by Joe Bollig
WILLIAMSBURG — When Msgr. Tom Tank needed money to transform a former dude ranch here into a premiere Catholic youth camp, he installed some “spark plugs” to fire up the fundraising engine. He chose two sets: couples at his new parish.
Those two couples, both members of the Church of Nativity Parish in Leawood, were honored at the Camp Tekakwitha closing Mass on July 30 at Prairie Star Ranch.
Mike and Mary Ann Caffrey, and Robert and Elena Fallon, were conferred the Echo of Kateri Award for their service to youth ministry and Prairie Star Ranch. Also receiving the award was Father Barry Clayton, pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish in Osawatomie, Sacred Heart Parish in Mound City and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in La Cygne.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, main celebrant and homilist for the Mass, presented the awards to the honorees.
“[These two couples] worked with Archbishop James P. Keleher and Msgr. Tank in getting parents, grandparents and our adult community to understand the vision of Catholic camping,” said Deacon Dana Nearymyer.
Holding events at Prairie Star Ranch to highlight what could be done with the property, the couples helped illustrate “why it was worth making commitments to make it flourish,” Deacon Nearmyer said.
He and his wife Debbie are the founders and co-directors of Camp Tekakwitha.
Not only was the original dude ranch infrastructure badly in need of refurbishing, but there was also a crying need to build housing both for campers and those who care for the property, landscaping and a dedicated chapel.
And the Caffreys and Fallons were there to help — and they called upon many of their friends and fellow parishioners to help as well.
“After one Saturday evening Mass at the new Church of the Nativity, Msgr. Thomas Tank introduced Mike and me to Bob and Elena Fallon,” said Mary Ann Caffrey. “We embarked on a joyful journey of friendship and fundraising.”
The Caffreys and Fallons downplay their roles in the camp’s success, crediting instead Msgr. Tank.
“We don’t deserve this [award],” said Elena Fallon. “We did a tiny, little bit. We’re grateful for the ranch and wish it tremendous success in the future. We just want people to know that there is such a place as this to send their children.”
Father Clayton has often come to the camp to minister since he was ordained 10 years ago, said Deacon Nearmyer.
“Father Clayton has a great [ability] to connect the sometimes complicated truths of the Gospel in simple, understandable ways to the human heart,” said Deacon Nearmyer. “[He] is a master of this in his witness and preaching. He is a frequent celebrant and confessor at Prairie Star Ranch. We are so grateful for his zeal in proclaiming the freedom of the Gospel and for generosity in sacramental service to Camp Tekakwitha.”
Actually, Father Clayton believes that being there is enough of an award.
“It’s really a blessing,” said Father Clayton. “Honestly, I have to say I get really inspired by coming here. I appreciate the accolades toward myself, but I really have to return them back to the camp because the camp is so inspiring.”
“Whenever I come here,” he continued, “I’m inspired by the faith and discipleship and fun. It’s really a blessing for me to be here and help out at camp. I appreciate the award very much, but I have to give credit to the camp for being the wonderful place that it is.”
When he was there, Archbishop Naumann also blessed the soon-to-be completed priests’ retreat house, the latest infrastructure addition to the camp. The structure will be dedicated when it is completed.