Totus Tuus missionaries reflect on a life-changing summer

Totus Tuus missionaries William Keating, Vanessa Milliman and Madeline Murphy pose for a photo earlier this summer. The three college students served as missionaries for the program in the Diocese of Davenport.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Three young adults say they grew closer to Christ along with the youths they led in a summer program called Totus Tuus, which focuses on the sacraments, vocations, prayer and fun.

Totus Tuus is a Latin phrase that means “Totally yours,” and that’s the commitment seminarian William Keating, Vanessa Milliman and Madeline Murphy made in leading Totus Tuus programs in parishes in the Diocese of Davenport.

“My summer with Totus Tuus was the best summer of my life,” Murphy said. “For once, my life was properly oriented with God at the center of every day. Though the work was physically exhausting, it was spiritually invigorating.”


Milliman shared the sentiment. “I had an amazing team that helped me to grow in my faith while I was helping youth to grow in theirs. … Our team worked well together because we were grounded in prayer and we all wanted to serve the youth of the diocese. Our daily prayer routine kept us focused on the reason for evangelization, Jesus. I experienced joy as each class became excited to learn about Christ and Mary.”

“I learned what it means to draw closer to the heart of God every single day, to love and to serve, to be loved and to be served,” Keating added.

Milliman, a member of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Iowa City, studies elementary education and theology at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Murphy, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, studies vocal performance, music education and theology at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Keating is a diocesan seminarian studying at Loras College and St. Pius X Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. His home parish is St. Patrick in Iowa City.

After a training period, the missionaries traveled as a team to parishes in six different communities in the Diocese of Davenport throughout the summer to offer the weeklong program. “We clicked immediately at training and only grew closer as the summer went on,” Keating said. “I fell deeper in love with Jesus as I guided kids and teens on their faith journey,” Milliman said.

Each of the missionaries is discerning a different vocation. Keating believes it was helpful for the youths — and the core team — to see what that can look like.

Keating said he was initially hesitant to apply for Totus Tuus. It “sounded like the most uncomfortable thing I could possibly do. I’m a pretty shy, quiet, reserved and private person and Totus Tuus is just about the exact opposite of all of that.” After much prayer and contemplation, he came to see the program as something that could “stretch me and help me to grow in all the ways I needed to.” Even though he was uncomfortable at the start of the summer, “it was a good kind of discomfort and the challenge of confronting all the things that made me uncomfortable led to such profound growth in all areas of my life.”

Murphy said she is discerning a call to married life and Totus Tuus solidified her desire to be a lay educator. “I learned there is nothing I’d rather do than see ‘a-ha’ moments on young people’s faces day after day. Being a spiritual mother for children and guiding them in their pursuit of a relationship with God is all I want to do for the rest of my life.”

“After college, I want to teach religious education and/or be involved in youth ministry,” Milliman said. “Totus Tuus seemed like the perfect opportunity to teach young children about their Catholic faith. I love Dominican spirituality and Totus Tuus reflects this in both the structure and the curriculum.”

The missionaries hope the bonds they formed with each other will last for years to come. “Even after long days, we would often make each other laugh to the point of tears,” Murphy said. “We constantly lifted each other up, and they taught me new truths about Catholicism every day.”

Keating said, “Totus Tuus was such a wonderful experience that there are no words which would truly do it justice.”

Participating parishes

The following parishes/parish groups hosted Totus Tuus this summer:
Prince of Peace-Clinton; St. Alphonsus-Mount Pleasant; Sacred Heart-Newton and St. Mary-Grinnell; St. Mary-Solon; St. Mary parishes in Oskaloosa and Pella; and St. Patrick and St. Wenceslaus parishes in Iowa City.

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