HOWARD — The Rathburn brothers — Sam, Jack and Ben — of St. John the Baptist Parish, Howard, were surprised when a family trip west featured stops in several states, including Colorado, but for some reason bypassed Nebraska. They didn’t know at the time that their parents, Kevin and Beth Rathburn, had made plans for all three teens to travel to Omaha last July to participate in a Catholic Heart Workcamp.
Initially, they were hesitant about the trip.
“I thought that it was for someone I considered a ‘hyper Catholic,’” said Sam, a senior at Bay Port high School. “I thought that on one end you had the hyper Catholics and, on the other end, were people who are not engaged in their faith. I felt that I was somewhere in the middle. I didn’t think this was for me at first. I had a great time.”
“I think I’m a pretty good kid,” said Jack, a junior. “I didn’t need to get to know Jesus. I feel that I know him, so I didn’t think that I needed to go. We had a blast. You get out of this experience exactly what you put into it.”
Kevin made the trip with his sons. Sam served in the same work group with father, which he said made the experience even more rewarding. Among their tasks was installing a concrete floor. All three brothers welcomed physical labor on the trip.
“We have done a lot of landscaping work at home,” said Sam.
They are also athletes, currently competing for the Bay Port wrestling team. Sam wrestles on the varsity at 152 pounds. Jack, who is returning from a hand injury, is at 160 pounds. Ben, a freshman, is making the transition to the sport this season from basketball. He currently competes at 195 pounds on the junior varsity.
The brothers also play football and baseball. The Pirates advanced to the WIAA Division 1 football semifinals this past season and last spring, the baseball team played in the state tournament. Sam and Jack point to last season’s semifinal victory over Merrill at the team state wrestling tournament as a highlight of their prep athletic careers. Sam posted a 2-1 victory over his opponent, followed by a 7-4 win by Jack to help propel the team into the state title match. Both consider wrestling their favorite sport. Ben, an offensive lineman, said that football tops his list.
Athletics will be on hold July 5-11 when, along with Kevin, they participate in a Catholic Heart Workcamp in Oil City, Penn. Camps, open to high school students, are held at more than 50 sites. Jody Engebos, youth minister for middle and high school at St. John the Baptist, will lead a group of 40 students on the Oil City trip. In addition to the Rathburns, several siblings have made the trips in recent years, said Engebos.
“It really is powerful as a family affair,” she said.
“We have always been close, but I think it made us even closer,” said Ben.
While the yard work, painting and cleanup projects are ways to serve those in need, Catholic Heart Workcamp also provides strong faith-building opportunities. Mass is celebrated each morning. Adoration, reconciliation and faith reflection are also part of the week.
“You were encouraged to write a letter to yourself,” said Sam. “They also had a blanket where you could write a message.”
“The letter was really cool,” said Jack. “You mailed it to yourself and read it when you got back. You are really in the moment when you are there, so it’s good to be able to reflect on everything.”
Sleeping on the floor and the long bus ride were small sacrifices.
“The school was air conditioned, so it wasn’t bad,” said Jack.
Prior to the trip, the brothers were told about a potential “Jesus high” from the experience.
“You leave with a renewed sense of focus on what is important in everyday life,” said Sam, who will attend Marquette University in the fall.
The reward for Ben was seeing the people they served prior to departure.
“They gave us glow sticks and some of the people were crying,” he said. “They told us how much of a difference we made in their community and how we impacted their lives.”
“I will remember how the people were so joyful,” said Jack, whose service included tasks at a nursing home and playground. “They were always happy.”