Families gather to pray and play

By | September 12, 2012

Wind-driven waves made for a shaky start as the family, including William’s 7-year-old sister, Madeline, piled in the canoe and shoved off.

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Lily Gretzinger, 3, daughter of Deborah and Kevin Gretzinger of Green Bay, bursts a soap bubble blown by her mother during an activity session at the “Pray Hard, Play Hard” family day at Camp Tekawitha near Shawano on Saturday, Sept. 8. The event was sponsored by the Diocese of Green Bay. (Steve Wideman | For The Compass)


“We’ve never done this before,” Madeline yelled excitedly to no one in particular.

The Okries were among 32 families from throughout the diocese enjoying the inaugural “Pray Hard, Play Hard” family reunion day at Camp Tekawitha on Saturday, Sept. 8.

The day, attracting 56 adults and 81 children, coincided with the celebration of the Blessed Mother’s birth and included singing “Happy Birthday” and enjoying a huge birthday cake. There were also a blend of prayer sessions, games, a scavenger hunt and outdoor activities like sailing and canoeing.

“Today was a very nice and family-oriented gathering,” Melissa Okrie said. “The organizers definitely brought in the faith portion. We all went to the chapel at the camp and learned it was Mary’s birthday.”

The diocesan offices of Youth Ministry, Young Adult Ministry, Adult Faith Formation, Family and Married Life and Dignity of Human Life sponsored the day camp.

“We called it the family reunion day because we are all part of God’s family,” said Peg Vande Hey, marriage preparation and family ministry coordinator for the Office of Family and Married Life.

Vande Hey said families today often have difficulty finding time to do things together.

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William Okrie, 3, of Neenah prepares for his first-ever canoe ride as his mother, Melissa, left, and father, Tom, right, haul the canoe from shore to Loon Lake at Camp Tekawitha during the “Pray Hard, Play Hard” family day on Saturday, Sept. 8. (Steve Wideman | For The Compass)


“We scheduled a lot of activities, but in a casual way. We wanted to give families time to hang out, relax and spend some time together,” Vande Hey said. “The hope was that families would feel strengthened and valued not only among themselves, but within the church.”

Melissa Okrie said her family moved to Neenah from Chicago 18 months ago.

“In Chicago there was a lot of hustle and bustle, but here there seems to be a lot of activities for families,” she said. “Coming here was very cool. My husband, Tom, has been in a canoe before, but we’ve never done that before as a family. The family reunion definitely brought families together.”

Madeline Okrie, a second-grade student at St. Margaret Mary Elementary School in Neenah, said her favorite part of the day, next to the canoe trip, “was eating the chocolate cake to celebrate Mary’s birthday.”

“That was cool,” Madeline said.

Patty Fuller of Shawano brought her three children, ages 10 to 16, to the family reunion and jumped right in to join the scavenger hunt. Scavenger hunt participating families roamed Camp Tekawitha’s woods to find objects in nature, including crosses made by campers during the summer and planted in hidden places like hollow tree stumps.

“It was a good chance to walk around camp and work together as a family to find things,” Fuller said. “It was a great day to enjoy Camp Tekawitha, to enjoy being with other Catholic families and to just enjoy the day together as a family.”

The day offered enjoyment not only for young families, but for mature couples, said Bonnie Laskowski of Seymour.

Laskowski, 70, attended the reunion with her friend and groom-to-be Ralph Fiedorowicz, 68, of Beaver, located near Crivitz.

“We’re engaged and wanted to enjoy the day together. I knew as soon as I saw the announcement of ‘Pray Hard, Play Hard’ in our church bulletin and The Compass that I wanted to go,” said Laskowski, who was looking forward to trying out a canoe.

While waiting for a canoe to become available Laskowski and Fiedorowicz joined in a game of “beach volleyball” that saw the couple laughing to the point of tears.

“My grandkids are too old to come to this, but I’m having a great time,” Laskowski said. “I love my faith and I love to do things with the church. I wanted to do a lot of activities including going to the prayer service and Mass. I love going to different churches and different Masses.”

Laskowski and Fiedorowicz both enjoyed seeing all the families and activities.

“It’s very rewarding to see all these parents with their young kids,” she said.

“It’s beautiful. It’s really nice,” Fiedorowicz said. “They should have more of these reunions.”

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