McCOOL JUNCTION (SNR) - Fans and benefactors of Camp Kateri Tekakwitha will gather Saturday, March 24 for a special fundraising dinner to benefit the project called, "Targeting a Bright Future."
The evening will begin with a 5 p.m. Mass at Stone Creek Event Center, 629 South 1st Avenue in McCool Junction. Guests will then proceed to a social hour and silent auction, followed by dinner and music, a keynote address and a live auction.
Cindy Harmen, director for the John Paul Adventure Institute in the Archdiocese of Denver, will be the keynote speaker. She uses the teachings of Blessed John Paul II and an outdoor environment to show how faith, science and creation reveal the glory of God.
For more than a decade, Catholic young people – and some adults – have been learning the same lesson in the Diocese of Lincoln at Camp Kateri Tekakwitha.
Formerly a 72-acre working farm, the diocese purchased the property in 1999 and began converting it into a camp under the direction of Father Robert Barnhill. Camp Kateri now has a full-service kitchen, a bathhouse with restrooms, climate-controlled cabins, an outdoor chapel, plenty of sports areas and more.
Several Boy Scouts have contributed to the camp for their Eagle Scout projects. Nearly 1,000 trees have been planted to replace those killed by pine wilt. A deck was built to hold the altar for outdoor Mass, and outdoor Stations of the Cross, landscaping, flagpoles and a crucifix have all been added by scouts.
Proceeds from the March 24 event will pay for a number of additional projects that have been planned for Camp Kateri, according to Father Thomas Kuffel, current camp director.
"We are planning to build a metal shed for our equipment and for a work space," Father Kuffel said.
"The next project is to remodel the quonset into a recreational building—winterizing it so it can be used for recreation all year ’round," he continued.
As money allows, the camp board would also like to build a cafeteria hall. Currently, a large tent is rented so campers can eat outdoors in the shade.
While the original goal of creating Camp Kateri was to create an ideal setting for SKY Camp (the diocesan Summer Camp for Youth), other events have been created. Leadership Camp for altar servers is held twice each summer for boys, and "Campin’ with the Marians," run by the Marian Sisters of the Diocese of Lincoln, was started for girls. There’s also an Adventure Camp for families and a Father-Son camp.
"We would love to provide even more camps, but they will require updated facilities and capital improvements," said Deb Cabela, a board member who is coordinating the fundraiser.
Father Kuffel suggested that Camp Kateri could be used for high school class retreats, TEC and Quest events, parish retreats and more.
"We’d also like it to become a place for people to come out for a day of self-reflection," he said.
At Camp Kateri, he added, "You’re able to pray and reflect and use the natural environment to have spiritual experience."
Paul and Mindy Edwards of Saint Mary Parish in Lincoln have sent three of their four sons to Camp Kateri over the years. Their second oldest, Mark, attended SKY Camp there as a teenager, and the two youngest, Anthony and Isaac, have been to altar server Leadership Camp.
"Our kids have always come back from Camp Kateri on fire for their faith," Mr. Edwards said.
It was a fun time to be enjoying nature, building campfires and eating fun food, but it was all directed toward their relationship with Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church," Mr. Edwards said.
Sister Janelle Buettner, M.S., agreed that Camp Kateri is a wonderful combination of fun and spirituality for girls attending Camping with the Marians.
"The camp has been built up to provide really great facilities and a prayerful environment," she said. "I think it gives our diocese an opportunity to reach out to youth in a more unique way."
For the Marian Sisters, they’ve relished the opportunity to interact with girls and introduce them to the religious life.
"We actually have two of our novices from camp, and we’ve had several other girls express interest, so it’s been a fruitful endeavor," she said.
Mr. Edwards noted that having Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha as patroness of the camp is a great example for young people. The saint, who will be canonized Oct. 21, was a Native American Catholic who sought to escape oppression from her tribal leaders by going into the woods alone to commune with God.
"It’s so easy for the youth in the world to buckle under secular pressures," he said. "Blessed Kateri understood peer pressure and what it’s like to be tested for your faith."