KATERI - Boys attending a leadership camp for altar servers are pictured on the grounds of Camp Kateri Tekakwitha. Thanks to the work of many volunteers, contributions from a number of benefactors and enthusiasm from across the Diocese of Lincoln, the diocesan camp continues to be improved for use by youth camps, parish picnics, retreats and other events. (Courtesy photo)
McCOOL JUNCTION (SNR) - Thanks to the work of many volunteers, contributions from a number of benefactors and enthusiasm from across the Diocese of Lincoln, Camp Kateri Tekakwitha continues to be improved.
Every year, progress is made to make the setting an ideal location for youth camps, parish picnics, retreats and other events.
In fact, volunteers are gathering on Saturday, May 1, for an Ora et Labora (“Work and Prayer”) day to spruce up the camp for the summer. Sponsored by Camp Kateri enthusiast Jeff Schinstock, they will be cleaning the six cozy log cabins, setting up the tent next to the kitchen for outdoor dining and so on.
Once upon a time, Camp Kateri was a working farm with a small brick house, barn and several outbuildings. It was purchased by the diocese and named after Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, a Native American Catholic who had the habit of escaping oppression from her tribal leaders by going into the woods alone to commune with God.
Over the years, first under the direction of Father Robert Barnhill and now under the leadership of Father Thomas Kuffel, the farm has been slowly transformed.
Father Barnhill had a kitchen, bathhouse and cabins added. He also arranged to have a basketball court poured, an archery range put up and soccer and softball fields laid. An outdoor chapel area is a lovely setting for Mass. Still, Camp Kateri has much potential.
“In the past year, we’ve done several projects,” said Father Thomas Kuffel. He has been director of Camp Kateri since last June, in addition to his duties as pastor of St. Stephen Parish in Exeter and St. Patrick Parish in McCool Junction.
His favorite project was the conversion of an old garage into a bunkhouse for seminarians who volunteer at the camp. Previously, seminarians either slept in borrowed campers or stayed with nearby families.
The garage had been pieced together from old World War II bomb storage bins. Father Kuffel said converting the building into a rustic-looking bunkhouse was an “intense” challenge, because the structure was so soundly constructed.
Determination prevailed, and now there are four individual bedrooms, one bathroom, and a small kitchen/sitting area.
“It’s rustic in design, but very comfortable and cozy,” Father Kuffel said. “It’s filled with pictures and animal mounts.”
The former farmhouse has also been rewired and renovated to make it more comfortable for volunteers. The bathroom was converted into a hotel-style, two-part arrangement, with one area for the shower, toilet, sink and vanity, and a second section with another sink and vanity. The door was also moved to the main hall. Three new bunk beds and two convertible couches will provide more comfort to all who stay there.
The large barn was re-roofed and will soon be re-wired. As of now, there are many different ideas for how to use the barn. The important thing is making sure it is safe and secure, Father Kuffel said.
He is grateful to all the benefactors and volunteers that have helped with these projects, including Tom Cabela, Eva Fujan, Les Maschman, Herb Reese, Jeff Schinstock, John and Jane Segal and Hammy and Pat Swatek.
More improvements are planned.
“This coming fall, we will hopefully have permission to build a nursing station,” said Father Kuffel. The nursing station will include an office plus a bedroom for the volunteer nurses who help ensure the safety and health of each camper.
Also, architect Kevin Clark is working on a design for a combination cafeteria and chapel that will be attached to the kitchen.
“We’ll be able to have room for a group of 200 in the cafeteria,” Father Kuffel said. “The chapel will hold 60 to 70 people, with an outdoor patio in case there are more.”
In just a few weeks, Camp Kateri will soon be alive with the sounds and activities of campers from across the diocese. The schedule is busy with SKY camps for middle school students, scouting events, Altar Server Leadership camps, Campin’ with the Marians for girls and other events.
Father Kuffel envisions even more gatherings.
“We’re trying to develop new camps, include a sports leadership camp and an archery camp,” he said. “We would also like to have archery hunts for deer out on the property.”
As the additional buildings are completed, Camp Kateri can become more multi-functional. One of Father Kuffel’s parishes, St. Stephen, already uses the grounds for a parish picnic, and any parish that would like to do the same can contact Father Kuffel to reserve the Camp.
“We would like to develop retreats for high school and junior high school students, along with adults, where people can come and be in a natural setting and experience God,” Father Kuffel said.
He explained that leaving home to spend a week or long weekend in nature enables people to grow spiritually.
“In the natural setting, our deepest desires start to reveal ourselves because there are not the distractions that hold us back,” said Father Kuffel. “We can examine our longings and desires and find that there is a greater sense of God and happiness and in serving God and others.”
More information about Camp Kateri can be found on the web at campkateri.org. To reserve the camp for a parish-wide daylong event or an overnight camp for 60-70 people, call 402-366-9337.