Column: Prairie Star gives youth a glimpse of God’s plan for them

Archbishop Naumann

by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

I feel so fortunate to be the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. Our Archdiocese is blessed in so many remarkable ways.

On the solemnity of St. Joseph, husband of Mary — the 7th anniversary of my arrival in the Archdiocese, I had the privilege of dedicating Blessed Kateri Tekawitha Chapel at Prairie Star Ranch. Seven years ago during the homily of the Mass of welcome, I noted some of what I considered key indicators of a vital and thriving church in northeast Kansas. Among these signs of vitality, I mentioned Prairie Star Ranch and its ministry to youth. At the time, I did not fully appreciate the magnitude of the impact the camp was having on the youth and families of the Archdiocese.

Every summer, I celebrate Mass and hear confessions at one or two of the camp sessions. Having caught a glimpse of the powerful spiritual effect the camp programs are having on the lives of our young people, I come away from Prairie Star even more convinced of its importance. Prairie Star Ranch is one of the precious jewels of the Archdiocese.

Every year, parents write or speak to me about the positive effect the camp has had upon their children. Parents have told me what a blessing it is to their family when their son or daughter returns from Prairie Star suggesting they pray the rosary or read the Bible as a family. Parents are amazed when their sons or daughters ask permission to go spend some time in adoration at their parish chapel.

Two years ago, I celebrated the baptism of my great-niece, Emily. Emily’s godparents’ son had just returned from a week at Prairie Star. It was the first time he had participated in the camp. His mother told me she was somewhat anxious to find out if he liked the Prairie Star experience. On the way home in the car, she asked him what he thought about the camp. He replied: “Mom, I hope this does not insult you, but it was the best week of my life!”

As in every enterprise, leadership is everything. I am so grateful to Dana and Debbie Nearmyer who have served as co-directors of the camp since its inception. They have developed a program allowing our young people to enjoy all the usual elements of a youth camp — horseback riding, archery, ropes course, zip lining, etc. — but they have also incorporated throughout the camp experience opportunities to get to know Jesus better, to learn about our Catholic faith and to pray.

Each year, Dana and Debbie do a remarkable job in selecting and forming the camp staff. The young adults, who serve as camp counselors at Prairie Star, are the key to the camp’s success. It is the witness of the counselors’ faith — sharing their own love for Jesus and his church — that has the most significant impact on the faith development of the campers. One of the important contributions of the camp is developing the staff into future leaders for the church.

Prairie Star creates an environment conducive to helping young people discern what God wants them to do with their lives. The camp is a place where our youth begin to discover God’s plan for them, to get caught up in God’s dream for them. It is a place where they learn to lose the false values of fame, wealth, and pleasure that the world urges them to seek. At Prairie Star, the campers receive a taste of the full and abundant life that God desires for each of them.

I am grateful to parents who entrust to us your most precious treasure — your children — by sending them to camp. Through the camp experience, our goal is to assist you in your responsibility of being the first teachers of the faith to your children. We want to give your son or daughter the opportunity to get to know Jesus better and to fall in love with him.

I have had parents tell me that they take a vacation day in order to make certain that their son or daughter gets registered for the camp. The camp sessions fill up very quickly, but there are still some openings for this summer. If you are interested in your son or daughter attending the camp, please call Mary Rukavina at (913) 647-0373 or send an e-mail to: youthsec@arch kck.org.

Also, if you are interested in providing a scholarship to help a young person attend the camp who otherwise would be prevented for financial reasons, please contact Dana Nearmyer at (913) 647-0331.

I am very grateful for Archbishop James Keleher’s vision and Msgr. Tom Tank’s leadership in giving birth to the camp. I am also grateful to the many benefactors who have given so generously to build and develop the camp. The dedication of the new chapel at Prairie Star was the culmination of a lot of hard work and the sacrificial gifts of so many throughout the archdiocese.

In my homily at the dedication, I stated: “This chapel is not just a nice addition to the camp. It is a powerful statement in wood and stone of the mission of Prairie Star. Jesus is the cornerstone, the foundation, the center and the focus of all that happens at our camp.”

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