funded in part by The Bishop’s Annual Appeal/the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.
 

'Success' is more than fundraising

When Shannon Tran, assistant director of appeals and operations for the Diocese of Burlington, considers a parish’s “success” during the Bishop’s Annual Appeal, she looks at more than the amount of money raised to help fund the various ministries of the diocese.
 
“I look at it from all angles,” she said: the total funds raised, the total number of gifts, the efficiency in running the campaign, the timeliness of completing it, cost savings and leadership.
 
With all that in mind, she said, “There’s something going on that’s right” in the annual appeal efforts of St. Anthony Parish in White River Junction.
 
Participation by registered parishioners in 2014 was 36 percent throughout the diocese. In 2015 and 2016 the percentage was 38 percent. In 2014, 28 percent of registered parishioners at St. Anthony’s participated, with the percentage increasing in 2015 to 40 percent and in 2016 to 41 percent.
 
Last year the parish’s annual appeal goal was $41,745 with pledges totaling $34,337. Of the 347 households, 145 contributed. The average gift was $236, just above the diocesan-wide average of $226.
 
Similar success was measured at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Windsor, which shares a pastor with the White River Junction Parish. Last year the Windsor parish’s goal was $21,898 with pledges totaling $23,974. The average gift was $228. Of the 271 households, 105 participated.
 
Tran said both parishes have been on an “upward trend” with a focus on performance, attitude and community building.
 
“I’m encouraged. We’ve done well, and I am optimistic we will meet our goal” during the current annual fundraising campaign, comment Father Charles R. Danielson, who has been pastor of the two churches since last year. “I encourage people to do the best they can and try not to get hung up on the goal. This is our opportunity to help support and advance the work of Christ in the Church in Vermont.”
 
The annual appeal, formerly called The Bishop’s Fund, supports numerous ministries of the diocese including Vermont Catholic Charities Inc., Catholic education, parish religious education, vocations, seminarian education and prison ministry.
 
Tran said one way parishes can complete the campaign more quickly, efficiently and cost effectively is to capitalize on the in-pew segment of the campaign in which parishioners make their donations and fill out their pledge cards at Mass, eliminating the need for costly mailings and follow up.
 
More and more parishes are emphasizing this phase of the campaign: Before 2014 only 600-700 donors used the in-pew method; now there are 3,600 pledges received through in-pew efforts – 30 percent.
 
Father Danielson invites his parishioners to carefully consider their contributions and encourages use of the in-pew option for giving, emphasizing the “convenience and ease of it.”
 
He speaks highly of Deacon John Guarino, “a constant presence” in the White River Junction Parish, and says that Windsor parishioners appreciate having a resident pastor after a hiatus of a few years.
 
He hopes people will get more involved in parish life. “There are a million things clamoring for our attention [in general], so it’s nice when people say, ‘This is my parish and I want to help.’”
 
And when parishioners are invested in their parish, they can better understand how the Bishop’s Annual Appeal benefits them, Tran said -- through support of database management, safe environment programs, human resources, evangelization, religious education, liturgy and youth ministry, for example.
 
“I look forward to continuing to grow the parishes I’ve been entrusted with and continuing to grow into active, faith-filled communities within the diocese,” Father Danielson said.
 
-- Originally published in the summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 
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