A Passage from the Camp Ondessonk 50th Anniversary Book
The beginnings of a summer camp for youth within the Diocese of Belleville were set into motion years before the conception of Camp Ondessonk. St. Philip Parish of East Saint Louis rented the facilities of Camp Piasa in Grafton, Ill., and Camp Vandeventer in Waterloo, Ill., during the summers of 1957 and 1958. As a result, Camp St. Philip was born. Already placing high importance on innovative education, the parishes of East St. Louis had developed a reputation for cutting-edge youth programming since the 1930s, due largely to the efforts of Monsignor Fournie. Camp St. Philip included traditional summer camp activities such as swimming, riflery, archery, handicrafts, nature hikes, and a mixture of cooking, housekeeping, fire building, and axmanship. In addition to the daily activities, Camp St. Philip developed a camping honor society open to second year campers recommended by their unit leaders. The initiated girls became Faithful Maidens of the Loyal Lodge of Tekakwitha, “named in honor of Kateri Tekakwitha, the‘Lily of the Mohawks,’” and the initiated boys became Loyal Members of the Lodge of Ondessonk, “named in honor of St. Isaac Jogues.” The living quarters for campers were divided into five units, all bearing the names of missionaries and their followers in French Canada — Marquette,LaSalle, LaLande, Brebeuf, and Hennepin. Although Camp St. Philip reached a substantial number of youth in those two summers, the Diocese of Belleville sought a permanent facility to house a Catholic youth camp for their children. Monsignor Robert DeGasperi headed an effort to procure leases of the land in Johnson County, Ill., that would soon become Camp Ondessonk.