Junction City — Nearly 300 Catholic youth from across the Diocese of Salina gathered May 27-30 at Rock Springs Ranch for the annual Junior CYO Camp. This is the second year Anna Hegarty has attended as a counselor, primarily because of the influence of the college students who were her counselors as a camper.
“I think that as a camper that is one of the things I always found so cool … these older kids are super cool people, have an awesome faith life and a strong belief in God,” said Hegarty, a Manhattan resident who just completed her freshman year at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
The camp is for students in sixth, seventh and eighth grade. Counselors are college youth from across the diocese. “It’s rewarding because you get to see your girls grow and make new friendships,” Hegarty said. “(Being a counselor) is a little bit more challenging because you’re focusing on nine other girls’ faith journey, not just your own. You want to make sure each of them get something out of the weekend and have a great time.”
Because she attended camp four times as a youth, Hegarty said she thinks a diocesan-wide camp is important. “I think it’s really good to start them young … for them to know that they aren’t the only Catholic teenager in Kansas,” she said. “I think a big part of it is us counselors not being afraid to show our love for Christ and our faith. I hope they see that and find it refreshing and super cool to know that being Catholic and having a faith life can be a fun thing.”
Thirteen-year-old Gannon Winter lives in Ellis and is a parishioner at St. Nicholas of Myra Church in Hays. “I was kind of nervous, but when I got there it was really fun,” he said. This was his first year at the camp. His first time at a large Catholic gathering. “I liked meeting new people and being able to come closer to God,” he said. “I learned to not judge people because you don’t know who they are or what has happened to them.”
One of his lingering memories is of “Mass at the Pit” with Father Gale Hammerschmidt and Father Brian Lager. Josh Juenemann, a 12-year-old from Oberlin, said the outdoor Mass was his first experience in a venue other than a physical church. “Mass at the pit was amazing, it was very beautiful,” he said. “I loved that it was outside. I love nature.”
Juenemann was also a first-time camper. He said his older siblings attended, and he was excited to see what Junior CYO Camp was all about. “I thought it would be a good way to have fun and grow closer to God,” he said. “I enjoyed when we got to ask Father Gale (Hammerschmidt) and Father Brain (Lager) Q and A questions.”
While Juenemann said enjoyed the typical camp activities and hanging out with his cabin mates, he retained a few lessons. “I learned that even if God doesn’t seem to be with you, he always is and he’s always trying to help,” Juenemann said.
Both Winter and Juenemann said they are eager to attend camp again. “I think it’s really important that we have Totus Tuus and Junior CYO Camp so younger kids can work their way up in the diocese and then go to convention and NCYC and know that there is a diocese full of Catholics their age, and they can know having a faith life can be enjoyable and not boring,” Hegarty said.