by Jill Ragar Esfeld
GARDNER — “Oh, you can live your whole life being holy,” said first-year seminarian Keegan Colbern who grew up in Mother Teresa of Calcutta Parish in Topeka, “when you start young.
“Children get to grow up loving Jesus, being with Jesus, rather than finding him later.”
As a missionary with Totus Tuus, Colbern spent this summer helping children and young adults grow in their Catholic faith.
The Totus Tuus program, led by teams of young adults trained to teach classes on theological topics, both catechizes youth from first through twelfth grades and helps them develop a closer relationship with Jesus and Mary.
The last week of July, Colbern and his team served as Totus Tuus missionaries at Divine Mercy Parish in Gardner.
Missionaries are responsible for teaching classes to grades 1-6 during the day and hosting a program for grades 7-12 in the evening.
Colbern chose to be part of the program because “I really wanted to bring Jesus closer to the kids and bring them closer to Jesus.”
Part of the program’s appeal, especially for the youngest participants, is the lesson that faith can be fun.
The Totus Tuus experience is sprinkled with crazy skits, fun games, lively songs and fellowship.
“Children are fun,” said Colbern. “You get to see a lot of joy in them – joy that Jesus wants us all to have.
“It’s been really awesome, really life-giving. I get more energy as the day goes on.”
But there are quieter moments, too, when youth participate in the sacraments, eucharistic adoration and devotion to the Blessed Mother.
“My favorite time of day is when we pray with the kids,” said Colbern. “When we pray with them, we share our relationship with Jesus and I think they begin to imitate that.”
Gina Roberts, coordinator of children’s catechesis at Divine Mercy, was sold on the effectiveness of Totus Tuus when her own son participated in the program.
“I actually got to see a ton of growth as a parent,” she said. “He came home and from that point on, he would receive Communion kneeling, and on the tongue, because he told me something in Totus Tuus made him realize just how special it was.
“He was 8 at the time. That someone as little as that made that connection; it just shows the merit of the program.”
Totus Tuus missionaries stay with a host family from the parish and are supported by volunteer efforts throughout the week.
“You apply to have the team come to your parish,” said Roberts. “The archdiocese provides instruction and we provide the meals.
“We have the most wonderful group of parishioners volunteering. They prepared the meals and gave us extra support in the room.”
The program doesn’t end when the children walk out the door. Participants are given learning tools to share at home such as cards that give suggestions for at-home discussion.
“It provides a very nice bridge for parents to start taking up a role as a catechist at home,” said Roberts. “It’s really unique in that sense.
“Not only are they coming and learning their faith, but there’s a way for you to participate in that faith as a family once they get home.”
Colbern’s experience as a missionary has been gratifying and encouraging as he discerns his own path in faith.
“I just have a particular interest in bringing anyone to Jesus,” he said. “This summer, it happened to be children.”