A group of teens from St. Monica and St. Eugene serving in Fond du Lac last summer. (Submitted photo)

For most Catholic families, summer means two things: parish programs that cultivate the faith of kids and teens, and mission opportunities where older youth can put that faith into action. And, even if warm temperatures and school break feels far away on these cold days of late winter, it’s not too early to begin planning for a summer of spiritual enrichment.

This summer, the archdiocese will once again sponsor two programs to serve the spiritual needs of youth of all ages. Through “Love Begins Here,” middle and high school students have the opportunity to spend a week with peers from other parishes, working alongside one another in service to a community right here in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Meanwhile, “Totus-Tuus” is a parish-based program that helps kids and teens enter into the beauty of Catholic tradition.

“Falling in love with the Church through service”

Love Begins Here originated in the Diocese of Madison and debuted in Milwaukee last summer. For Meaghan Turner, director of adult and youth ministries at St. Eugene and St. Monica parishes, choosing this program for her teens’ summer mission experience was easy; she had previous experience with the apostolate in Madison.

“I knew from experience how well-run this mission is and I love the idea that you don’t have to go far away to serve,” she said. “I saw teens fall in love with the Church through service, but also through the prayer and the community (they receive during the week).”

Bringing the teens of different parishes together to become part of “a wider community of Catholic youth” is an important aspect of Love Begins Here, said Doug Ulaszek, associate director of evangelization and catechesis for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

“For them to see other teens from different parishes is really powerful,” he said. “To go on a week where there are at least 50 or 60 other teens from very close by, there’s the realization that they’re not alone and there are more friendships that you can build.”

That was the case for Brooke Tlachac of St. Dominic Parish in Brookfield. “I attend public school, so defending my faith and evangelizing have been important parts of my high school experiences,” she said. Tlachac’s team served in the Menomonee Falls area, doing landscaping and maintenance work outdoors during the day and staying at nearby St. Mary Parish at night.

“It was amazing to see the community members’ reaction to us helping them out,” she said. “Most of them were so pleasantly surprised to know that there would be no charge for the service.”

She said she would recommend Love Begins Here to “all Catholic teens who have a desire to serve the community, not just the ones with a strong faith foundation already.”

“This program will meet everyone where they are at and help everyone deepen their faith and strengthen their faith community among their peers,” she said.

The communities served during the summer of 2022 will include Kewaskum, Fond du Lac, Waukesha and Beaver Dam. Students in participating parishes can join Love Begins Here with their parish group or register as “free agents,” said Ulaszek. For more information, visit archmil.org/lbh.

VBS, Catholic-style

With content geared toward elementary school students during the day and middle school- and high school-aged youth in the evening, Totus Tuus is a weeklong summer mission experience that is both engaging and authentically Catholic.

“From a parish leader’s standpoint, it’s essentially a Vacation Bible School, but it’s fully Catholic,” Ulaszek said. “It’s uniquely focused on Marian devotion and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.”

That was what initially drew Kim Slizewski, secretary of religious education at St. Peter Parish in Slinger, to the program. “We liked that Totus Tuus was Catholic — why bring our children together to learn about Jesus if we are not sharing the fullness of our Catholic faith?” she said. “The focus on the rosary and the mysteries was a refreshing change. They did a great job adjusting the content for each age level.”

For Totus Tuus, parishes host a team of four young adult leaders who will run the program that week. “Unlike the previous VBS programs that we offered, we didn’t need to ‘plan the day,’” said Slizewski. “’The Totus Tuus team led all of the activities. The team was awesome and always came prepared.”

“They have a lot of energy and are relatable, and they’re authentically Catholic and sharing their faith, and the teens recognized (it) and are drawn to that,” said Turner. When St. Eugene hosted Totus Tuus for teens last summer, the response was overwhelmingly popular, she said. “I think teens are just hungry right now — they’ve been so disconnected from everything.”

“The energy on campus during that week was contagious,” Slizewski said. “Feedback from parents and parishioners alike was positive. Everyone was curious. Older parishioners loved seeing the kids engulf the parish campus for a week, learning about Mary and their Catholic faith.”

Totus Tuus programs are planned for this summer at St. Peter in Slinger, St. Mary of the Hill in Hubertus, St. Mary and St. Anthony in Menomonee Falls, St. Francis Borgia in Cedarburg, St. Mary and St. Frances Cabrini in West Bend, St. Eugene and St. Monica in Fox Point and Whitefish Bay and St. Jerome in Oconomowoc.

Families can register for Totus Tuus with their parish directly. Parishes interested in hosting Totus Tuus for a summer 2023 program should contact Ulaszek at ulaszekd@archmil.org.

Applications are being accepted for youth leaders for both Love Begins Here and Totus Tuus. For more information on applying, visit brewcitycatholic.com/summer-opportunities.html.