Diocesan campground site promotes outdoor ministry, community, integrity, and faith
Story by Tess Sousek
McCOOL JUNCION (SNR) - Just off the highway, near the small town of McCool Junction, lies a beautiful piece of farmland known in the hearts of Lincoln’s youth for its wonder, its beauty, and the friendships it has created. While some know it as SKY Camp, others say Leadership Camp, and still others call it Marian Camp, many know it to be a piece of home: Camp Kateri.
After years of fellowship and activities from various camps, the Strategic Planning Committee of Camp Kateri has put together a plan to ensure the camp’s growth and development for years to come.
“Strategic planning is important when a non-profit organization would like to set a direction or path of where they’re wanting to go,” said Russell Koos, executive director of Camp Kateri. “A plan has to have specific goals, strategies, timelines, and responsibilities that are set forth to ensure that implementation happens... for our specific plan, we’ve outlined the tasks that we want to accomplish, the milestones that we want to achieve along the way, as well as steps needed to drive our evangelization forward.”
The plan first outlines the core values of Camp Kateri: “Integrity, Faith Formation, Community, and Nature.” Every part of the plan meets either a need or a goal established by the core values.
In terms of Faith, the committee desires to establish Camp Kateri as the outdoor ministry branch of the Diocese of Lincoln, provide a constant presence of the sacraments and devotions, and develop curriculum that utilizes experiential education tools to strengthen and deepen the relationship with the Triune God.
Under Community, they plan to create a culture for campers and volunteers that helps them actively engage and live as disciples of Christ, embrace a sense of hospitality and inclusiveness that reflects the Christian faith through the intersession of patroness St. Kateri, and strengthen evangelization efforts by expanding year-round and summer camp outreach for the Diocese of Lincoln.
In regard to Integrity, they desire to develop a comprehensive and transparent business plan that transforms Camp Kateri into a self-sustaining ministry of the Diocese of Lincoln, establish systems that ensure the camp is operated according to best practices and industry standards, and create an environment that nurtures relationships that leads to a sense of community and instills integrity.
As for Nature, the committee is creating opportunities to discover what it means to be a faithful steward of God’s creation, providing an outdoor experience that helps participants feel “reborn in wonder” and disconnect from the “culture of noise,” and developing the physical property to provide unique outdoor encounters with Christ and enhance their catechesis.
“Outdoor ministry is probably more important now more than ever,” said Buck Breazeale, member of the committee, “and the reason is that technology in the face of life is so much different now than it used to be. People don’t have that chance to sit there, meditate, and experience God’s wonders in their most natural state. What Camp Kateri allows all of us to do - not just youth, but anyone - it allows us to unplug from today’s world and really just witness God’s works in a way that most people don’t get to experience anymore.”
Father Robert Barnhill, former director of youth ministry and current senior consultant of Camp Kateri, said the sense of awe and wonder that comes from nature is irreplaceable.
“Think of an outdoor Mass at a camp,” Father Barnhill said. “Your ceiling is the sky. The walls are the trees, and the choir includes the songbirds and the sound of the wind through the trees. The experience of nature is one that youth, especially for youth who live in cities or urban areas, don’t know.”
As stated in the strategic plan: “Outdoor Ministry provides ‘a place apart’ for spiritual renewal. There is a rhythm to the Catholic life, modeled for us by our Lord. We are called to be out in the world to serve and evangelize, as well as to grow in our faith. As Jesus sought out quiet places to refresh and renew during his ministry, we must also seek out ‘a place apart’ to reflect upon our faith and draw strength from our community. Camp provides that unique setting for our youth and families in the Diocese of Lincoln.
“Camp Kateri offers an opportunity to become deeply in touch with God’s creation. Simply being outdoors is part of spiritual, mental, emotional and physical well-being. Kateri provides a much needed opportunity for children to get away from their daily routine and ‘unplug.’ Watching a sunrise, worshiping in the outdoors, singing at campfires, learning about plants and animals and taking a rosary walk in the woods can create a sense of wonder, and enhance our connection with God.”
Lincoln’s outdoor ministry began in the late 1990s, when Bishop Bruskewitz gave Father Barnhill the option to branch out with camp ministry. In 1999, the diocese purchased property near McCool Junction, just south of York, which is now known as Camp Kateri.
“Other denominations have done outdoor ministry or camp ministry for many years,” Father Barnhill said. “The Catholic Church here in the Midwest has not ever had that focus or facilities. We were fortunate Bishop Bruskewitz opened that possibility.”
Currently, Camp Kateri is used by SKY Camp, Leadership Camp, and Campin’ with the Marians, as well as a few camps from the Diocese of Omaha. Each summer, Camp Kateri sees more than 650 campers, but the Strategic Planning Committee would like to see that number grow to 1,000. Such growth takes careful planning and consideration of structures and systems. Representatives from all three camps have been working together on the board and the committee to conceptualize and carry out what’s best for the camp.
“All of our camping programs started out as grassroots initiatives, as individuals that wanted to use outdoor ministry as another venue to help them connect closer to God and His beauty,” Koos said.
“Being a convert, something very cool is to see all the different religious educations that the diocese offers, whether that be SKY camp, Leadership Camp, Marian Camp,” Breazeale said. “There are a lot of different opportunities. Hopefully, someday my daughter will go to some of these camps out there.”
Father Barnhill commented that the friendships made at camp often last many years, sometimes even blossoming into marriages and families.
As Camp Kateri grows, the committee hopes to be able to serve more areas of the Diocese of Lincoln.
“Part of our planning process is to ensure that we can have a greater outreach year round, not just during the summer,” Koos said. “As part of our plan, we have a site plan that takes in mind the needs of the Diocese of Lincoln and some of the communities that we should be serving: some of our youth groups, first communion groups, or confirmation groups - if they want to use camp as a retreat site, then we have something set up for them.”
Breazeale said he looks forward to seeing the strategic plan come to fruition in the coming years, and how it affects campers.
“It’s one thing to sit in the strategic planning meeting and say, ‘oh this will be great’,” he said, “but really where the rubber meets the road is seeing the kids’ faces and seeing their development.”
Breazeale said the sense of wonder emulated by Camp Kateri is indescribable, but in being there, one can’t help but think, “wow... we are so much a part of a bigger plan that He has for us.”