LOON LAKE — Just back inside the main lodge of Camp Tekakwitha after playing an outdoor game in 13-degree weather, 15-year-old Alejandro Wolf said he loved getting back in the winter to the place he’s been coming to for almost 10 summers.
“This place brings out the joy in me,” the Ashwaubenon High School freshman said.
“It’s a weekend away, the counselors love kids, and it’s a whole bunch of fun,” he said.
Wolf, who attends Mass at both St. Agnes and St. Jude parishes in Green Bay, was one of 40 young people who took part Jan. 12-14 in the first winter camp at Camp Tekakwitha, the retreat center and outdoor ministry of the Green Bay diocese.
Located on Loon Lake in Shawano, 37 miles northwest of downtown Green Bay, Camp Tekakwitha is funded in part through donations to the Bishop’s Appeal.
“Camp Tekakwitha is a wonderful place for young people to experience God’s playground in the northwoods. Through your support of the Bishop’s Appeal, kids have a chance to make new friends, learn fun outdoor skills and grow in their relationship with Jesus,” said Josh Diedrich, executive director of the Catholic Foundation for the Diocese of Green Bay.
Rebecca Sievers, camp director, said the idea to hold a winter camp sprang from the first-ever fall camp a few months ago.
“We’re looking for ways to expand our offerings that are something consistent for the campers,” Sievers said. “After the fall camp, we had 10 to 15 parents ask if we were going to do something in the winter, so the demand was there.”
A few of the cabins that house summer campers are heated, and 10 counselors were available, making winter camp possible.
Although temperatures were in the teens, a fresh snowfall and abundant sunshine over the weekend brought out the beauty of the northwoods, Sievers said. “You can see how God created this. It’s so quiet and still. You can’t sit here and not feel peaceful.”
Forty elementary and secondary school youngsters added playful noise to the scene, playing a form of dodge ball in the snow and building a snow fort and snowmen, among other outdoor games.
Fr. Michael Thiel, parochial vicar at Green Bay’s Quad Parishes, was at the camp both to preside at Mass Saturday evening and for a snowball fight, enabling campers to see a priest both as a minister, and, as Sievers put it, “to see he’s a real guy.”
Sievers said Camp Tekakwitha takes pride that it is a Catholic camp and works to instill Catholic identity. Counselor Morgan Pennings dressed as Kateri Tekakwitha to share the story of the Native North American saint. Praying part of the Divine Mercy Chaplet, religious music and visits to the camp chapel were all part of this first winter camp.
Sievers, who was a camper herself as a youngster, likened the camp’s work to “planting seeds,” seeds of faith.
“St. Francis of Assisi Chapel is the center of our camp for a reason,” she said. “We give campers experiences of different kinds of prayer. Campers see counselors who live out their faith, and that sparks their faith life. This place really does make a difference.”
As for teenager Alejandro Wolf, he told The Compass he likes meeting new kids at Camp Tekakwitha. Unlike a school setting, the atmosphere at the camp “brings out the personalities of kids,” he said.
“I come because it brings out the good in me,” Wolf added. “I prove to myself I’m a good person.”